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Earlier this week, I brought myself to finish Before the Storm, the prequel to what became one of my all-time favourite games, Life is Strange. I'll admit, I took a while to even purchase it, and longer still to play it. I could, and at times still can, feel the emotional hangover from the original.
When I did eventually muster up the courage to start Before the Storm, it had been after a night of drinking games. The emotions all came flooding back and I was on the ropes by the time I'd reached the title screen.
The first game shattered my heart, but since the article I produced about my experience with it did quite well, I thought I'd do a follow-up on the prequel.
(You can check out that article here, in case you missed it.)
As I stated already, Life is Strange: Before the Storm takes place before the original, about three years before its events take place, where previous main character, Max Caulfield, is out of Chloe's life, living in Seattle. Instead, it focuses on a 16-year-old Chloe still struggling to come to terms with the passing of her father two years prior, and being abandoned by her best friend. During this time, the most popular girl in school, Rachel Amber, crashes into her life and changes everything.
As a prequel, those who have played or at least watched the original may be apprehensive as they know how the story of Rachel and Chloe ends. But instead of telling the story of how we end up where we are at the beginning of LiS, Before the Storm tells simply a story that just happens to be set before the original.
As with the first game, Before the Storm is an episodic graphic adventure where the choices you make impact on the story. Without Max's ability to rewind time, you only get one chance to make the right decisions. In its place, Chloe has "backtalk" where you need to listen to what is being said to perform a sick burn. The better you do, the more likely things will go your way, but if you falter, backtalk can make the situation much worse for you. Decision making feels more urgent and important to get right, as you've not got the safety net of a magic undo button.
It's a solid mechanic that fits Chloe's character perfectly. Where Max would've avoided conflict and used her powers to find the right answers. Chloe is the type of person that would rather shout at a problem until it is no longer a problem, like most angsty teenagers would.
There aren't any apocalyptic tornadoes this time around. There are some supernatural elements, little teases that suggest there's something more to the proceedings. It means that the scale of the adventure is smaller and the stakes are naturally smaller in comparison, it makes the issues the game raises and the goings-on during the story more relatable.
Before the start of episode one, Chloe already has been through too much, the loss of her father, the distance between her and her best friend, and her mother has began dating an absolute asshole in David, the paranoid security guard from the original game. While I applaud Deck Nine for trying to humanise the Burliest, Manliest Man to Ever Man, I still think he's a dick. How he becomes who he is in the first game becomes clear to see. He is rather sweet with Joyce sometimes, but I still don't like him.
Even though she's not around, you can still feel Max's presence. Chloe writes letters to her, much like Max's own diary in the first game. Reading each entry as you progressed through the story tugged at the heart strings, as if the game itself wasn't enough to wear you down. If you look at the texts between Chloe and Max, and Chloe and her mother, it is genuinely heartbreaking reads every time.
While there's only three episodes of Before the Storm compared to the original's five, it's crammed with so many emotional, tough moments it is hard not to get swallowed up in the drama. The music has a big role in this. The majority of the score is produced by the band Daughter. Their musical style marries perfectly with the style and tone of Before the Storm.
The Chloe we see here isn't the natural bad-ass we knew from the original Life is Strange—this Chloe is utterly broken. She's still acting tough and lashing out, but it's a guise for a sensitive, scared, and lonely young woman.
The relationship between her and Rachel gives them both something to live for at their lowest points. In terms of their upbringing and social status, they're worlds apart. In terms of their personalities, they're one and the same. They're both hell-raisers, daring to dream of a better life for one another as everything threatens to fall apart around them.
Although the game takes place over a matter of days (much like a certain Shakespearean play), their chemistry is raw, real, and intense. Every scene they are together is rousing to watch.
The high-point of their relationship for me was towards the end of the second episode, where Blackwell Academy is putting on a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest.
I will not spoil what goes down, but this little play brought with it every emotion on the spectrum for me.
Your choices can dictate how you and Rachel end up in the play, but then I was tasked with having to remember Chloe's lines so that the play ran smoothly. I had what felt like a second-hand anxiety, an awkwardness, when Chloe walked on stage. I used to love drama, but I always got stage fright, so performing in front of people was always terrifying for me.
What happened next was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most beautiful and satisfying moments in all of the video games I've ever played. It's stunning and cute and funny and heart-warming. The audience gave them a standing ovation and, teary-eyed, I wanted to as well. I was so happy for them as I managed to not screw things up for once in this series.
With Rachel's disappearance being the main mystery of the original game, it's clear why Chloe is so desperate to find her. She's an amazing character. From the moment you meet her, Rachel is an incredibly passionate, articulate, and emotionally intuitive young woman. I was hooked by her immediately. Whether you choose to be just friends with her, or something more, their time together is electric and adorable to watch.
Because of how much the original rocked me emotionally, and how bumpy the road had been in the build up to the finale, I'd unknowingly stopped playing for a week right before the end. I was anticipating having my heart ripped out again. I kept wanting to dive back in to finish it every night that week, but something kept stopping me. "What else can possibly happen to ruin me?" I kept asking myself.
When I eventually played the last little part of episode three, I found myself left with one final choice which was just as unfair and horrible as the final choice in Life is Strange. I went for what made the most sense based on my previous choices, but I still felt guilty because no matter what I chose, it didn't stop where the characters end up by the end of the original.
I initially wasn't as satisfied by the end. I felt a bit deflated, it didn't quite rock me to the core. Somehow both an awful lot and not much happens in the last episode. Maybe the third episode could've done with being split into further into two episodes, but that's just me. It felt like the developers remembered they were making a Life is Strange game and had to up the ante for the conclusion, when I would've been equally as happy playing through what ended up, for me, being a cute little bisexual love story.
I realised by taking myself away from the game for a week I lost most of the emotional connection I'd built up in trying to save myself from the upset. But, then the second emotional hangover started. The ending and what it meant for Rachel and Chloe was all I could think about.
It wasn't telling the whole story, and the gaps I was filling in myself made it feel so real and horrible. The choices I'd made across the two games started catching up with me, the (almost) whole story laid out in front of me. Every choice, every conversation, every picture taken or doodle marked, poured through me. I feel this connection to the world of Arcadia Bay in the Life is Strange that I don't with any of game or series, not even my favourites with Uncharted or The Last of Us.
There is also a bonus episode for those who bought the deluxe version of Before the Storm, called "Farewell." It lets us play as Max one last time, aged 13 here, on the day that Chloe's father dies. I knew how the day would end. It's short and as bittersweet as the rest of the game, but it's separate. Do you tell Chloe you're leaving for Seattle and may never see her again? Or do you keep it from her, when you realise just how much her life is about to change.
It wraps up the story of the original Life is Strange and Before the Storm into one cohesive tale, book-ended by the relationship of Max and Chloe, best friends until the end. They look back through how long they've been friends, things that have defined their friendship and it reinforces just how strong the bond is between them. It also hammers home just how much Chloe goes through, and how terrible Max looks when she abandons Chloe to suffer in grief alone and eventually stops contacting her.
Now, a week after finishing everything and being able to calm down, I don't see the games as separate entities, but one experience that needs to be played in its entirety. You're thinking; "How has this game broken you, Peter? You seem to be really positive about this game?"
That, my dear reader, is the point. It's impossible to truly love everything that unfolds in Life is Strange: Before the Storm as I'm cursed with the foresight of the original, and that looms over it at every turn. At times I wish I could break the narrative and let all the characters live happy lives and get what they want. Sadly, life isn't like that, and Life is Strange isn't like that either.
Before the Storm digs deeper into the emotions of each character, and their relationship to the people around them. It encapsulates everything it means to be human, to live. It makes you thankful for those quiet, tender moments with a loved one. It makes you remember those who you have lost along the way. While it is easy to wallow in the past and not move on from hardships, there is so much out there to explore. Before the Storm and Life is Strange is a complete experience that I would recommend to everyone, regardless of your age, gender, or usual taste in entertainment.
Life is worth living, no matter how hard it may feel. To experience life is one of its greatest privileges. Sharing your experiences with people you care about makes it worthwhile, no matter whether yours or their world fell apart. Lasting forever may be a frequent wish of many, but the beauty of life is that it ends. Our time is fleeting in the grand scheme of things and Before the Storm reinforces that. Appreciate every moment you get with those who you hold dear to you. It's fine to be sad when they're gone, sure, but celebrate what made them so special to you.
Life is brilliant. Life is hard. Life can be painful, but life can be beautiful.
Life is whatever you make of it.
Life is Strange.