Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode Two review
Lightning strikes twice in the second act of Deck Nine's Life is Strange prequel series.
Deck Nine really likes to toy with my feelings. When I went into the first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, I was apprehensive that a new studio could recapture the charm and raw emotion of the original Life is Strange, a game that affected me in ways no other has. Despite a rocky start, Deck Nine impressed me with its debut episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, leaving me confident that the studio knew what made the series so captivating and relatable.
And yet, when I jumped back into Before the Storm for "Brave New World", the second of its three planned episodes, my confidence was immediately shaken. Like its predecessor, Brave New World begins rough. Really rough. So rough that I began to question whether episode one's success had been a mere fluke. Thankfully, my concerns once again fell away as the episode found its feet and ensnared me with its raw, heartfelt storytelling. Inconsistent though it is, Life is Strange: Before the Storm continues to deliver an adventure well worth experiencing.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way first. Like a lot of episodic games, episode two of Before the Storm begins with a recap of the story so far. No problems there. After this short montage, however, the first scene of the episode has Chloe mentally re-recapping those events, then Principal Wells laying out in a painfully robotic manner all the decisions you made in the previous episode. Any hope of getting sucked into the story evaporates beneath the glaring artificiality of it all. It makes for a poor first impression, and had me worrying for what was to come.
The mechanical nature of the dialogue in the opening scenes doesn't help things, either. Dead air separates each of the characters' lines, the voice acting stilted and lacking emotion in spite of the serious issues being discussed. The writing, too, struggles to feel natural, with Chloe's soon-to-be "stepdouche" David Madsen so often harping on about his army roots that he comes off more like a caricature than an actual human being.
Thankfully, these problems once again fade away with the arrival of Rachel Amber. Rachel and Chloe's developing relationship remains the highlight of Before the Storm, with the two teasing out each other's feelings and intentions while trying to make sense of their own. Their silly jokes are sweet, their dreams of running away together eminently endearing. Every moment the two are alone together, I couldn't help but share their gleeful smiles.
Teenage love isn't the only area Before the Storm nails its storytelling this time around, either. A stronger central narrative sees Chloe sucked into a world of drug-dealing and debt-collecting which, much to her dismay, doesn't prove quite as "cool" as she imagined. When she finds herself literally holding someone's life in her hands, the grim situation forces her - and you - to make some legitimately tough moral choices. Does dealing drugs automatically make you a bad person? What if you're doing it for a selfless cause? Is inaction just as bad as doing the wrong thing? The ethical dilemmas posed will have you seriously questioning your personal values.
These decisions are made all the more challenging thanks to Rachel Amber. Because her relationship with Chloe is so engaging, it's hard not to want it to succeed, and that adds a whole other layer to guiding Chloe's actions. What will Rachel think of Chloe's decision? Could doing what's selfishly best for Chloe and Rachel cause Rachel to turn away in disgust? This kind of uncertainty echoes the reality of new relationships and the fragility of love in a way that feels keenly relatable.
Episode two only gets stronger as it approaches its climax. An absolutely terrific scene involving a performance of Shakespeare's play The Tempest combines humour, tragedy and romance in a way that had me utterly entranced. Between the pretentious Victoria Chase tasting her own bitter comeuppance (something anyone who's played Life is Strange will love to see) and Nathan Prescott somehow coming off as sympathetic, the whole play arc ranks up there with the best moments from the original Life is Strange. It's deftly handled, superbly written and makes the episode's clumsy early scenes seem all the more confounding.
We reviewed Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode Two on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.
Buy Life is Strange: Before the Storm Deluxe Edition from Microsoft Store
The Life is Strange: Before the Storm Deluxe Edition comes with all 3 episodes included, a bonus episode starring Max Caulfield and a new mixtape mode that allows you to create your own mix from the game's licensed soundtrack.View details
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