We’ll give Life is Strange: Before the Storm a final score once all the episodes are out. In the mean time we’ll keep updating this page with thoughts on each episode as and when they’re out.
Episode One — Awake
Here at last is the start of the beginning. The first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, prequel to Max Caulfield’s adventures in Life is Strange, and following the life of her erstwhile best friend Chloe before Max returned to town, is here. It does a number of things that I think are interesting, but they’re interesting because I assume they’ve been done on purpose, and at some points I’m not entirely sure if that’s me being a bit generous.
For example: Chloe, in this, physically resembles Max in the first Life is Strange series, her hair being a similar shade and length, and although she already has much more of an in-your-face attitude, she is at this point unsure and hesitant at times. The mysterious Rachel Amber, meanwhile, is as strangely unpredictable as Chloe is in that first series. It’s an effective narrative mirroring.
Chloe doesn’t have any time rewinding powers, but does have an ability called ‘Backtalk’, wherein if she is argumentative enough, and in the right way, she will be left alone (it’s basically an intimidation/persuasion feat, as is artfully demonstrated when she uses it in an actual game of Dungeons & Dragons), but she rarely accomplishes anything constructive with it. You get the feeling every instance of Backtalk results in tensions being escalated for the future. In fact, Chloe rarely has any constructive interactions, especially with adults, which can be frustrating. But she is a bundle of frustration, after all.
The trailers implied that Chloe was feeling suicidal, but in the actual game it seems more like she’s desperate to feel alive, and in that context school does rather seem like a waste of time. And none of the adults around her are making an effort to understand how she feels, in part because she isn’t communicating it well — but why make the effort to communicate with people who tell her she’s ‘had a vacation’ from having a father figure in reference to her actual dad actually dying.
And yet there are other parts of the episode that seem so strangely heavy handed in comparison that you begin to doubt the subtlety of the others. When Chloe smashes up a junkyard in frustration she conveniently finds objects to break that represent everyone who has harmed her recently, and narrates their significance while she does so. In a school production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the part of Caliban is played by once and future childlike monster Nathan Prescott, which is, in my opinion, too on the nose by half.
Each episode is named after a line from The Tempest; this first is Awake, from Prospero urging his daughter Miranda to ‘Awake, dear heart, awake!’ at the start of the play. Rachel, of course, plays Prospero in Blackwell Academy’s production, and at this point we must assume (budding romance between the two aside) that Chloe is the intended Miranda, who will awaken to a brave new world. The growth of the relationship between the two is sudden, awkward, and intense, and the chapter as a whole can be a little awkward and self conscious. But is that the game, or the subject matter?
‘OOOOHHH. What will Alice think at the end of episode 2?’ Colm thought to himself. ‘I will be eagerly anticipating the young woman’s thoughts on follow-up episodes to see if this gets the coveted VideoGamer Fuckin’ Unreal award,’ he pondered, before adding, ‘This seems like it may get a Poor Enough if it doesn’t pick up, though.’ Then he went to make tea, laughing as he filled the kettle. Laughing maniacally. What was it that had him cackling? What had tickled him so much that passers-by had started to become onlookers in this ordeal? He was thinking about this. This thing he is writing now. The words that you are reading. They say genius is born through the unstable, and if they don’t, they should.
Developer: Deck Nine
Publisher: Square Enix
Available on: PS4 (reviewed on), PC and Xbox One
Release Date: August 31 2017 (Episode One)