When I did my ‘professional’ review of this the other day, I thought it would be better to leave comparisons to the original Life is Strange to a minimum. Obviously it’s incredibly difficult to separate a game and its prequel entirely, but I think I did a good job of considering Before the Storm in its own right.
In my opinion, Before the Storm is just better than Life is Strange. Some of the levels on which that opinion is founded are relatively superficial, such as the fact that a few years on the art style has matured and updated. But some of those changes come down to tweaks to the fabric of what I thought Life is Strange was; Max’s story is more supernatural detective drama, while Chloe’s is a tale of a teenager struggling to find her place in the world. It’s more tender, it’s more understandable, more real. While I won’t criticise Dontnod for the story they told or how they chose to tell it, a side-by-side comparison of the two games shows Before the Storm to be a much more interesting, human tale.
Some of that comes down to who Max and Chloe are. On one level, Max is a wallflower while Chloe is a rebel. But it’s not as though the latter was the life of the party – she was an outcast for years, and to some extent remains one during Life is Strange. Interest in Chloe stems from the fact that she’s able to be louder and bolder in situations Max would shy away from. But when it comes to Before the Storm, Chloe is also one degree of separation closer to the action than Max could often be. In Life is Strange, Max gets to know David Madsen through Chloe, reconnects with Joyce through her daughter, and even Frank Bowers would slip under the radar were it not for Chloe’s involvement. The characters that Max knows are less interesting, and while they might have more impact on the story in some cases, they become oddly forgettable at times. In Before the Storm, Chloe is the showrunner in more ways than one; she’s swept along a little, particularly when she meets Rachel, but she knows these characters herself, often in a way Max doesn’t have access to, and that serves to make her story more compelling.
There’s also something to be said for the fact that Chloe’s story is a happy one. Before the Storm is full of pitfalls, but they’re ones that actual teenagers might have to deal with, and as such there’s a chance for a meaningful, positive resolution. Max doesn’t have that, and, to Life is Strange’s credit, it serves up some real gut-punches throughout, often ones that you don’t have the opportunity to avoid. But the fact that Chloe’s story means more, with its themes of family and grief and friendship, means that it feels as though it can do more, and its high points absolutely soar.
Both Life is Strange and Before the Storm are wonderful games, and while they occupy the same timeline there is an element to which it’s a little unfair to judge them side-by-side. As I said earlier, one is a detective story with time travel, and one is about a girl coping with the loss of her father, rebelling against authority, and making new friends. I still struggle to put my finger on exactly why I think Before the Storm is so good, and a big part of it is that it happens to appeal to me – a nice high school drama with a love story that feels important that fills in gaps in the past of a story I’m already invested in. It’s almost like Lovesick all over again. I think what’s also important, however, is the fact that Before the Storm represents a minor milestone for me personally – it’s the first thing I knew and loved that I got sent to, and the first review I’ve done for PCGamesN. that work is something that I hope people will really enjoy as it unfolds over the next few weeks, and the series as a whole is something that Christina and I have enjoyed together. I think for those reasons, Life is Strange will always hold something of a soft spot, and I’ll miss it when it evolves into something new.