Review: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (PS4)

Review: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (PS4)

Platforms:

  • PlayStation 4
  • Xbox One
  • PC

Platform/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
Title: Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Format: PSN (TBD)
Release Dates:

  • August 31, 2017: Episode 1 | PSN (5.52 GB)
  • Episode 2 (TBD)
  • Episode 3 (TBD)

Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Deck Nine
Original MSRP:

ESRB Rating: M
PEGI: 16
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
Life is Strange released two years ago to critical acclaim. It’s a coming of age story about a young woman named Max who discovers she had the ability to manipulate time.

What made the game so special was not Max’s powers, but the writing and accurate portrayal of being a teenager trying to find her place in the world.

So it’s not surprising that we find ourselves two years removed from the first game and diving right back into the world made by DONTNOD. This time the game is being developed by Deck Nine and we have a prequel.

The choice to go with a prequel instead of a sequel is obvious if you played the first game as it ended in a way that made a sequel difficult depending how you chose to play the story.

Here we play as Chloe, Max’s best friend, and we see her life before Max returns home and their paths cross again. This also means that the time mechanic is gone since that ability was unique to Max.

Chloe is just a normal girl trying to figure out life, her family is struggling, her academics are on life support and she finds herself tangled in a complicated relationship with a girl named Rachel Amber.

It’s interesting going into this game knowing that there are no powers. It puts a lot of the weight of the experience on the writing. There is, however, a new gameplay mechanic introduced to compensate for the lack of powers that compliments Chloe’s skillset.

Chloe is a smartass, that’s her super power. She’s a sarcastic, foul mouthed, sharp tongued teen, and the developers are using that to build one of the main gameplay elements called “Backtalk”.

Backtalk is a verbal duel that Chloe will engage in with a character using her wit to beatdown her foe. In a Backtalk you’re pretty much in a debate against a person and have to quickly pick a response to fill a meter that sways the conversation in your favor.

Her choice of comebacks tend to border somewhere between cringeworthy and vicious and I don’t always know what the game wants from me in these sections.

Episode 1: Awake
Release Date: August 31, 2017

Episode One starts off with Chloe trying to sneak her way into a weird barn/bar that’s having a rock show. Here we see Chloe battle the bouncer in a Backtalk scenario before she finds her way into the bar.

I don’t quite know at this point what exactly the game wants from me in these scenarios. The back and forth is fun and sometimes hilarious despite some eye roll inducing lines and I hope the game can better explain what is needed of me to win in the future.

Once at the bar we see Frank, a familiar face from the first game. He’s the only friendly face we see at first and it was interesting for me to see Chloe and Frank interact here because I know where their relationship goes down the road.

This is something that comes up often. Because this is a prequel I don’t feel like I can change them too much. Instead I feel like I am more in an observing role, watching relationships play out and sometimes steering them in the direction I know they end up at.

Chloe eventually crosses paths with some laughable thugs who are clearly planning to hurt her until she’s bailed out by the mysterious Rachel Amber. This is huge because Rachel Amber is the centerpoint for a lot that happens in the original game.

Her character is never seen, but her life casts a huge shadow over everything in Life is Strange. It’s interesting to see her in video game form and we get to see her relationship with Chloe from the beginning.

The opening scene isn’t great. The writing is weak and the game doesn’t look good here. It feels as if the writers didn’t quite have a firm grasp on the characters yet. Thankfully as the game progresses the game finds its groove and it begins to feel like Life is Strange proper.

The next day, we begin with Chloe in her home and have rather sweet, yet contentious scene between Chloe, her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. There’s a lot to digest here, but we learn a lot.

This is where I struggle a little with playing as Chloe. In the first game Max was an innocent do-gooder and I played her that way. Chloe on the other hand is a smartass and sometimes can be a real bitch. There isn’t much wiggle room in the writing that will allow you to change that.

That’s perfectly fine because changing that would go against what has already been established for the character. Chloe’s arc is set in stone and we shouldn’t be able to alter it, but it has be a struggle because I know where everything leads.

From there we go to school and this is where the writing steps up to a level that I’m satisfied with. I won’t breakdown everything here or go into much detail, but there’s a lot of fantastic stuff in this section that establishes the side characters and I recommend interacting with everyone.

The core of the first episode and likely the entire game is Chloe’s relationship with Rachel Amber who is a fascinating and intense character. In the original game she’s almost mythical due to her popularity and ability to fit in with every group. Everyone loves her and we begin to learn why right here. We also learn that she’s a bit complicated, to say the least.

The relationship with Chloe and Rachel is cute and has the makings for a potentially toxic pairing. The last third of the episode is building this relationship and it’s all solid stuff from a writing and acting perspective.

I’m absolutely all in on the dynamic between the two characters and I look forward to seeing the pair bond over the next two episodes.

Overall the first episode starts off rough, but gradually increases in quality as it progresses. I’m on board with what I think the story plans on exploring.

I am curious to see if they can squeeze in some twists and surprises, but even if they don’t I love the characters enough to just watch them play out their lives.


Visuals:
One of the biggest issues some might have with the game is in the stiff animations. The franchise as a whole has never had the best animation as characters can be stiff and their movements sometimes robotic.

This is emphasized in the first episode’s opening scene which involves the characters moshing around at a concert. It shows the limitations of the animation and it’s almost laughable how bad the scene comes across.

When the game decides to focus on the characters talking or keeps movements to a slower pace it looks fine, sometimes even beautiful with some nice backgrounds and world that feels lived in and alive.

Audio:
The voice acting is solid with one notable change in the voice cast. Ashly Burch is not the voice of Chloe anymore due to the voice actors strike from 2016.

In her place is Rhianna DeVries who sounds similar to Burch and does an excellent job portraying Chloe. It’s a change I might not have even noticed if I wasn’t paying attention to the news surrounding the game.

The music continues to be a highlight for this series with some wonderful indie bands filling the soundtrack. The collection of songs is a perfect mix of music that encompasses the world, the characters, and the general mood and feelings of teenage life.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is one player only with no online component.

Conclusion:
Before the Storm finds itself in a tough position. It’s a choose your own adventure-style game where my choices don’t really feel like they matter or leave much room for change since I know the endgame.

Instead it has to rely on having solid writing and being more of an interactive story as opposed to something I can mold into my own. Early on the writing had to find itself, but over time it found a solid rhythm that I hope it can keep up.

PS Nation has changed the way we approach episodic games. A score will only be given once the final episode has been reviewed.

Score:
score-tbd

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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