"You're not a problem, Chloe. You are a person"
The first Life is Strange was a successful attempt at adding to the genre of the "choose your own adventure" games that Telltale Games have been doing for years, but it was just different enough that it felt like something almost entirely different, and the fact it was based on an original story and not that of a licensed property also helped it feel different. It was also one of the most emotional games I've ever played, having me in tears with its final choice.
The original Life is Strange was an episodic experience, spreading its content across five episodes that were just a few short hours each. I didn't personally play the game until all episodes were out and then played it over the course of two days, allowing the emotional moments to fire back to back instead of waiting months for the next chapter. However, I've chosen to play Before the Storm, the prequel to the events of the first game, in its normal episodic release, which will span only three episodes this time, with a bonus chapter to those who purchase the Digital Deluxe edition.
Before the Storm isn't technically Life is Strange 2 as it takes place before Max Caulfield came back to Arcadia Bay and is reunited with her former best friend, Chloe Price. This prequel allows you to play as Chloe herself and features a few changes to how the game actually plays, as Max's time travel abilities from the prior game are nowhere to be found. For those who don't like change, be rest assured that the majority of the title still feels and plays much like its predecessor, flaws and all.
In the original Life is Strange, we are told about a missing girl, Rachel Amber, and her missing posters were all over the town. While the game did indicate what eventually happened to Rachel, we are only told about who she was from various people throughout the game, as she wasn't someone who we actually met. Before the Storm allows us to really get to know Rachel, as she is the deuteragonist to Chloe Price.
As is the case with most prequels, we meet characters during moments before we were first introduced to them, so it can be rather exciting to see where they were just a few short years prior. Several faces around the school are those we met previously and the impact of this is certainly beneficial to those who made this their second trip to Arcadia Bay.
While there was much to the backstory of Chloe from the previous game, we only ever dived into it through the eyes of Max, and Before the Storm allows us to experience much of this through Chloe herself. Her father dying in a car crash, Max disappearing from her life when she moved to Seattle, or the fact her mother has a new boyfriend. We know these moments from the prior game but now as Chloe, we get to live through these very memories and how it shapes who Chloe eventually becomes.
Since the death of her father and Max's departure from her life, Chloe puts up thick emotional walls to keep everyone and everything out. Much of what is shown to us in episode one is Chloe dealing with how to open up and allow someone to breach those walls, and that someone is Rachel Amber. Much of the episode is Chloe and Amber skipping school and this leads to a lot of discussion between the two and despite knowing how certain events will eventually play out, it still has its surprises.
It's nice to see Rachel get quite the content here as she was something of a legend in the prior game. She's a smart and capable student who has a rebellious side to match alongside Chloe. Her first interaction with her here sets the stage for whats to come, and it's also as equally satisfying to see her own bit of drama later on collide with her friendship with Chloe, testing it and making it far stronger than either of them realize. It will be very interesting to see where this story takes both of them, despite the fact of what eventually awaits the duo just prior to the events of the first title.
While there is still much to occur in Chloe's life to get her on track to who she is by the time we first meet her in the previous game, there is still a tremendous amount of pain in the physically and emotionally scarred Chloe. We experience the car crash that took her father's life, and also assist in the grieving that she continues to go through. As someone who has also felt somewhat abandoned by their peers, the episode can certainly hit close to home as this theme is felt throughout its entirety.
Before the Storm (so far) has no supernatural gimmick that allows the player to rewind time or replay conversations to get the outcome you want, instead, Chloe uses a system called Backtalk. When Chloe is confronted with an obstacle, she'll attempt to talk her way out of it and this results in the player having to choose from a few timed dialogue options to find the best response to use. Sometimes you'll need to search the surroundings to find items or something to tip the conversation in your favor. It's a nice system that fits within Chloe's personality, even if the dialogue is a bit cheesy.
Having said that, one of the main problems that both Before the Storm and the original Life is Strange is still plagued from is the uneven dialogue and often too-witty comebacks the majority of the cast seems to spout off. It can sometimes feel as if the characters themselves are reading from something pre-scripted than any sort of natural dialogue. It's not horribly bad, but it can get a bit cringe after a while. I also found it rather hilarious that they even refer to the original game's use of the word "hella" in probably the best way possible.
Before the Storm, despite using the Unity Engine as opposed to the Unreal Engine this time, pretty much looks shot for shot exactly as I remember the original game looking. Character do have a slight lack of detail, but this is part of the art style that Life is Strange has used. Visually, the game is alright, nothing terribly special, but it gets the job done.
The main gameplay of the original Life is Strange is still very much alive and present here. You'll explore your areas and click on objects and sections of the surroundings to interact with them. This can lead to learning more about something that may benefit your progress in the Backtalk system or result in possible consequences at a future date. One such consequence is choosing whether to steal money from a rude t-shirt vendor at a concert. Upon completing the episode I hadn't received any sort of consequence for snatching the money up, but once the next episode teaser hit, it very much indicated that my punishment was about to come due.
When Life is Stange: Before the Storm was first announced, it was made clear that Ashly Burch would not be returning to voice Chloe and it was met with much disappointment, even from Ashly herself. However, this was because of the SAG-AFTRA strike that was currently taking place. Rhianna Devries stepped in to voice Chloe and frankly, does a tremendous job at filling in the shoes left by Burch, who was actually brought in as a consultant for Chloe, a role that was allowed due to the fact that she wouldn't be "acting".
Episode One does a fantastic job at setting up the emotional rollercoaster that Chloe's life is about to take. The episode can feel a bit bloated due to some side activities that don't quite fit the emotional tone the rest of the episode steers towards, but the large majority of what we get here is solid material and lets us dive deeper into the rebellious and take no shit, Chloe Price. Who, I might add, plays a mean game of Dungeons and Dragons.