Review

Life Is Strange: Before The Storm - Episode 1 - Awake Review

  • First Released Aug 31, 2017
    released
  • PC

The wreck of you.

Life Is Strange has never been subtle about its symbolism. We're regularly reminded of the tornado that threatens the tiny town of Arcadia Bay in the very first scene of the 2015 game, and how it's meant to mirror Chloe Price's chaotic presence threatening everything safe and stable about protagonist Max Caulfield. In the new prequel series, Before the Storm, there's no image that represents Chloe Price's journey better than a black hole.

Set three years before the events of the original game, Before the Storm is a story of absences, painful wounds in Chloe Price's life that she has neither the ability or interest in healing. Most are recognizable if you played the first game: Max fading into the background of Chloe's life after she moves to Seattle, Chloe's father dying in a car crash, and her mom's new redneck boyfriend (who will, eventually, become Chloe's stepfather.) What we've yet to see is the cumulative effect these events on Chloe when no one's around. It was always up in the air just how much of Chloe's angst was performative, a shield to keep anyone from hurting her.

Before the Storm lets you step into Chloe's shoes for the much more complicated and painful truth. There is a lot of legitimate 16-year-old angst, and the game's more cringeworthy, trying-too-hard moments stem from the attempt to portray that. It quickly becomes obvious, however, just how casually cruel Arcadia Bay can be towards a relative outsider like Chloe. She needs more than her mother, her town, her life, can offer, and so far, Before the Storm makes an earnest go at navigating the oppressive weight of that harsh reality.

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Unlike the original game, however, Before the Storm doesn't rely on a supernatural phenomenon to get its points across. This means no time travel, no rewinding and replaying moments, and no bunny-hopping between alternate timelines. Chloe's big gimmick is a Backtalk system, allowing you to start a timed dialogue tree based around finding the sharpest retort in any given situation. It's a creative twist, but this is also where Chloe's portrayal wavers between between believable and miscalculated.

Aesthetically, Before the Storm doesn't stray far from the original game, aside from trading a lot of its depth-of-field trickery for more evocative lighting. The aural landscape is right in line with the previous game's peaceful, lighter-than-air post-rock soundtrack, though a smattering of edgier songs grounds you in Chloe's--rather than Max's--reality. Gameplay is also familiar: walk around, interact or speak with everything you can, and make choices that dictate how Chloe speaks to others and interprets their interactions in the long run. Once again, it's striking just how many of those tiny interactions there are, and how many you can miss entirely, even if you're thorough.

The lack of a supernatural gimmick or a central mystery forces Before the Storm to find a new focus for the narrative, and it does, in the form of Chloe's burgeoning relationship with Rachel Amber. We finally meet this girl who so drastically changed who Chloe Price is, to the point where Max almost doesn't recognize Chloe the first time they meet in the original game, and whose disappearance sends Chloe's life into a tailspin.

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Here, we see Rachel Amber as she was: A model student, beloved by everyone, undoubtedly ready to achieve her dreams, but whose sunny facade obscures serious damage, the extent of which Episode 1 of Before the Storm barely touches on. The second half of Before the Storm has Rachel and Chloe ditching school on a pure whim, and their day together is a whirlwind of new emotions, surprising vulnerability, and deep-seated resentments bubbling to the surface.

What ends up being the narrative thrust of Before the Storm is the attempt by the physically and emotionally scarred Chloe to let someone into her life after literally everyone who needed and deserved to be has vanished. Where Life Is Strange is a game of uncertainty and naivete blossoming into maturity, Before the Storm is a game of emotional Breakout, figuring out which walls to lower, when, and how to do so. There's nothing here to solve, no lives to save, just the challenging work of choosing to trust, even love, another human being.

Despite using the same graphical engine, the same gameplay elements, and some shared, familiar locations, the experience of inhabiting Chloe in Before the Storm is a completely new experience. Episode 1 promises a series that uses love and empathy as a sword and shield, the only way to either stay safe or strike back at a harsh life, harsher still by nature of being a teenager. That's a special ability we are so seldom asked to employ in games and it's so heartening to know there's at least two more episodes of Before the Storm where we get to do it again.

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The Good
A powerful narrative that feels distinct from Life is Strange (2015)
Talkback system puts a nice twist on dialogue tree
Soundtrack is fantastic
The Bad
Some clunky dialogue throughout
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Life is Strange: Before the Storm

About the Author

Justin Clark completed Before the Storm Episode 1 in about two hours, and played a second time through to experience the game's alternate choices. Surprisingly, he didn't miss Ashly Burch. GameSpot was provided with a complimentary copy of the game.
196 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Gelugon_baat

I like Giant Bomb East, and I want to watch their YouTube videos whenever I can.

But I can't watch their Quick Look on this game. The problem is not them; the problem is this game. Ten minutes in, and I am already too disgusted by the insufferable characters to even continue.

The game makes such a terrible first impression.

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DEVILTAZ35

The seemingly clunky dialogue is probably just because Don't Nod are French and wouldn't convey things in the same fashion as say America. The first game wasn't perfect dialogue wise either but it still beat to a pulp any Telltale offering.

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DEVILTAZ35

How far apart are these episodes going to be?

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DEVILTAZ35

Isn't ep 1 only an Hr long? If so , not really worth the fuss just yet.

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texasgoldrush

@deviltaz35: 3 hrs long.

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DEVILTAZ35

@texasgoldrush: My mate finished it in just over an hr as he sent me a message straight after to complain about the short time lol

Mind you he finished uncharted in 5 3/4 hours too and i took my time and it took me 12 lol

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texasgoldrush

@deviltaz35: Then he rushed the game and skipped the side content.

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DEVILTAZ35

@texasgoldrush: So are you saying main game is only 1 hr in first ep and the rest is side content. He could very well have but not everyone is into games padded out with side content if the main story is very short. This has been a criticism of many games nowadays.

The original Life is Strange was a good game though so i might look at getting this when all the eps have released.

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texasgoldrush

@deviltaz35: There many character interactions you can completely miss if you just follow the main objectives, especially at Blackwell.

Most Steam reviews show around 2-4 hours on record.

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DEVILTAZ35

@texasgoldrush: Ok thanks

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DEVILTAZ35

@texasgoldrush: Which game, he found more treasure than i did in Uncharted. He only missed two treasures lol. He is good at those sorts of games though. I get distracted too easily.

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thekittenofwar

Still ticked about the ending of Life is Strange.

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Gelugon_baat

@thekittenofwar: Which bit about the ending?

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thekittenofwar

@Gelugon_baat: The whole thing, basically. I didn't enjoy the fact that I had spent several hours playing through what could have been a great narrative driven by my choices only to have that notion utterly crushed by a "choose ending" decision for the climax.

And then on top of that, the final choice of ending they gave you wasn't even really a choice. Of course, Chloe had grown on me over the course of the game, but to the extent I was willing to kill off every other character I interacted with? Not even close, and I know 80% of the player base did too, thus selecting an ending where NONE of the decisions you made actually mattered as opposed to another ending where none of your decisions mattered because they're all dead.

So, yeah, great narrative and I'm not going to lie that I didn't enjoy the ride, but it was beyond ruined for me at the end. LiS portrayed itself to me as a game with a branching narrative when in reality it had a single narrative the devs shoehorned you along toward an unsatisfying conclusion that ultimately made most of your decisions pointless.

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Pierce_Sparrow

@thekittenofwar: How else was it supposed to end? This seems to me, to miss the entire point of the ending to begin with. Every time you came across a decision in the game, you had choices. You were in control (most of the time anyway). Not at the very end. You had a tough, numbing decision to make. It had meaning. Whether or not you liked it, it was still important to the story. Max couldn't just time travel her way out of it. She couldn't go back and find an alternative. She had to make the tough decision: save her friend or save the town. It was the one decision Max couldn't run away from or mediate out of. She had no choice but one or the other. As gamers looking in on this, yeah, it probably sucks because in the context of this being a game, we want more freedom than the game is allowing. But in the context of the story and characters, it has more meaning than that. It's not supposed to be easy or pleasant, necessarily. But it is supposed to have impact and meaning to the story, and it does.

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thekittenofwar

@Pierce_Sparrow: If you viewed the game as a straight forward narrative, you will enjoy LiS. If you go into the game viewing it as a branching narrative with choices like I did , you will find it disappointing at best. I will always view the game from the later angle, seeing as that is what LiS billed itself as and what I will judge it as.

So, the last choice of the game. The one decision that actually matters if you were trying to work towards anything positive in the story. A decision that only had meaning by default, in a mocking "pick your ending" choice that invalidates every other choice you made throughout the game. Why should I have cared about saving anyone else, or helping anybody else, when I simply condemn or save them at the end anyway?

When I first got to that scene, I wanted to know what I did wrong. It appeared to me I had gotten the "bad" ending. When I found it that the ending was just that binary choice, I was upset to say the least.

Of course you can defend it with the meaning argument, or there wasn't supposed to be a "good" choice here and not everyone could be saved, but it could have been done so much better. Imagine if the blame that not everyone could be saved was placed upon the player, not the story. Before I finished, my mind was filled with was my "butterfly effect" (an ironic statement given its linearity) on how the game played out. I imagine a scenario where you fail to save Chloe at the beginning and instead start the whole investigation with Warren. I thought the storm was connected to my time powers, so I used them very little (Imagine if you didn't use your time powers a lot, so the storm was adverted or held off). I imagine my saving characters, like Kate, as actually had an impact on the main narrative (it didn't).

A story like I thought of above is a branching narrative, where your decisions not only have weight by their emotional impact, but also by the story design. Imagine my surprise when I could have found out that Chloe's death could have been avoided if I hadn't used my powers as a crutch so frequently. Same impact as the current end choice, but the fault is mine, not the story's.

Of course, this means nothing if you saw LiS as a simply, narrow narrative to be played out. You don't need to see how your never actually in control, the writer's guiding you along their narrative like a marionette. Their presentation of choice is just a facade to cover and through and through linear story. Your decisions only really effect who appears in the end credits. Nothing more.

Regardless of the rest of the story (which, in my opinion, was pretty good), all the context and meaning in the world does not detract from the ending being bad for a choice driven game. Giving it meaning by making it the only meaningful choice is just bad design, and easily leaves me more frustrated than "Aw, I have to say one or the other? How tragic!"

So, in conclusion, LiS's final decision is the only meaningful decision in the game by default and reveals the rest of your choices in the game to be pointless . I do not care for what Max is going through, because I'm not playing as Max - I'm just moving her from arbitrary plot point A to arbitrary plot point B. And as a game that is billed as a branching, story-driven game, it is bad.

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Gelugon_baat

@thekittenofwar: Hah... I had guessed that this is what you would say. I believe so too.

@texasgoldrush: See? I am not the only one who perceives that the binary choice at the end makes every previous decision pointless.

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texasgoldrush

@Gelugon_baat: However, once again, the whole game was a binary choice. It was foreshadowed all throughout. Hell, the scene with alternate Chloe in Episode 4 basically parallels the ending. It wasn't a tacked on binary choice in the end, it was in the narrative's DNA all along.

And really, in the "Bae" or "doe" ending, not everybody would die anyway. For example, Kate would probably be safe.

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SuppaPHly42

@texasgoldrush: its a matter of opinion, i loved LiS so much that the ending choice was not a big deal for me. in fact i would have bet my left nut that it would have ended the way it did, because i saw the movie "the butterfly effect". not a stellar movie at all, but the premise is the same and there fore made me believe the choice was going to be one or the other. not to mention there is a question about life and death in every episode, so just playing the game should have prepared everyone, with an ounce of perception, what was coming

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eLite0101

I finished it. Its even better than original IMO and one of best parts in whole series - while not destroying original spirit of it.

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SythisTaru

Why they switch to Unity engine?? Will not support this evil!

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Gelugon_baat

@SythisTaru: It's the most versatile engine around, but if you have said what you said because it is a buggy-ass engine, I understand.

That's the developer's problem though, never the engine's. Bethesda Softworks gave it a bad name.

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SythisTaru

@Gelugon_baat: Bethesda uses Gamebryo (which I like better). I'm just wondering why they switched to Unity when they have always used Unreal Engine (on all of their games). Why learn an entirely new engine (with less features + more expensive?).

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Gelugon_baat

@SythisTaru: I don't know, but I have read opinions from some software developers before that it is a matter of support from other developers who use the same engine, i.e. there may be more sources of expertise on Unity stuff than Gamebryo's.

That said, having more features but lower prices seems like an attempt to get sales going.

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simonspearman86

@SythisTaru: Nothing wrong with the engine, just a lot of crappy developers that don't use it right, especially on steam. I have this game and it looks and plays great.

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SythisTaru

@simonspearman86: It doesn't support 3440x1440 sadly, when the original did :X

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DEVILTAZ35

@SythisTaru: That is very odd, i would say that will come in a patch

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BDRTFM

Hate to be that guy but, in the 4th paragraph you say between between. Really messes with the flow of an otherwise great review.

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videogameninja

I remember my thoughts towards Life is strange before I had played it. “A story based/narrative driven game from Square Enix? In episodic format? Doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

Boy was I completely wrong (-Just like everything you say, Ninja.-). Little did I know that taking a chance on an unknown title, a new IP at that, would go down as one of the more memorable gaming experiences I had that year. To say Life is strange is a hidden gem is doing it a disservice. For some it may be analogous to finding the Holy Grail (-Whoa, Ninja. Calm down.-). Alright, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch (-Ya think?-) but the fact remains, Life is Strange is a terribly underrated game that didn’t quite get the attention and praise it deserved when it first launched. That however seems to be changing as of late.

While personally I was a little hesitant that it would reach the heights it did during my initial play-through (especially during the first 2 episodes.) that took a sudden change once I started episode 3. Maybe the juxtaposition between the later episodes compared to the former was the curve-ball that the game needed to truly up its game (no pun intended.) but it goes without saying that those last few episodes really solidified in my mind that this was a title worth my time.

While the jury seems divided on whether or not this 1st entry in the much anticipated and equally as polarizing prequel will be able to shoulder the burden placed upon it (a title that has garnered such a vocal and cult like following.) this review in particular gives me hope that fans of the first will be pleased in the direction this new team has decided to go about tying up those loose ends and burning questions that were maybe just hinted at in the first.

Guess we’ll all find out whether Deck Nine’s efforts pay off when all subsequent episodes drop but if this review is in any way a good representation of the rest of the entries than perhaps they just might pull it off.

-HELLA NINJA APPROVED-

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siarhei

@videogameninja: Burning questions. Ha! I see what you did there :)

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p1p3dream

@videogameninja: I think I agree with Tex, a positive reception seems just about unanimous with the fanbase of LIS. Of course, there are a few outliers, I know that some people were turned off by the apparent removal of time travel and sci fi trappings, but I think if they were to actually play the game that their concerns would be no more.

The aspects that made LIS the unique property that it is, were its rich character developments, and the relationships between characters, the everyday real world setting (I actually live never where the game takes place in Oregon... In the first game, Max and her boyfriend talked about going to see a Drive-In in Newberg, and I've been on quite a few dates to that actual drive in!) and also that the characters had to deal with everyday normal challenges and problems that just about everyone can relate to. And of course, stellar writing.

It seems to me like Deck Nine doubled down on the strongest elements from the first game- and that was strong emotional narratives, rich character development, and of course the relationships, and real world problems- it seems like they quietly trimmed back the sci/fi elements, which honestly just make the story that much stronger and more realistic. The story didn't need Time Travel, it was really just a gimmick mechanic to create tension with choices and dialog- but the thing is, with writing this good the dialogs and situations create enough tension perfectly by themselves without an added mechanic.

If we can judge by the first episode- this is going to be a fascinating journey.

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texasgoldrush

@videogameninja: The jury hasn't been divided, the fanbase loves the prequel, surprising many. Its Steam rating even matches the original right now.

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RogerioFM

I think that my right supramarginal gyrus is not developed enough as I lack any semblance of empathy to give a damn about teenager's drama in games, maybe if I had a vagina it would make things easier to connect with this story as things stand though, it's a huge pass for me.

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SuppaPHly42

@RogerioFM: :O

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RogerioFM

@suppaphly42: Hey man, I respect everyone who loves the game and even respect the game itself. But I just CAN'T like it.

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SuppaPHly42

@RogerioFM: no worries bud :D i'm just messing

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aeroldoes

@RogerioFM: So much edge lol

Life is Strange: Before the Storm More Info

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  • First Released Aug 31, 2017
    released
    • Android
    • Linux
    • + 4 more
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a new three part standalone story adventure set three years before the events of the first game.
    7.7
    Average Rating132 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Life is Strange: Before the Storm
    Developed by:
    Deck Nine Games
    Published by:
    Square Enix
    Genre(s):
    Adventure, Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Drugs and Alcohol, Violence