Life is Strange – Before the storm Episode 1: Awake
It’s been a long journey since June, when the first leaked info about the development of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, hit the internet. At first, a lot of people were wondering if it was real; if we finally would get to see more of Arcadia Bay, Chloe and the mysterious Rachel.
The controversy was high, the fandom became quite divided and the impact of the prequel was huge. Not always in the best way.
Life is Strange set the stakes way too high, and some people were afraid that – considering it was going to be developed by a new studio (Deck Nine) – it wouldn’t live up to expectations. As time passed and more details were revealed, we can’t say this announcement wasn’t controversial. Different studio, a whole new team, and what caused more turmoil in general; a whole new cast of voice actors were asked to portray most of the characters we had already grown to love.
From my experience, the debate was savage. Life is Strange was a hit, and it changed some people’s lives in the most literal sense of the phrase. Fear and doubt were expected, but even being part of the fandom and managing one of the biggest groups of people around the game, it took me by surprise how polarized (pun intended) the public was.
Now I will commit a sin, and express my personal opinion about it all. The fear and the controversy were definitely unfounded. I’d say it is mandatory to give Deck Nine a chance, because they delivered. Even with all the pressure I’m sure this whole thing brought to them, they managed to start the new series strong – maybe not completely solid, but that’s also the charm of episodic adventures. You can’t judge the whole series by just one episode.
Before the Storm takes place three years before the original game, and we will be in Chloe’s skin this time, listening to her thoughts, dealing with the grief of William’s passing and trying to deal with the already complicated-enough youth. And as we all expected when it was announced, it definitely takes a step forward and puts Rachel at the center of the action, and as far as we can tell for now, the story will be about their relationship (friendship or something more), depending on our choices. I do have to say on this last point that the game so far feels a bit AmberPrice biased… We of course know that Chloe’s crush on Rachel is canon, and we here are basically deciding if she acts upon it or not, and even if the “friendship” decisions work pretty much okay, there is still this lingering feeling that the “something more” option is low-key pushing us to pick it. From my perspective, it does seem rushed, even if we are talking of the most pure form of infatuation, but to each their own I guess.
As much as some people consider this an “unnecessary add-on” to the original game, I have to say that in many ways, and even with just one episode out, it does feel vital to play. Mostly considering how this story in a way shaped the Chloe we get to know in Season One.
The contrast between the common awkwardness and the bravado Chloe has, make us understand (and relate a lot in some cases like mine) where is she coming from. When she is in control, she shows how confident she can be, with that sharp tongue of hers, and the constant backtalk that can be, as usual, the source of conflict. When she is not, she exhibits very believable (and also very relatable) hesitation and insecurity. Chloe is a constant contradiction, the kind of behavior of someone who is genuinely trying to figure stuff out. Trust issues also play a big role in this whole development, and when Rachel jumps in, it shows her a side she didn’t expect to see from the most popular girl of Blackwell.
As a summary, I believe that seeing Chloe during this period of her life adds a lot more to her character. It certainly makes our understanding of Season One way richer, and also provides us with a different point of view on her character. Considering how certain players don’t like her at all, Before the Storm adds a lot of weight to her backstory, revealing how deep the scars go and how she at some point managed to become our blue haired punk three years later. We can experience the grief of her loss through her, and how some of us can relate to her coping mechanisms to a degree, even if not in the same exact situation. The whole bundle of breaking rules, skipping class, always playing with the limits, the constant rampaging rage; internal and external, and the rush of adrenaline all that produces, is sometimes the only way people can escape the pain, even if it is just for a moment. She believes it’s the “only way out”, and the amount of energy that caring about her situation demands… is way too much.
Chloe is the embodiment of this, and it works perfectly to get the point across.
We also get to know Rachel, yet not enough for her to stop being a mystery for the players. Another big concern of the fandom was that revealing Rachel’s true character would ruin the aura of mystery she has during the first season. As far as episode one goes, it certainly didn’t happen to me. Yes, we learn more about her, but I honestly can’t read her at all. I can’t figure out her motives yet; most of her personality remains in shadows while what we are seeing gives us a hint that we are also dealing with a bundle of contradictions and confusion.
The love and care Deck Nine has for the original series is clearly shown during the whole playthrough. The attention to detail is as deep and as engaging as in Life is Strange, and they took care to be as close as possible to Dontnod’s way of telling us about the world around us, just by interacting with the environment. And another little addon to the game as a whole: the music – which is kind of a Life is Strange trademark at this point – is amazing. Daughter did an incredible job on this one and all the licenced tracks are also pretty cool. I am not ashamed to admit I’ve been listening to all of them on repeat since I played the game.
Though it is still unknown if they will have a bigger impact in the series, the new characters are pretty well done in general, in some cases introducing some new engaging mechanics, such as a legit game of D&D, for example. And also the returning characters from the first season of Life is Strange are amazingly well done. We will witness how coherently different they are in comparison with how they will be three years later and we can already see the basis of the character development; how they became to be who they are in Season One. The interaction with these returning characters not only works extremely well – giving us all the nostalgia associated with our previous journey to Arcadia Bay – but it also gives us the chance to see them from Chloe’s perspective, something I personally find truly believable and close to home.
There are, of course, a few not-so-well-developed ones. There are two characters in particular, which we will encounter during the first few minutes of the gameplay, that are either too dramatic or poorly cast. They don’t convey the aura of danger they are supposed to, but as it also happened in Season One, maybe we will see them under a better light in the near future. There is always room from improvement and if I had to point out something about the characters in general, this would be it.
Regarding the voice acting, I can’t describe how well they managed to achieve their goal. Rhianna DeVries (Chloe Price) had such a high standard to follow after Ashly Burch’s interpretation of the role and I have to say she did an amazing job, despite the pressure and how controversial the whole situation was in the fandom. Rhianna conveys all the emotion Chloe feels, and even if of course there are some lines that could be improved, the overall performance in my opinion was outstanding. She is not Ashly Burch, but that was exactly what I was afraid of. That the pressure made them believe she had to fit in her role through imitation and not by her own abilities. She blew it out of the water, being herself and putting all the emotion we expect to see in Chloe during this complicated period of her life.
The rest of the voice actors also lived up to the expectations. We can’t expect them to portray the characters in the exact same way for obvious reasons but their performance was believable, well done and without issues overall. As I’ve said before about Rhianna, some lines will of course feel a bit “meh” at some points, but that always happens in every game there is acting involved. No performance is 100% perfect. And in this case in particular, I have to say it doesn’t disappoint.
And as far as I can tell from Kylie Brown’s performance, who plays Rachel Amber, my only criticism is that sometimes her voice resembles Rhianna’s too much. But either way, she did a good job portraying the mysterious girl we will, hopefully, get to know better in the future.
On the downside, more focused on dev issues here, if there is something I have to mention, it’s that even if the facial animations and lip-sync, mostly Chloe’s, are a clear improvement from Season One, I can’t say the same for the body animations. Some of them seem a bit silly, even wonky at some points, and there are times that you wonder if some of them weren’t made by hand and not with motion capture. This is of course something that could improve over the episodes, but the characters and story are so engaging that once you get past the first half an hour of staring at Chloe’s weird walking movements, you tend to ignore it.
There were some reports about audio issues in some scenes, like dialogues cutting a bit before ending or the volume of the voices not matching the scene in the best way, but so far, technically it’s pretty well done, and actually very well optimized too, to run on almost any potato with the minimum specs.
So! To wrap it up! “Episode 1: Awake” is a really cool beginning of the series. It starts strong, throws several punches to your feels and also, curiously, makes you laugh a lot – either because of how sassy Chloe is or because you end up thinking, “Hey, that really sounds like me!”. The game, if you take the time to read, look and do everything, ends up lasting around three hours as an average, which is quite a bit more playtime than I expected and It’s certainly entertaining.
I am definitely hooked and I want to see where Deck Nine takes this promising story.
Here? I’m the punk queen of Arcadia Bay, of course.
In real life, I’m an artist, gamer, crappy musician, game dev and a wannabe writer. Oh, and I’m always running late. MaiQueti in a nutshell.