Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 “Awake” Review (PS4) – A Rough Start

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Posted September 1, 2017 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Deck Nine

Publisher: Square Enix Holdings

Release date: August 31, 2017

Available on: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One

In 2015, Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment introduced us to the adventure game Life is Strange, the tale of time controlling Max Caufield and her friend, Chloe Price, and their adventures in the town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. The five chapter game started off slow, despite hooking us with Max’s dark dream of impending disaster and her ability to rewind time. The game established solid characters and their friendships, often with humor and heart, and rising above some occasional cringe worthy dialogue. The game also boasted a terrific indie soundtrack, and did well with both critics and gamers, enough so that Dontnod began to put together a sequel. But that’s a ways off, so to tide us over, Square Enix tapped developer Deck Nine to give fans a three episode prequel. Unfortunately, due to a voice actors strike, not only did the prequel get a different developer, but a main character got a new voice actor.

So, with these changes, did the first episode of the prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm, prove to be a worthy addition to the young series? Well, after a very awkward first hour and a half, it at least finished strong, and saved things from mediocrity. It’s a rough start, but the ending has my interest enough to see where things go from here.

Episode 1, “Awake”, opens with Chloe Price far from home, out after curfew, and seeking to get into a concert being staged at an old sawmill. She worms her way inside, runs afoul of two ruffians, and is saved by Rachel Amber (the missing girl in the original game that provided the motivating mystery). We see Chloe’s home life, marred in her eyes by her mother dating David, who would become a security officer at Blackwell Academy. As Chloe arrives at school, we meet some familiar characters (Nathan, Victoria) as well as some new faces (Eliot, Steph, Mikey). And, of course, Rachel. Rachel convinces Chloe to ditch school, and the pair go off to begin a friendship, which leads to an incident that could have far reaching consequences.

While the first game hooked us early with Max’s dream of a coming storm and her time rewinding talent, Before the Storm doesn’t have any of that. The story begins in a very uninteresting way, delivering a cliched tale of an angry teenage girl with some very cringe worthy dialogue. Instead of rewinding time to affect our choices, we get a feature called Backtalk, in which Chloe insults or otherwise tries to manipulate another person through arguing. If things go well, Chloe succeeds in getting her way. If not, she has to face the consequences. Since there is no time rewind, Chloe is stuck with her choices going forward, for better or ill. In one way, this works nicely, as it makes you think a bit more about the choices you make. For over half of the two and a half to three hours (depending on how much your explore) it take to complete the episode, these choices are sadly uninteresting. But things take a bit of a turn when Chloe and Rachel go off on their field trip.

Things start off very awkwardly, as budding friendships sometimes do. The pair engage in silly games aboard a train and while in a park, until something changes Rachel’s mood. The pair eventually arrive at the trash dump from the first game, and things seem to take an odd turn, as emotions erupt for some unknown reason. It’s here that developer Deck Nine seem to really get their act together, and deliver a couple of heartfelt and realistic scenes. By the end, the friendship has truly begun (no real spoiler here, as we know that Chloe and Rachel become best buds), and a gesture leads to an incident that could have far reaching consequences. The reactions of various characters to the incident at the end have my interest to see where they’re going to take episode 2.

Positioning itself as a prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm could find itself boxed in a corner, since we know where things are heading. To the writers’ credit, this first episode wraps up well, and makes the unlikeable Chloe a bit more likeable, and her unlikely friendship with Rachel a bit more believable. It stumbles out of the gate, with very poor dialogue and awkward situations, but then regains its footing in time to rescue the episode from being mediocre. There is a collector’s mode that you can play to find all of Chloe’s graffiti tags that you can play once you finish the episode. Your choices here won’t alter your initial choices, so it’s worth diving into for completists. A great soundtrack by indie folk band Daughter helps the game rise above the merely serviceable voice acting, and at least leaves us in a place where we want to know what comes next. And that’s just what you want from an episodic game series. Hopefully, episode 2 will start as strongly as this one ended, and make this prequel well worth our time.



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70

Final Score

7/10

    Pros

    • Great soundtrack
    • Good graphics
    • Good ending

    Cons

    • Cringe-worthy dialogue
    • Uninteresting story
    • Odd character motivations



    About the Author

    Thomas James Juretus