The following impressions continue our ongoing review of Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Be sure to catch up with our impressions for Awake.
If there's a running theme to Life is Strange: Before the Storm, it's the meaning of fatherhood and the importance of a stable family. And it's what happens when any of those elements are thrown out of balance. These themes were prominent throughout the game's second episode, 'Brave New World,' and they helped make the middle part of this three-chapter story into a compelling tale, even if it did feel a bit drawn out by the end.
'Brave New World' picks up the day after the events of the first episode. As one would imagine, the opening of this episode dealt with the fallout from Chloe and Rachel's wild day out. It helped fill in one noteworthy gap from the original game, explaining how Chloe Price became a Blackwell outcast.
From a storytelling perspective, 'Brave New World' continues to tell the continuing downward spiral of many of Life is Strange's characters. And over the course of the story, it's not merely limited to Chloe or even Rachel Amber. Nearly everybody in the story shows that they're having major issues, noticeably worse off than when the story started. That includes the Blackwell students, Chloe's mother, Frank the drug dealer, and several other members of the supporting cast.
Their conflicts parallel with Chloe's, showing that while she's going through serious issues, she's not the only one with problems. And over the course of the story, Chloe is given the chance to empathize, commiserate, and relate to those other people's problems. This second episode of Before the Storm does what most of the entire original game was unable to do. It made Chloe Price a likable character. Remember that in the original game, she often came across as self-centered and selfish. 'Brave New World' bucks that trend, allowing Chloe to show genuine growth, without overly compromising her fiery spirit.
In terms of game mechanics, Backtalk was a welcome new idea in Before the Storm's first episode. But with the mechanic now firmly introduced, Deck Nine is able to make more effective use of it in the second one. That's because at several points during this episode, the Backtalk mechanic is presented as a viable choice, but not necessarily the best one. There are times where Chloe can opt to be confrontational, but would actually be better off keeping her mouth shut. It's not only a progression in how the mechanic is presented, but it doubles as an evolution of Chloe's character. In the first episode, it's fun to just run her mouth at every opportunity and see how much she can get away with. In 'Brave New World,' with higher stakes presented over the course of the episode, Chloe is encouraged to be more prudent and find a better solution. It's a brilliant bit of direction, offering the opportunity to display a greater sense of maturity. It also can't be stated enough how much better this works without the rewind mechanic to act as a crutch.
And there are ample opportunities to see Chloe's growth, as this episode runs the gamut from coming-of-age story to high school drama to whacked-out teen comedy. There's a sequence involving Shakespeare's The Tempest that may be one of the funniest sequences in the series to date. It's followed by a heartfelt scene with Chloe and Rachel that, had the episode ended there, would have concluded the single best episode of the entire series to this point.
Unfortunately, the episode kept going for about another 20 minutes. In that time, 'Brave New World' starts to feel like a drag. And while the twist ending (something I'll discuss in greater detail soon) offered a compelling cliffhanger, the entire ending sequence felt unnecessarily padded. So much had happened during 'Brave New World,' I honestly felt like I could have done without that last sequence.
There's just one episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm to go, but what I've seen of it so far is everything that was wonderful and innovative about the original game. Even without the original game's rewind mechanic, it feels like a better story, with clearly-defined character arcs, mysteries abound, and high stakes. With a good final chapter, it stands to be one of the best story-based games of the year. I'm cautiously optimistic, particularly given the original game had trouble sticking the landing, but there's a lot to like about this 'Brave New World.'
These impressions are based on a PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher. Life is Strange: Before the Storm is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One for $16.99 for all three episodes. The game is rated M.