Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 1, “Awake”
Developer: Deck Nine
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Playstation 4
Release Date: August 31st, 2017
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is Shakespearean. It bears an uncanny likeness to The Tempest and with solid purpose too; a tempestuous storm crests ahead on what feels like a coastal isle full of sweet music and sexually frustrated teenagers. “What’s past is prologue” is the motif going for Before the Storm. Experiencing this story after the original Life is Strange makes time feel all the more obscure, irrelevant, and like an illusion. The deep well of allusions that Deck Nine was able to pull from for this game is incredible, making a story that may not be wholly original, but is hella powerful.
Before the Storm is a prequel, taking place a couple of years before the story of the hit “indie” darling Life is Strange. This time around you get to play as Chloe Price, who was the rebellious sidekick to the protagonist, Max, in the first game. The central plot of the first episode,“Awake”, is mainly about Chloe growing into her skin two years after her father’s death, while exploring her budding relationship with the most popular girl in school, Rachel Amber. On the surface, it’s a tale about teenage angst, punk rock, and rampant vandalism, but the deeper you delve into the story, it’s a treasure trove of literary and pop culture allusions that are so carefully chosen that it ends up plunging the teenage drama into a fully realized work about depression and loneliness.
Chloe Price is fucking lonely. In Life is Strange, you got the view that Chloe is a bad-ass shit-talker who’s making a bigger deal out of things than she probably should. Her mom is a good person, and her step-dad, David, is actually an okay dude who means well. I originally thought Chloe got kind of worked up over nothing and should take a chill pill. But now, in Before the Storm, she’s sooooo sad! It feels like the entire world is against Chloe, and even when I (the player) try to make good decisions to please and thank people, they think Chloe’s being a smart ass, or that she’s not being genuine. As per the original, occasionally we’re given choices to make, and it’s an interesting experience playing as Chloe this time around. For the first few choices I was given I tried to be a decent person and do the right thing, but NPCs would wind up shitting on me for it regardless. After a while I started to say “fuck it”, and I gradually felt like I was playing Chloe Price the way I want to play her, something that’s very clever of developer, Deck Nine, to do.
Max was, frankly, boring to play as in Life is Strange, and that game generally created a moral obstacle of what is the “right” choice to make. If you didn’t make the “right” choice, it ended up having steep consequences, and you looked like an asshole. In Before the Storm, however, there is no true moral compass for Chloe. You’re kind of free to fuck your shit up, and most of the choices Deck Nine provides the player with are morally ambiguous. You’re free to play Chloe how you want to play Chloe, and it feels pretty great to do so.
Another aspect that Deck Nine is able to capture so goddamn well is just being a teenager and feeling horribly awkward at all times. Chloe isn’t exactly the picture of self-confidence, even though she looks that way on the outside. She’s very sweet and comes off as pretty shy on the inside as you listen to her monologues, quips, and read her diary. I’m pretty certain most teenagers’ diaries read like hers, at least mine did, for the most part, doodles included. Chloe as a character grows on you instantly and Deck Nine brings you in gradually to her perspective, and I ended up feeling real, genuine emotion for her character as I was playing.
For the technical aspects of Before the Storm, I was really worried about how Deck Nine could pull off the feel of the original. But not only did they do just that, but they somehow surpassed it. I made a list of everything that could use some fixing for future Life is Strange games, and Deck Nine ended up fixing most of my major hangups. Some of those include fixing the speech animation for each character. The first Life is Strange had that look of “dogs with peanut butter in their mouths to make them look like they’re talking”. It was not flattering in the slightest, and it’s fixed a great deal in BTS.
Additionally, they fixed the dialogue – thank the heavens – and it is now more bearable to listen to the quirky, counterfeit Pacific Northwest hipster-talk they were trying to recreate, mainly by getting rid of the excessive use of the word “hella”, and actually giving a nod to the origin of it, by use of Rachel Amber. The dialogue now flows much better and isn’t garbled fake slang, or overly deep and cringe-worthy teen thoughts. Deck Nine also cut the stupid little mini games like “go collect 5 bottles” which really took me out of the story for the original. Any puzzle elements are simple and well thought out, and most importantly, not burdensome to the overall story.
I think what moved me most about this first installment of Before the Storm is the subtle use of literary and pop culture references to help tell and expand the story. When first starting the game, you sort of get smacked in the face with Chloe loving the band, FireWalk, a pretty clear reference to David Lynch’s Fire Walk With Me, the Sequel/Prequel/Whatever film to Twin Peaks.
At first, I thought it was just essentially a nod to the Pacific Northwest in general, but then I started noticing how each little reference, and what I knew about it, helped expand the story. For example, Rachel Amber is essentially the Laura Palmer archetype: beautiful, popular, cool, but sour, and more rotten on the inside. Weirdly having that knowledge of Twin Peaks helped me understand the lengths to which Rachael Amber’s character could go, and it’s a clever use of that story-telling device.
Additionally, there’s a segment where Chloe can choose to play Dungeons and Dragons. Playing Dungeons and Dragons until completion honestly made me think about the illusion of choice, and how the players are just role-playing.
It’s the small and subtle things that make Before the Storm’s first segment magical and powerful. Overall I highly, highly recommend it if you were a fan of the original. Life is Strange: Before the Storm surpassed every expectation that I had, and I’m completely in love with this first installment. So, if you haven’t played Life is Strange, go back to the original and then jump to Before the Storm; your emotions will thank you. Summary The first installment in "Life is Strange: Before the Storm" blew me out of the water. The Game's clever use of literary allusions, coupled with the impressive dialogue and impeccable playlist makes 'Awake' a beautiful exploration of depression.
The first installment in "Life is Strange: Before the Storm" blew me out of the water. The Game's clever use of literary allusions, coupled with the impressive dialogue and impeccable playlist makes 'Awake' a beautiful exploration of depression.