Life is Strange: Before the Storm Review – Barbed Tongue

While I haven’t played the original Life is Strange, hearing the game was receiving a prequel of sorts that further tapped into nostalgia was certainly interesting. Instead of focusing on rewinding time, the new game simply presents you with various choices, each of which resulting in various consequences. How does the prequel hold up, and are the characters and their stories relatable?

Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Deck Nine
Platform: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: August 31st, 2017
Players: 1
Price: $27.00

(Editor’s Note: This is a review for all three episodes of the game).

The Life is Strange series is a 3D story-driven adventure with characters and environments that are nice, yet not hyper-realistic. The game has a pleasant look, and overall fits the narrative. I’d say the games overall visual style is something you’d see from a smaller studio, as the game has moments that really do shine while there are sometimes issues.

Environments are convincing and generally have just enough doodads and things to investigate to keep you busy for awhile. Depending on what episode you’re on, you’ll go through a variety of environments that can range from ordinary houses, abandoned lumber mills, state parks, and more.

While the game typically looks good, there are moments of hair, limbs, and so on clipping awkwardly, even in a cutscene moment. There are in-game cutscenes and then there are key, separate moments that are really polished up, and it’s clear where most of the attention went.

I also noticed framerate drops and / or awkward stuttering of character models when the camera would cut between characters. It’s little things like this that sort of break the experience and make it harder to relate to the characters. This is supposed to be all story, and yet it has technical issues.

The vast majority of the game involves exploring small to decent sized levels as you talk to other characters, interact with the environment, and ultimately live out the life of Chloe Price. There are decisions to be made but ultimately you are on a somewhat guided path of delinquency.

There are argument challenges in conversation that are actually fun and interesting to see unfold, however there aren’t really enough of them to call them a staple of the game. Some voice checks you can even avoid if you choose other dialogue options, which is a bit unfortunate.

Since the rewind time ability is no longer a thing, whatever choices you make are permanent and will have lasting effects on the story. There is replay value here because of this, as you’ll need to revisit the same moments and choose different paths to get new endings. Sometimes I wasn’t even aware there could be other outcomes, until I saw the post game stat breakdown.

Overall this game isn’t much more than a playground to explore interactions and conversations with other characters. The most gameplay you’ll see are the dialogue and argument scenes, as well as the investigative moments. Either way, you’ll be finding and using items within the environments to get to the next chapter.

The majority of performances in the game are decent, while there are some hiccups that hold this game back from really delivering the feels. As mentioned in the gameplay breakdown, when the camera cuts between characters in dialogue or cutscenes, sometimes you see framerate drops or a stutter-like movement of a character model. It’s jarring and awkward.

I understand this game was never meant to deliver realism seen in massive AAA budgeted games when it comes to visuals or performance, however it’s disappointing to see game performance issues that hold back the actual actor performances. Lip-syncing is also hit or miss, sometimes they do a wonderful job – other times they look robotic or there’s no movement at all.

Overall the main characters Chloe and Rachel sound wonderful but again, it can be a hit or a miss depending on who you’re talking to and what you’re expecting in terms of performance. There are some characters that are pretty flat or boring sounding, while others can really deliver feelings of anger, empathy, regret, and then some. I think I was satisfied with the performances, I just wish the game kept up.

There is music smattered throughout the game, whether it be in different sequences, the radio, in cutscenes, or in live performances. The majority of the music is an eclectic mix of country, punk/grunge, post-rock, indie, shoegaze and more silly subgenres that don’t really mean anything. If you’re only into one type of music (those people do exist), you might be thrown off at the variety in this game.

You follow the story of Chloe Price and Rachel Amber, two high schoolers that form an unlikely bond in the midst of a coming-of-age story. There’s your typical pubescent hormonal rebelliousness, and then there’s legitimately screwed up situations that both leading ladies have to go through.

Without delving into spoiler territory, both girls have to go through some traumatic stuff, only their paths converge as their relationship blossoms. You won’t be hit over the head with romance, however, as the developers really do a nice job of crafting a serviceable yet engaging story.

This is an Americana type story of love and loss, young adults finding whatever their hearts desire, and some heart-wrenching or touching moments. I think overall there’s a story here for everyone, however there are certain themes that will naturally hit home more for some.

As a father, seeing the lengths at which Rachel’s father will go to protect her and raise her in a loving home got to me. Overall I was interested to see how the story would unfold, especially with my more “safe” decisions made. As you know, you can follow different paths.

I had fun trying to lead Chloe through as a normal and behaved young individual, however, there is an overarching story at play. While there are lots of smaller decisions you can make, it’s the larger more significant ones that will drastically alter the game’s plot.  I think the writing was tolerable, yet nothing really mind blowing or worthy of significant praise.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm was an interesting attempt at presenting a story of two girls that have to live through some really screwed up stuff. I was interested with the story, however, I was pretty let down by the random performance issues throughout and the OK writing.

If you’re looking for a game that presents a story that is pretty grounded in reality yet presents some twists and interesting character development, you should consider checking out Before the Storm. Still, you should be wary of the game’s performance issues and don’t expect mind blowing writing.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a review copy received from Square Enix. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 7

The Good:

  • An emotional story focused on a core set of characters
  • The argument mini-game
  • Usually good voice acting and performances
  • Nice variety of music smattered throughout
  • Decisions that directly affect conversation and plot

The Bad:

  • Not enough argument mini-games
  • Sometimes character performances/motions are tone-deaf, or awkward
  • OK to basic writing that also limit character performances
  • Performance issues like framerate drops, stuttering models, offset lip-synching
  • Some “levels” are much smaller than others
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Owner and Publisher at Niche Gamer and Nicchiban. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry.

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