Seeking a Plot at the End of the World
I don’t exactly know what the “Brave New World” of episode 2’s title is. The first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm probably would have been a better fit for the title. Chloe Price’s debut episode as protagonist did indeed feel like a new world, even if it was in the same town. Episode 2 of Life is Strange: Before the Storm doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself at points. It has some admirable strengths, as Chloe takes a more comfortable seat as protagonist. But this storm is preceded by a lot of things, and confusion has definitely found a spot on the list.
When we last left Chloe and Rachel, the mysterious latter of the pair had accidentally sparked a wildfire after seeing her father with another woman. Things pick back up the following day, with tension mirroring that of the end of episode 2 of Life is Strange with a debate in the principal’s office. Chloe finds herself newly expelled from Blackwell. Rachel Amber finds herself a liar, doing her best to cover things up. I guess there’s some bravery in there, but it comes at a cost. After a strong opening, Before the Storm‘s second act wanders aimlessly, almost completely missing out on the punch with whic it debuted.
The issue with Chloe as a prequel protagonist is that it seems difficult to get around her status as a troubled youth. No matter how this story ends, she’s still going to be angry, and sad, and heartbroken; all things that drive her in Life is Strange, post-blue hair. In Before the Storm‘s first episode, this seemed to be handled pretty well. We saw a Chloe in a bit more of an innocent position, still angry and pushing against everything around her, but less hardened. We still get that here, but there are fewer satisfying moments. Her standing up to her stepdad-to-be is nice, especially in the threatening reality that he might be soon to move in. There are things we know as fixtures in Chloe Price’s life in Life is Strange that are just seeing their genesis here.
That’s all well and good, but what really comes in and bears down on Before the Storm‘s quality in this second act is just how much wandering it seems to do. Back in my episode 1 review, I mentioned being worried that this game wasn’t a story worth telling. Now, I’m starting to worry about that all over again. Brave New World has some really smart and funny and heartfelt scenes, but none of them seem to have much of a point. They bring Chloe and Rachel closer, and that’s nice, but that in itself isn’t really enough.
Before the Storm episode 2 suffers from the same problem that a couple of the less interesting points in Life is Strange suffered from as well. It’s not that the characters are horribly written. Indeed, I continued enjoying getting to know Rachel Amber throughout this one. It’s been fun getting to understand what it was about this mystery girl that ensnared Chloe so deep. Even then, I also worry that the game’s third episode is going to pull some kind of forced turn where we see Rachel run away, just days after her and Chloe’s friendship began. That’s projecting into the future, but not projection without basis.
Before the Storm is not weak, and that’s actually what makes it frustrating. There are strong moments, such as an earlier one in Chloe’s relationship with Frank, that also shows how Frank and Rachel wind up meeting. But for every strength, there’s a weakness. In episode 1, Chloe was visited repeatedly by ghostly apparitions of her dead father, giving her lessons and gentle nudges of where to go and what to do. We get one of those in episode 2, and it’s way starker and more intimidating this time. It makes me wonder what the original purpose was.
When I reviewed the first episode of Before the Storm, I said those who liked and loved the original should give it a try. Now, I would say wait until the full thing is out. This is a storm of different winds all stirring around in one spot, not really seeming to go anywhere.
Final verdict: 3/5
Available on: Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Square Enix ; Developer: Deck Nine ; Players: 1 ; Released: October 19, 2017 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $16.99 (full season), $24.82 (deluxe edition), $4.99 (single episode)
Full disclosure: this review is based on a full retail download for Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Deluxe Edition purchased by Hey Poor Player.