Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 1: Awake Review

 

 
Overview
 

Genre: Adventure
 
Rating: MA15+
 
Release Date: 01/09/2017
 
Overall
 
 
 
 
 
4/5


User Rating
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Positives


- Incredibly well presented and written story
- Believable and ever-evolving characters
- Beautifully melancholic soundtrack

Negatives


- Frustrating camera controls
- Graphical quality is inconsistent


0
Posted September 11, 2017 by

 
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I’ve had a problem with anything episodic ever since I opened Netflix’s webpage in my browser for the first time. The concept of waiting a week, a month or even longer before being able to re-engage with worlds I love has generally had me instead wait until a season is finished and available as a whole before jumping in. That is, until I fall in love with a world so much that I feel I need to engage with every part of it as soon as possible. While I have yet to complete the original Life is Strange, I fell in love with the world of Arcadia Bay and DONTNOD Entertainment’s storytelling. They told a story that was both relatable and fantastical at the same time, creating a highly engaging world and plot that drew me in. So, when the announcement of Life is Strange: Before the Storm was made, I was instantly interested, despite reservations that DONTNOD weren’t developing it. That interest was well rewarded with the game’s first episode, Awake. While franchises changing developers can sometimes cause issues, Deck Nine have created a fantastic story that lives up to the high standards of Life is Strange.

It was that story, which felt both alien and familiar at the same time, and its characters, that made me fall in Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Set three years before Life is Strange, Awake focuses on Chloe Price and her time in Arcadia Bay between Max’s departure and return. The game begins with Chloe, the embodiment of the grating and annoying teenager, as she tries to get into a gig that she definitely hasn’t been invited to. Everything is observed with an air of cynicism and sarcasm as begin to make the choices that will subtly shape and alter your experience. Your initial experience with Chloe in Before the Storm is hardly inspirational, but it sets a base that is gradually built upon as your progress. As you learn about Chloe and her hardships you begin to see past the sarcastic exterior and come to understand the hurt that lies behind the wall she has built. This character development is handled wonderfully, never feeling heavy handed, and is aided by the inclusion of Rachel Amber. While Chloe has already completed her spiral and is beginning to find perspective, Rachel’s world has only just begun to collapse around her. In their now mutual self-destruction they find a comradery that pulls them together and unites them in one common goal – leaving Arcadia Bay and escaping their lives. Deck Nine have handled all of this perfectly, with writing that is believable and avoids the melodrama that often plagues stories centring on teenagers. This is a story that had me hooked with 30 minutes, eagerly awaiting the next episode and getting ready for a second playthrough of the episode just so I can experience it again.

As with any interactive story, words alone aren’t the entire experience. While it was sad to see the Ashly Burch wasn’t reprising her role as Chloe due to the current SAG-AFTRA strike, Rhianna DeVries puts in a fantastic performance that more than lives up to the standards set in Life is Strange. In fact, all of the voice acting in the game is great, with the main characters performances being of particular note. The most wonderful audio, however, is the beautiful soundtrack composed for the game by British band Daughter. The pieces they produced were written to the script and concept artwork for the game, effortlessly evoking emotion. They produce a melancholic backdrop to the story, peppered with themes of isolation, rebelliousness and friendship to perfectly match the scene. It’s one of the most memorable soundtracks I’ve listened to, and even now listening to it rekindles the same emotions I felt while playing through the game.

With Max out of the picture, Before the Storm doesn’t include her rewind power. Instead, Deck Nine created a new conversation system that works off Chloe’s rebellious nature ‘Backtalk’. Backtalk has you choose from different conversation options in succession as a timer ticks down. Your intent is to intimidate or talk down the person on the receiving end of your back talk. It fits well with Chloe’s personality and character, and works well throughout the episode. While you can no longer rewind, choices are certainly still an important piece of Before the Storm. Even in the relatively short 2-3 hour episode, there were a number choices, both great and small. Some were as small as deciding what to wear, while others were as big as deciding whether to steal. Whenever a choice is big enough to impact the game later it warns you, allowing you to carefully consider your next action. While some games have been known to not present visible or obvious consequences of your choices, Before the Storm starts to present alterations to the story based on your choices in the first episode. There are enough choices and content within the first episode that multiple playthroughs are needed to experience the different situations in only the first episode.

I welcomed the return to Blackwell Academy and Arcadia Bay in Before the Storm, but it was quickly apparent that things weren’t quite the same as before. While Life is Strange had a somewhat stylised look to it, Deck Nine have taken things further in Before the Storm. Character models don’t quite have the same visual appeal as they did in the original. Character models generally look fine, but they seem to drop in quality in some scenes. Environments also vary in quality, with lighting of a lower quality and muddier texture work noticeable in some areas. It was a bit disconcerting to see the visual fidelity decrease compared to a 2.5 year-old game. Disconcerting is also a good way to describe the games cameras controls, which feature a frustrating acceleration. Small movements of the camera only elicit the tiniest of movements, while holding the stick to the side quickly causes the camera to hit warp speed and fire itself into the next star system. While it didn’t harm the experience overall, it did manage to extract a few grumbles from me as I attempted to select certain items on my screen.

Stories, and the worlds they unfold in, are the reasons I play games. Being able to experience situations I’ve never been in, emotions I don’t often feel and effectively live inside the mind of others is something incredibly special. So, when that is done as well as it is in Life is Strange: Before the Storm, I can’t help but fall in love. While there are some minor annoyances, and we’re yet to see the quality of the other two episodes, I have no reservations in recommending picking up Episode 1, Awake. If you’re a fan of highly personal stories, such as Gone Home or the original Life is Strange, you won’t be disappointed by this.


Andrew Cathie

 
Rocket Chainsaw's premier Fantasy-loving Editor. I basically play anything and everything that looks like it could be fun or interesting. Also, pugs are awesome. Puglife.


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