"...Before the Storm is literally the best episodic series I've played to date."
Big news happened at the close of Episode 2, and Episode 3 picks up right where we left off. The third episode doesn't let up, emotionally, throughout the three and a half hour finale. Chloe (and the player) is confronted with difficult decisions. Loose ends are wrapped up, and a clean transition to the original series is established. What's most astonishing about this prequel is that, especially given the fan reception and material provided, this is a healthy helping of tasteful writing, direction, and presentation.
Deck Nine has truly done exemplary work. This reviewer might even argue that they have done better than DONTNOD. I adore the original series, and I oftentimes think about those characters and the world I left behind. The lessons learned, too. But Before the Storm is truly something special in its entirety, which I don't often get to say. Each episode is chocked full of content and rarely hits an awkward pause in its stride. Averaging from three and a half to four and a half hours, gamers and story lovers will get their money's worth. Also, despite other episodic titles, including the original series, enduring weak episodes in the middle, Before the Storm doesn't suffer as such. In fact, Before the Storm is literally the best episodic series I've played to date.
There's something to be said about sequels and prequels, though. Oftentimes, they feel like they leech off of their forebears and only meet success lazily since most of the groundwork's been done for them. While that argument can be made here, that doesn't mean this isn't a good series, even if it relies on previous work. I had even gone into Before the Storm with caution and doubt. Could they really capture Rachel Amber's image and personality as was conveyed to us prior? Will Chloe be a replica of her "present" self or will this be a story of growth? What about special powers? All questions answered, satisfyingly so.
I'm left wondering what Before the Storm is, though. Is this Chloe's story or Rachel Amber's? Sometimes Before the Storm's identity flitters about like our heroines. Like adolescents. I could argue that, if intentional, this is incredible parallelism in the way the story is told and teenage identity. That would be some next level stuff. From a technical side, I think conveying a story's heart through its characters and each conflict they face authentically within the confines of an episodic series must be a daunting task — at least to do it well. Naysayers could criticize this prequel for that, because what used to matter to Chloe — and still "should" — no longer holds the same importance. Goals laid out at the beginning are blithely discarded. That would be looking at this from an adult's perspective. I think teenagers who experience this story and its butterfly-esque trajectory will appreciate what's here. My teenage self would. The writers clearly understand Chloe and Rachel. Hell, they understand the cast.
It's hard for me to write about Before the Storm without spoiling it. I just want to gush. Those who finished the original series found a beautiful story with a powerful ending. Something to chew on in its closure. Before the Storm lacks that. That might be a weakness here, or for any prequel. Without any significant revelations at the end, I don't have that awe-inspiring closure that the original series provided. In its place, I have a satisfying thread between the two series. I think that's important and gratifying in a different way.
Chloe's "backtalk" mechanic occurs with decreased frequency, which is an improvement. All gameplay seems to be focused on inspecting the environment and making important dialogue decisions. As stated in the past, looking at everything and talking to everyone is not something I feel obligated to do — it's a joy and something I look forward to. Seeing the world through Chloe's eyes continues to elate and I admire her rebellious, anti-authority spirit.
Rhianna DeVries, Chloe's voice actress, continues to fully embrace and establish Chloe's personality, which is supremely coupled by the visuals and animation. Chloe feels like a real person. She speaks as I expect her to and gestures in the way a pissed off, hurting teenager might. Beyond expectations, though, she acts with an authentic instinct that allows me to take the emotional journey with her. I am not thinking about the story, I'm living the story alongside. Kylie Brown as Rachel Amber has much the same impact, but since we follow Chloe, the role of supporting actress is capably filled. In fact, the level of detail in all of the characters, while not always perfect and sometimes awkward, truly enhances the sense that Arcadia Bay exists and its residents struggle, fight, and enjoy happiness.
I know the video game industry has been in love with the safety of sequels, prequels, and side-stories for far too many years. That healthy skepticism many felt when Before the Storm was announced was justified at the time, but Before the Storm does exactly what it set out to do. Deck Nine did it right. Dare I say, with this success, I hope other developers and publishers learn that sequels can be done right with the appropriate amount of heart and care. Rest easy, girls. You will be missed.
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.