Episodic games have evolved into their own genre on the PS4. While Telltale is normally known for the wide variety of adventure games they do, the original Life is Strange came out of left field from Dontnod Entertainment. It was their first episodic title, and the story of Max Caufield took the gaming world by storm.
Now, developer Deck Nine has been given the reigns to create a 3-episode prequel miniseries starring Chloe Price from the first game. Fans of the series already have an idea of Chloe's past, so does this prequel manage to show fans a story they're not expecting while also welcoming new fans to the series?
Episode One: Awake Review - Old Friends and New Mysteries
Life is Strange: Before the Storm has some big shoes to fill. The original series introduced us to a fully realized world in the form of Arcadia Bay. The characters were all unique and interesting, and the city itself felt like a real place you could visit.
Max Caufield's story involved high stakes and even time travel as it progressed. Together with Chloe Price, they took us on a journey fans like me will never forget. During this time, we learned a lot about Chloe. So much so, that the announcement of a prequel confused a lot of fans.
After all, what else was there to learn about Chloe? I want to put any concerns about that to rest right now. Even after finishing just the first episode of this miniseries, I can safely say that Chloe's story absolutely needs to be told.
Let's assume for a moment that you've never played the original series. First of all, please do, but if you want to do the prequel first, that's fine too.
In Episode One: Awake, we step into the shoes of a younger, but just as jaded Chloe Price. She's no longer voiced by the talented Ashly Burch, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Rhianna DeVries sounds a lot like the original version of Chloe's character.
Both of the voice actresses have similar sounding performances and Rhianna herself absolutely nailed the edgy and carefree attitude that Chloe is known for. With Ashly Burch still on the writing team, the jokes and jabs were as hilarious as ever.
When the time came to turn the emotional dial over to the other side of the spectrum, Rhianna balanced the performance with excellent delivery. Chloe's raw anger and passion come through just as well here as it did in the original series. I can confidently say that fans will not be disappointed.
Without going into any spoiler territory, Episode One: Awake takes us back to the time when Max had gone away from Chloe's life, leaving her to deal with Arcadia Bay, Blackwell Academy, and her mother's new boyfriend David Madsen.
This is also the time when Chloe first met Rachel Amber. Fans of the original game will recall this character, but it is here that we finally get to meet her in person.
The dynamic between her and Chloe is absolutely amazing. Chloe is the willing outcast who doesn't mingle with the popular kids, but in a chance encounter, she and Rachel Amber hit things off after the game's opening scene at a rock concert.
Chloe goes from confident punk to awkward schoolgirl in Rachel's presence. Rachel is the most popular girl in school and incredibly talented. She's intimidating to even the most popular of kids.
It brought me back to the days of high school when I would stutter and fumble over my words in the presence of popular kids and girls in my class. To see Chloe fumble like this in her first encounters with Rachel made me love her even more as a character.
She puts on this tough girl act, but she's a hopeless romantic at heart. At least, that's how I played her, but your experience could vary based on your decisions.
It was pretty clear to me there was chemistry between Chloe and Rachel almost immediately, so I decided to explore that further since we've heard so much about this girl in the original series.
Chloe herself has always been a fun and cool character, but in the first series, she was kept at arm's length. Yes, we got to know her pretty well and we learned a lot about her past, but we never saw the world from her perspective.
That opportunity alone is a great reason to play Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Once you're inside her head, Chloe becomes an even deeper and more interesting character. The tragedies of her life hit harder when you know how it affects her, her mother, and everyone else around her.
An example is how her mother tries to hide pictures of her dad now that her new boyfriend David is staying at the house. As Chloe, this is understandably frustrating, and in true Chloe fashion, you can either ignore it or go against the grain.
It's little things like this that made me care more about Chloe than I already did, which is impressive given the bond we formed with her in the original series.
Beyond the fantastic characterization between Chloe and Rachel, I also enjoyed the pacing of the story. Without time travel or looming disasters on the horizon, Episode One: Awake had a relaxing pace that occasionally sped up for several intense moments.
It was a more consistent pace that felt less tense overall. The episode still has moments of raw emotion and tension, but it padded out with moments of reflection, serenity, and good old fashioned life in action.
By the time it finished, an overarching plot was established in preparation for the coming episodes, but up until then, I felt like I was finally spending some quality time with Chloe and watching as something beautiful, confusing, and exciting developed between her and Rachel.
In the gameplay department, the episode has plenty of great dialogue choices, but without the time travel mechanic, you had to pick one and stick to it.
Chloe isn't without her own mechanics, though. Using her marker, she can tag specific spots with hilarious grafitti of your choosing if you look around the environments.
She can also get into a war of words with other characters. This argument system takes a little getting used to as the instructions are somewhat vague, but it's fun to be the rowdy teenager that talks back.
Some of her arguments are a little awkward or out of place, but overall I really liked this mechanic because it fit well into her character. That's really where all of this comes back to when I look back on the episode. Chloe as a character is all the reason you need to enjoy this new entry in the series.
Another standout moment is an optional Dungeons and Dragons style game you can play with a few of the students at Blackwell Academy. I loved this moment as it brought out Chloe's nerdy side.
For those who purchase the Deluxe Edition of the game, you'll get to pick from some pretty awesome outfits at the beginning of the episode so you can customize your Chloe. It's also worth noting that the Deluxe season pass will have a bonus episode after the main series is finished.
Combine that with some additional modes and features, and I highly recommend you go all in with the Deluxe option.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm may cover a time period that fans of the original series will be familiar with, but just because we know some of the major events, doesn't mean we know what happened.
Deck Nine has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they can handle this series and all of the topical and modern issues that it tackles. Chloe herself is an amazing character who is given even more love and attention in this new prequel series.
I'm usually not one to cheer for prequels as I would prefer sequels to my favorite franchises, but Episode One of Life is Strange: Before the Storm proves that this series needed to explore Chloe's character further. I'll be eagerly awaiting Episode Two's release.
Episode One Score: 9.0/10
Episode Two: Brave New World Review - What's Past is Prologue
Episode two of Life is Strange: Before the Storm makes me question, more than ever, if knowing the ending is more painful than not knowing at all. The nature of a prequel is once again called into question with the events of Brave New World.
Having played and adored the original series, I know exactly where this is all going in the big picture. That knowledge makes all the moments of elation and happiness bittersweet. Even so, knowing the ending doesn't mean that I know how we will get there.
As with episode 1, Brave New World shows us that there's far more to Chloe and Rachel than the original series would have you believe. Coming off of the events of the first episode, this second entry wastes no time in getting into the drama.
As always, I'll do my best to avoid any spoilers and talk in generalities as much as possible. The first thing I noticed when diving into episode 2, was a better sense of pacing. We're immediately taken to the events following Chloe's escapades with Rachel. The consequences are dire, but the choices here allow you to play Chloe in two vastly different ways.
That's not to say the pacing is perfect, however. There's a sequence in the junkyard that outstays its welcome as a long fetch quest with too little payoff to warrant the time spent on the activity.
Of course, a moment like this is forgiven when you reach the episode's excellent scene involving the school play we've been hearing about since the first episode. A rendition of Shakespeare's The Tempest, it is perhaps one of my favorite moments in the entire Life is Strange series thus far.
So, while the pacing is still slightly inconsistent, it is improved with episode 2 by a large margin. There are several standout moments where your decisions feel like they're going to carry a lot of weight.
Emotions run higher in episode 2 than they did in the original episode, and that's directly a result of the setup that Deck Nine did in the original release. Continued tensions turn up the intensity, while the consequences of original events come to head.
There's a very strong sense of the branching storytelling here, as the consequences of your actions are more readily apparent here. Furthermore, while some decisions may seem black and white, others don't have a clear positive outcome.
In some cases, Brave New World will require you to choose the lesser evil and live with the results.
Another improved feature in this episode is the backtalk system unique to Chloe's character. While the arguments in the first installment felt a little awkward and immature, the system has been tightened this time around to feel more like a war of words.
One particular discussion is incredibly powerful if you're able to position yourself with the proper responses.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Brave New World is the bond that it forges between Chloe and Rachel. The burgeoning relationship between these two characters feels so incredibly authentic. It's a combination of sharp writing and exquisite character development.
Despite knowing the end, this episode made me feel hope for their future. It's certainly a conflicting emotion within me, to know the ultimate end, but also have hope that everything will be alright.
Despite the dissonance of that knowledge, I truly love the dynamic between Chloe and Rachel. Here we have a strong character from the original series, combined with someone we only heard about in passing.
Through the efforts of these two episodes, Rachel has become a pillar of what makes this series great, and that is wholly due to the amazing work of the developers at Deck Nine.
Episode 2: Brave New World holds the same standard as the original release. It stumbles slightly in some of the pacing, but the choices feel more consequential, and the character development is still top notch.
We will have to wait and see how the final episode pans out, but as of now, Life is Strange: Before the Storm is an absolute must play for fans of the original and newcomers alike.
Episode 2 Score: 8.5/10
Episode 3: Hell is Empty Review - Full Circle
Have you ever played a game where you're so emotionally attached that the thought of finishing it seems like too much to bear? Yeah, that's where I was when I got to the finale of Life is Strange: Before the Storm.
Having played the first game, the nature of a prequel was bound to rear its ugly head. I knew that some things could change, but others would remain the same regardless of what I did.
That somber tone is what carried me into Episode 3: Hell is Empty. In this final episode, the mysteries that have been building to this point are uncovered.
While we must avoid spoilers, episode 3 turns the focus of the story onto a new goal that strays from the initial runaways concept that Rachel and Chloe originally pursued. Instead, the story here is focused on a central theme of truth versus lies.
More importantly, when is it alright to deceive someone? Is there ever a time when such an approach is acceptable or just? You'll be answering these questions yourself in this final episode.
A lot of the decisions in Episode 3 feel ambiguous. There's no clear-cut answer that stands above the other. Instead, there's a lot of moral gray areas for you to make your way through.
A few of the ongoing plot threads are tied up in some meaningful and emotional ways. Specifically, the conclusion of the thread involving Chloe's friends who play Dungeons and Dragons was a highlight for me.
As a result of the third episode's need to wrap things up, other side stories seem to get left on the cutting room floor or resolved haphazardly. It almost feels like this series could have done four episodes and really taken the time to let some of the stories breathe.
The argument system also fails to harness its full potential in this episode. It makes the occasional appearance, but it failed to evolve or change over the course of this mini-series.
While this episode narrows the scope in pursuit of its finale, there are still several great moments throughout that crank up the tension and have you truly questioning what is the right choice in that situation.
It's a bittersweet finale. Ultimately the game smoothly transitions into the original story, but it also wraps up its own conflict with a satisfying ending.
In Life is Strange, we never really knew Rachel beyond what we heard. Now, thanks to Deck Nine, we finally have a chance to learn why she was so special.
It hurts to say goodbye to these characters, but the Life is Strange universe greatly benefits from this prequel series. Whether your a new fan or a returning vet, this one is a must play.
Episode Final Score: 9.0/10
Bonus Episode: Farewall
For those who sprung for the Deluxe Edition or decide to upgrade, you'll be treated with a bonus episode called "Farewell." This episode is shorter than the others, but for fans of the series it fills in yet another gap that we've never experienced.
Without spoiling anything, this episode takes place when Max and Chloe were kids. The timeline is just before Max's family moved away from Arcadia Bay.
It is, perhaps, the peak of their friendship together. The episode also welcomes back the original voice actresses for both Max and Chloe now that the strike is over with.
Even hearing Chloe's original voice, I still think her voice in the prequel series fits nicely into the overall arc of her character. You'll make a few tough choices during this bonus episode and have some fun playing with your best friend.
The combination of imagination, quirky humor and nostalgic love for these characters made this bonus episode a great extra. If you haven't upgraded to the Deluxe Edition and you're a big fan, I would recommend this.
The Final Rating
We've reviewed each of the episodes and examined the bonus episode. It's time to give Life is Strange: Before the Storm a final score.
I wouldn't say that this series is better or worse than the original. I think comparing the two isn't needed. Both are exquisite narrative adventures and both are absolutely worth your time.
The only question you need to ask yourself is which one you'll play first.
Final Score: 9.0/10
A Copy of Life is Strange: Before the Storm was provided to PS4 Experts for review purposes
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert date - 9/11/17