If you’d asked me where I thought Before the Storm would go after my first impressions, my prediction would hardly resemble what transpires in the final three hours. Before the Storm is the prequel Life is Strange fans never knew they wanted, and almost surpasses the original in some ways. It’s an emotional roller coaster of plot twists and engaging character development that’s blemished by small yet noticeable flaws, but it’s definitely worth the ride for returning fans and people looking to get into the series alike.
My biggest issue with the first episode of Before the Storm is its slow pacing. The first episode struggled to get going until the very end, and the only thing that kept me going were the characters and questions it posed early on. Episodes 2 and 3 take what momentum episode 1 had built up and snowballs it from the get-go, and there’s never a dull moment because of it. Whether its the numerous plot revelations or emotional heart-to-heart moments between characters, Before the Storm never fails to capture what made the original series so appreciated in the first place. The scale of the plot never quite reaches the heights of its predecessor, but it answers numerous questions about its characters and premise with a satisfying and thought-provoking conclusion, and with a small lead into the original series while managing to avoid spoilers.
The characters are much more developed through the latter episodes, but Chloe and Rachel still stand out as the stars of this mini-series. Talking and conversing with characters reveals more about them and their backstories, and you can have a lot to do with them if you choose to interact at every opportunity. It’s intriguing to see how these characters act before the original series, and even more so when particular events transpire that lead them to be how they are in the first game. The change in voice actors does take a bit of getting used to, and there’s a vast difference in some of the quality of voice acting that makes the experience a little uneven, but these moments are few and far between.
The gameplay remains identical to how it was in episode 1 and the original series. When you aren’t in conversation, you’re able to explore small areas filled with simple puzzles and things to do. It’s pretty much a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ but it’s well and truly on its last legs now and starting to feel very tired. I understand it’s hard to improve on this sort of gameplay style, but more interactive action sequences and split-second decision making is a sure-fire way to make things more interesting.
Conversations also play out exactly the same, where choosing what Chloe says and does affect the outcome of the story. The decisions found in Episodes 2 and 3 feel impactful, but I was never conflicted over what I wanted to pick. It provides more reason to replay the original game, but I didn’t feel very encouraged to go back through to see how the outcomes vary. The one significant change Before the Storm makes is the ability to backchat in conversation, but I’ve only ever found one opportunity per episode. It feels underutilised, like it was a last minute decision because the game needed to differentiate itself in some way.
My opinion on the visuals hasn’t changed either. It retains the same hand-painted art style of the original, and it still works really well. Some of the environments make full use of this art style, and some of the lighting is quite beautiful. It’s the kind of practical simplicity that works well with the type of game Life is Strange is, and one that never seems to run out of charm. Unfortunately, though, some of the texture work is still lazy. I can see what they’re going for with it, but it just sticks out and acts as a distraction in contrast to the higher detailed character models. At least the game consistently performs well, however, with no hiccups or bugs to be found anywhere, at least from my experience.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is undoubtedly a risk that Square Enix didn’t need to take. The original Life is Strange ended in a way that left fans expecting nothing more, so the prequel’s announcement came as quite a surprise. Thankfully, newcomers Deck Nine have created a mini-series that is not only respectful of the original but stands on its own as an essential prequel. The visuals may suffer from slight blemishes, and the uneven voice acting can be off-putting at times, but the game quickly makes up for this through its engaging characters, excellent pacing and great plot twists. It’s a no-brainer for fans of Life is Strange and an equally perfect starting point for newcomers.