Life Is Strange – Before The Storm: An Intimate Portrait Of Teen Angst, Love, and Tragedy

When Dontnod Entertainment released Life Is Strange back in 2015, it became the unexpected hit that invited gamers to get swept up in the friendship between Max Caulfield and Chloe Price, while helping them uncover the mystery behind popular girl Rachel Amber’s disappearance. However you choose to end Max and Chloe’s story, Life Is Strange is a complete game. But for developer Deck Nine, there’s still another story that hasn’t been told—the story of Chloe and Rachel.

Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is the prequel to Dontnod Entertainment’s original game. Developed by Deck Nine, the game puts Chloe Price in the lead and follows events that happen before Max Caulfield moves back to Arcadia Bay and attends Blackwell Academy. Not only do you get more backstory on Chloe Price before Life Is Strange, but you also get to know the enigmatic Rachel Amber.

The mystery in Life Is Strange is built around Rachel’s disappearance and finding out what happened to her. Prior to the prequel, Rachel drives a significant portion of the original game’s story, though, very little is learned about her. Rachel is nothing more than a face and a name to Max and the player. What you do learn of Rachel is based on pieces of other people’s memories about her through conversations you have with other Blackwell students, staff, Chloe, and the locals of Arcadia Bay. Before The Storm provides a fully realized character who is far more complex than the model student and daughter she’s projected to be.

[Credit: Deck Nine]
Before The Storm begins with Chloe trying to get into a concert held at an old, abandoned mill of her favorite band. The key differences you’ll notice immediately are, first, Chloe isn’t Max and isn’t above breaking the rules if it gets her what she wants. And two, there are no special powers or time travel abilities to save Chloe in a pinch. Unlike Max who has her rewind time ability in Life Is Strange, Chloe and the player have to rely on a new game mechanic known as the backtalk.

In certain situations, especially when Chloe finds herself in a tight spot, backtalk is used to weasel her way out of a situation or persuade someone to do things that will help Chloe achieve her goals. For instance, backtalk is first used to convince the bouncer at the concert to let her in. If you succeed at talking your way through the scenario, Chloe can walk in through the front entrance. Fail, and you’ll have to find another way into the concert. Once inside the old mill, it doesn’t take long for Chloe to get into all sorts of trouble.

When Chloe finds herself messing with the wrong kind of guys at the venue, her knight in shining armor comes in the form of Rachel Amber to help her escape the men. From the moment Rachel rescues her from the guys (with backup from Chloe’s dealer Frank), it becomes the start of a beautiful and angst filled relationship.

At a total of three episodes, with one bonus episode thrown in, Before The Storm is a relatively short game that packs an emotional wallop. You explore everything from Chloe’s grief and anger over losing her father to long kept secrets that threaten to unravel what Rachel knew about her life and family. Through the relationship Chloe has with Rachel, you begin to deconstruct the meticulously crafted image of Rachel’s persona and what drew Chloe to eventually care for, even fall in love with, Rachel should you choose to turn their platonic friendship into a romantic one.

[Credit: Deck Nine]
I enjoyed playing the original Life Is Strange, despite some of the flaws the story had. When news came out that there would be a prequel to Life Is Strange and this time you would get to play as Chloe, I had my doubts. Not only was Dontnod Entertainment not attached to the project, and it would instead be handed off to an entirely different developer (Deck Nine), but the original voice actress for Chloe (Ashly Burch) would not return to the role either because of the SAG-AFTRA strike at the time. The studio made the decision to choose a non-union voice actress to play Chloe in Before The Storm, which ultimately went to Rhianna DeVries. With all these changes being done before the prequel came out, I already thought this was a bad sign for the game.

Early footage of Before The Storm showed the new Chloe voice actress in action and I immediately hated it because it wasn’t the original person in the role. After the game came out on August 31, 2017, I had no intention of buying and playing the prequel. I felt content skipping this one, thinking I wouldn’t be missing much of anything. But when reviews started pouring in about the game, and most of them favorable, it eventually pushed me to rethink my dismissal of the game.

Looking into my backlog of games a few weeks ago, I saw I had downloaded Before The Storm but never played it. Since I was looking for a shorter and easier game to play, especially to fit into my busy schedule, I decided it was time to sit down and play the game. Once I got started, and similar to Life Is Strange, I was hooked.

[Credit: Deck Nine]
Chloe is still as rebellious as ever, but maybe filled with more rage and less bravado than the Chloe from Life Is Strange. Playing as her instead of Max was a good kind of different, and my decisions were informed based on what I already knew of Chloe. As Chloe, I was more inclined to steal, lie, or vandalize without giving, to use Chloe’s words, a fuck about what anyone thought of her. She did what she wanted without stopping to think about the consequences. This was pre-Chloe Price before Max re-entered the picture. No one was going to lecture her on the merits of doing the right thing. However, in the moments that counted, like helping a friend or making more of an effort to try to get along with her mom’s new boyfriend for her mom’s sake, I did pull Chloe back from going completely nuclear on anyone or anything. Chloe may come off as mostly “me against the world,” but there was still a part of her in there that still gave a damn about some things and some people. Most especially when one of those people was Rachel Amber.

The likelihood of the cool, popular girl hanging out with the unpopular, delinquent of Blackwell Academy sounds like it wouldn’t happen in any lifetime. The two girls are coming from total opposite worlds of each other. Rachel has long been held as the golden child who’s well liked, straight-A student, and has a nice family life, being the daughter of the town’s DA. Chloe, on the other hand, cuts classes, stays mostly a loner who doesn’t let anyone close enough to her, and has a home life that is far from picture perfect, her mother working at a local diner to make ends meet to pay the bills. What could they possibly have in common? As it turns out—everything.

What’s striking about the Chloe and Rachel relationship is despite how different these two girls are, they connect on a deeper level that surpasses more than just having similar taste in music. They strip away the part of themselves that they keep hidden away when no one is looking and are able to really open up and confide in each other. Every interaction and moment they have is a testament to the genuine connection, affection, and love they have for one another. Their relationship is made even better when you let Chloe take their friendship to the next level. By going the romantic route, Deck Nine encapsulates exactly what it is to be young and crazy stupid in love. Like the original Life Is Strange, the relationship in Before The Storm is just as memorable and affecting as Chloe’s time with Max.

[Credit: Deck Nine]
Having played both games, I prefer Chloe and Rachel as a romantic couple than Chloe and Max. I know plenty ship Chloe and Max together, but I think I’m more convinced that there’s a greater spark between Chloe and Rachel than Chloe and Max. Knowing how it all ends for Chloe and Rachel in Life Is Strange, it casts a hard to ignore pall over the entirety of the playthrough when you’re aware tragedy awaits for the doomed lovers in the not too distant future. While the game has done a considerable job of tugging at your heartstrings once more with a strong soundtrack to accompany the whole gameplay experience, there are some details in the game I didn’t enjoy as much.

Chloe’s backtalk, while a game feature that makes it uniquely “Chloe” and does away with the rewind time mechanic all together, isn’t as intuitive as I would have liked. The choices for getting a successful backtalk can be a hit or miss in some scenarios. There’s also a not-so-obvious time constraint while choosing the right dialogue. In one backtalk involving Principal Wells, one of two you get in the game, I took my time reading every dialogue option before making a choice. It turned out to be a bad idea because the options began to disappear and Wells started talking again to effectively shutdown any excuses Chloe might dish out. It took me completely by surprise and it left me unprepared.

The final episode of Before The Storm received some light criticism for being the weakest of the three episodes after having such solid starts with the previous two episodes. Without going into details, I do agree with this assessment. There are developments that seem to come out of nowhere and gaping plot holes for two characters at the climax of the episode. I’m able to forgive one of these transgressions, but I cannot brush aside the poor writing that doesn’t address what happens during an altercation between the aforementioned two characters.

Before The Storm, while not entirely a perfectly made game, makes up for its shortcomings to be a mostly worthy entry to extend the Life Is Strange story and its characters. What the game reminds us is that life can be messy, painful, and unfair but it can also be joyful, beautiful, and life changing.

[Credit: Deck Nine]
Reviewer Rating: 8.5/10

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2 thoughts on “Life Is Strange – Before The Storm: An Intimate Portrait Of Teen Angst, Love, and Tragedy

  1. I was also very skeptical of this prequel when it was first announced. For the reasons you mentioned (new dev, new voice actor, etc.) and I was unsure if having a choice-based game like this as a prequel where we sort of knew how it turned out for both characters would work. Man, what a pleasant surprise this game ended up being. I really enjoyed it. My favorite parts were the D&D games plus the soundtrack along with some of the musical moments that the soundtrack accompanied (like them sharing earbuds on the train). The core relationship was really well done. Great write-up!

    1. Thanks! I think Deck Nine really alleviated whatever fears we may have had about the prequel once you began playing it. I almost think the prequel is better than the original, if that’s even possible. I really did like the D&D moments. I thought it was cool that you can play a whole session in the game and how you’re not quite sure how it’ll play out for Chloe’s D&D character. The attention to detail in this prequel is really phenomenal. I also started playing Life Is Strange 2. I’m curious how the story will develop for the Diaz brothers. I think it’s off to a good start so far.

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