Life is Strange: Before the Storm should be a non-starter. It’s a prequel, for one, and like all prequels it’s stuck trying to surprise players even though thanks to 2015’s Life is Strange we already know where events are headed. It’s also forced to get by without its predecessor’s primary gimmick—Max’s ability to rewind time is tied innately to the events of Life is Strange proper, and Before the Storm has to do without that supernatural element.

Take the supernatural out of Life is Strange and what’s left is a quiet teenage drama set in smalltown Oregon—a town where a big scandal is a straight-A pupil skipping class at the local prep school. I wouldn’t say it was set up to fail, but the burden was certainly on developer Deck Nine to prove such small stakes could carry an entire game. 

[SPOILER WARNING: I’m going to talk around events in Before the Storm as much as possible, but I feel no such compunction with the original Life is Strange. It’s two years old, it’s excellent, and if you haven’t played it you probably should. Don’t want to? Then expect its key moments to be spoiled below.]

Back to school

Small stakes are what made the original Life is Strange so memorable though. Sure, the overarching apocalypse threatening Arcadia Bay made for a great backdrop, but it was primarily the relationship between Max and Chloe—the small moments, hanging out in a junkyard or visiting the diner where Chloe’s mom worked—that tugged on people’s emotions.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm IDG / Hayden Dingman

And as such, Life is Strange: Before the Storm actually feels less different than I expected. Max isn’t around, this taking place during the period where she’d moved away from Arcadia Bay. Before the Storm picks up with Chloe though, which puts us in familiar territory.

The Chloe we meet when Before the Storm opens is familiar—loud, antagonistic, on her way to a rock concert in the woods. But she’s also decidedly younger, her loudness a mask she puts on more than the disaffected swagger of Chloe-to-come. That Chloe’s been dragged through the mud. This one’s still on the green side of the fence.

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Before the Storm also covers ground we’ve at least heard about previously, introducing us to Rachel Amber, one of the central mysteries of the original. Or a mystery and then not a mystery. This is where Before the Storm is hampered by its status as a prequel. We know of course where it’s eventually headed. Rachel Amber is kidnapped by Arcadia Bay’s photography teacher, Chloe spends most of Life is Strange looking for her, and she and Max eventually discover Rachel’s dead. It makes the prospect of watching Chloe and Rachel’s relationship develop tragic to say the least. Ghoulish, too.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm IDG / Hayden Dingman

Deck Nine makes a bold move though, divorcing Before the Storm almost entirely from its predecessor. There’s one quick post-credits scene to tie the Rachel we’ve come to know to the Rachel we’d heard about, but that’s it. Before the Storm is otherwise content to tell its own self-contained story.

What ensues is a bit of Romeo and Juliet, with star student and district attorney’s daughter Rachel Amber falling in with Chloe, the troublemaker. And it’s sweet. There are still some cringeworthy lines, but the performances for Rachel and Chloe (even without the return of Ashly Burch due to the SAG strike) carry it. We get to see how they meet, how their meeting grows into a friendship, how that friendship grows into something more.


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