"Before the Storm's second episode is simultaneously rapturous, tragic, and wondrous..."
Never before have I so vividly stepped back into the next episode of the modern adventure game genre with such clarity and easy recollection. Within minutes, I was once again fully immersed in the beautiful tale Deck Nine has given us. Before the Storm's second episode is simultaneously rapturous, tragic, and wondrous — much like adolescence.
Prequels are tricky: we know how they're going to end, for the most part. Well, perhaps we know what flags will be planted by the end, but the how
may elude us. That's where the writing and direction can craft a surprising and beloved story.
I'm hoping Rachel lives.
Isn't that crazy? Intellectually — factually — I know what must happen. But my emotions take hold and I want it so badly to be true that reason is evicted in place of desire. I want Chloe's life to turn around and for the two of them to get out of Arcadia Bay and somehow figure something out. Rationality dictates that these teenage girls will never be able to live on their own together, but the want is there.
In a similar vein to my Life is Strange reviews, I was never a teenage girl who lost her father, while trying to figure my sexuality out. That's not important. I connect with the tale and the emotions. In some part, many of us have lived this tale: we've suffered in some capacity that was meaningful to us, and desperately sought help when few could provide it. This could have taken the form of social rejection followed by the solace of a beloved pet at home who was always loyally on standby. It could take the form of a brutal breakup that was tempered by the kind shoulder of a platonic friend with no strings attached. Many of us have known what it is like to fall and to be caught.
That's a big part of what Life is Strange: Before the Storm is — at least to me. Episode 2 further drives home that point. Between the voice acting, script, music, and pacing, this is a timeless tale of adolescents navigating life's landscape in as awkward and graceful as has been experienced generation after generation. We can connect because it's art.
To be critical — because this is a review — Before the Storm falters in a few regards. For instance, the technical woes that some complain about in each of these style of games reared its head for me for the first time. I experienced long load times, followed by asynchronous dialogue, and sometimes even omitted audio for lines read. This hurt the experience for me quite a bit in the moment, but a quick reload fixed everything right up. I also had some frustration in not being able to move the relationship forward the way I wanted to. My Chloe in Episode 1 was cautious — even into Episode 2 — but by the end, given everything that had happened, I wanted to make different decisions that were available to others, but not me. One might say that this is the whole point of decision trees and that player choices should determine outcomes, but I feel as if the developers had not considered my style of cautious play, and that the eventual warming up I did could lead to the kind of outcome I wanted. All of this might sound pretty nebulous as I try to tip-toe around spoilers, but I hope the rigidity here is meaningfully conveyed.
In terms of gameplay, I found that the Before the Storm gimmick — talking back to others — is available largely in parts that would be antithetical to who Chloe truly is. Perhaps my interpretation is off, which is entirely possible, but I felt as if the developers were guiding my hand with some of these binary decisions, and I oftentimes took the more cooperative path. My choice, I suppose, but the inclusion of this mechanic seems to suggest that players should move in the argumentative direction.
These grievances, while noteworthy, should not hinder anyone from exploring the second episode. As Before the Storm reaches its conclusion, they won't even be the briefest thought for me. I'm torn, because I want so much more of Chloe and Rachel — what a beautiful duo — but I know that all good things must end — some sooner than others. This one, as we all know, will be coming to an end too soon. I'm just not sure I'm emotionally ready for it.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.