Life is Strange: Before the Storm, or Put on your Heelys to escape your feelies
Art is often debated subject. Should we quantify such a nebulous concept in mere words when many of us lack the wherewithal to even describe how to put together a nightstand from Ikea? Let’s talk about emotion. What moves you? For me, it’s a sunrise cresting over the slate grey waters of the north Atlantic, sitting in a café having a quiet brunch for one and mimosas for eight, and the first venture of Square Enix’s project Life is Strange. I received it for free on PS4 and really only played due to that fact and because of who made it, yet I, along with many others, were treated to a weaving storyline that tuned up your emotions like they owed you money. I didn’t know what to expect; in that respect, the ebb and flow of feelings were honestly won. Much like the original, Life is Strange: Before the Storm is broken down episodically, the first being released, the sequential releases to follow as chapters to this visual novella. The episodes are not long -- maybe three hours of play time -- but they move at a life’s pace: organically and quickly evolving from the mundane to the mental.
The first episode takes place over a thirty-or-so hour period where our protagonist, Chloe Price, a sixteen-year-old girl living in a quaint village in Oregon, goes about her day. She is an accurate portrayal of youths, as far as angst and the belief that adolescence holds any credence in the grand scheme of life. Her bedroom is an orgy of evidence that she marches to the beat of her own drum; haphazard decorations of posters and assorted guff don her walls, rubbish all over the floor and books stacked on the ground like a savage. Chloe is jaded beyond her years, skirting along the social stratum of her school, Blackwell Academy, where she is often absent and a poorly performing student. Don’t discredit her as some open-mouthed dullard – no, in fact, she simply does not apply herself; that old chestnut. Chloe interacts with a section of her journal, her mobile phone, people with whom she’s familiar, and any objects she has marked with an amusing graffito which is an optional quest of sorts (#allAboutDemChievs). Her journal is a summary of the choices you have made, in addition to events that transpired in game. It’s uncomfortable to read sometimes because, in a sense, you caused her pain – how do you like making a sixteen-year-old cry, you monster?
Waking up with your bones hurting in an ennui of fake smiles, dry-clean only trousers and property taxes
Life is Strange: Before the Storm plays like a cutscene with a point-and-click element that is a joy; no button combinations or consulting a grainy minimap: Daedalus himself designed the levels. You must look at everything, and interacting with an object reveals a new dialogue choice or just an internal reflection by Chloe. In the playthrough, much is revealed in a short time regarding Miss Price’s tastes in music, her feelings about the people in her life, and her mild substance abuse. Chloe’s budding friendship with Rachel Amber is a main focal point of the episode (an option to turn the relationship “into something more,” is offered but you can remain as friends).
Rachel is your classic affluent alpha female, popular, academic time filled with extracurricular activities that look perf on university applications. Her father is a district attorney and she is portrayed as a princess, secondary school royalty as it were - which makes her acquaintanceship with Chloe all the more taboo. I don’t believe that however: the kids at the school do, because Chloe is a slacker and ‘poor’ – well, she says her family is poor, but her house is bloody massive, with mum at the range making a proper breakfast, not just pan-fried toast between white bread, or “toast sandies” as we called them; no reason those two girls shouldn’t be mates (or “more”). Both girls have a palpable dissatisfaction with their lives which brings them together and both see no problem shirking responsibilities to go off on adventures. Though you can begrudge them and envy their dalliances and cavalier freedom in making mistakes.
The Verdict: Excellent
Life is Strange: Before the Storm deals with weighty issues wrapped in stunning visuals and peppered with a comprehensive soundtrack by real artists and not just some intern on Frooty Loops banging away. What the title character is going through we’ve likely all experienced, which is why it was so easy to empathize with Chloe (true, I may not be now, nor ever have been, a teenage girl -- though there was a time I was gifted a Lisa Frank pencil case, which I kept, so I guess one could say I’ve dabbled). The first Life is Strange crumpled my emotions like a Ford Capri at a derby and I feel this addition to the series will be no different: a must-play.