I love Life is Strange. Everything about it just resonates with me, be it with the touching yet catastrophic story, the way you could genuinely influence the relationships characters share with one another, or just how it all felt like this real believable experience… well… outside of the time-bending stuff. Throw in the fantastic art style and soundtrack though and it really made for something special.
Naturally then, when Life is Strange: Before the Storm was announced I was excited. Chloe was one of my favourite characters the first time around, so getting to see how she developed into the person she is intrigued me. However, the change of developer and the low episode count did raise a few concerns as to whether or not the game was going to reach the same quality players had grown accustomed to, or whether it’s something that had been rushed out to pick up on the buzz from the first game. Thankfully all of those fears have been alleviated immediately, with Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Awake providing a great introduction to this new chapter in Life is Strange’s tale.
Set three years before the first game, Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Awake puts you in the shoes of Chloe who’s struggling to deal with the death of her father and the growing friction between herself and her Mother’s new boyfriend, David. Add to that the fact that she’s skipping a lot of school and she’s having a hard time making friends since her bestie Max moved away, and it’s left her in a really lonely and vulnerable state. All that changes though after she attends a wild gig and befriends Rachel Amber – the popular and academically gifted girl who had gone missing in the first game.
Whilst a lot of the going-ons are different this time around, Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Awake still manages to maintain the same vibe from the last game. It still takes an in-depth look at the relationships that characters share with each other as well as the trials that life often brings. The first episode primarily focuses on Chloe’s blossoming relationship with Rachel (and where you want it to go), but there’s so much going on in the background that’s clearly developing for later episodes. How Chloe deals with the death of her father is particularly touching, with a series of dream sequences and one particular scene in the Junkyard evoking plenty of different emotions. Life is Strange dealt with believable issues in a clever and meaningful way, and Deck Nine have continued that trend here in the follow up.
One thing I did notice though was that knowing Chloe’s personality from the first game often influenced how I made my decisions. Max was a bit of a blank slate, so I could decide if I wanted her to be rebellious, kind, nasty, or play by the rules; I know exactly what kind of person Chloe is and how she’d react to a situation, and I couldn’t help but to have it influence me. And yes, that means David got a LOT of abuse…
At least her relationship with Rachel Amber opens up all-new territory though, especially since her boisterous ‘no sh*ts given’ actually attitude outweighed Chloe’s in most situations. It’s evident from the get go that Rachel is someone Chloe would look up to and was often going to be the loudest voice in the room, which in many ways makes the perspective shift; Rachel is to Chloe what Chloe was to Max.
It doesn’t mean Chloe isn’t as sassy as ever though, with the sixteen-year-old full to the brim with the same attitude that we’ve come to expect from teenagers. It could actually be a little too much at times with some of her lines feeling a bit cringe inducing, but for the most part it was on point and it was difficult not to chuckle at her many put downs.
In general, it’s all incredibly well written, with the entirety of the episode hooking you in whether it being through Chloe’s observations of the world around her or the conversations she shares with other characters. It’s certainly intriguing to see how she responds to people we know she had friction with her in the first game; seeing how she talks to Principal Wells or how she reacts to a bully picking on Nathan Prescott is particularly interesting, especially given how events can play out with them in the first game. It’s something returning fans will definitely appreciate, especially since it gives a new insight into their relationship that was never always perfectly clear before.
One of the main features of the first game was Max’s ability to rewind time and change how events play out. It wasn’t a power Chloe was graced with though, so this time around you’ve got to use your sharp tongue to manipulate events to work out your way with the new ‘Backtalk’ system.
Every so often, Chloe will be able to specifically choose to Backtalk another character to cause an argument and get them to back down or do what she wants. Basically, you’re in what feels like a debate with someone and will have to choose the most cutting response based on specific keywords that they said first. Sometimes, if you’ve spoken to another character beforehand or witnessed a particular event you’ll have new options highlighted for you too, giving you the opportunity to really show how vicious Chloe’s words can be.
It’s a neat system that fits in well with the game, especially when you consider how much of an attitude problem Chloe has. The only problem I found was that it was incredibly easy to figure out; I didn’t make a single mistake during my playthrough of the game, with the correct response to use typically incredibly obvious. It was enjoyable to witness Chloe’s snappy showdowns with other characters, but they could feel like a bit of a formality based upon how simple they were to get through.
One of my favourite aspects of the original game was the choice of soundtrack and thankfully Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Awake also delivers on that front. You’ve got a good mixture of poignant pieces to go along with some of the heavy stuff, with is a nice balance – in some ways it represents Chloe’s personality and all the different emotions that are running through her head. British band Daughter actually composed a fantastic soundtrack that plays throughout the game, though there’s a good use of actual licenced tracks too. I’m looking forward to hearing the other songs that come in the remaining episodes (and making a Spotify playlist using them).
It should take you around two hours to play through the first episode, which is a fairly decent length considering what it manages to cram in. I’m interested in seeing how much they manage to squeeze into just three episodes though, but the ending of this episode has left me intrigued to see what happens next to Chloe and Rachel. Given that the game allows you to make your own choices, you can play through again and see things play out differently, though how much of an impact your choices have probably won’t really be seen until later episodes.
There’s only one way to really describe Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Awake – it’s more of the same, for better or worse.
If you were a fan of the original game then you’re going to really enjoy what’s on offer here, with the whole angsty yet touching vibe carrying over this time around too. There are a few differences, most notably with the time-bending powers replaced with Chloe’s Backchat, but in general it all feels the same. If you weren’t a fan of the original game though, nothing on offer here is going to change your mind.
I was a massive fan of the original game though and in turn really enjoyed playing through Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Awake. It has set up a story that I want to see more of, and whilst I might already know the fate of both characters, I’m still intrigued to see how their relationship blossoms and what issues they face going forward. Life is Strange: Before the Storm has got off to a great start, so hopefully there’ll be more of the same in the next two episodes.
Developer: Deck Nine
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 31/08/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC