Erif klaw htiw em?
[With the return of Life is Strange with Before the Storm, I’m returning to my writing of the series as I did with the first main season of the franchise. Note that each entry, like before, will be spoiler-filled so only read if you’ve played it (or you DGAF, I don’t care).
To read what I wrote about last time in 2015 in its entirety, hit this up.]
Yeah, I noticed it immediately.
Not hearing Ashly Burch as Chloe was jarring at first and it was immediately noticeable. But after a while, I had gotten used to hearing Rhianna DeVries, Chloe’s new voice actor, and it was pretty close to what Burch had delivered with her performance at times.
Burch, who’d reluctantly stepped away from the role because of the ongoing voice actors strike, is still involved in the game, remaining as a writer. But as replacements go, DeVries is a great replacement.
The new actors for other characters who were in the main first season two years ago were a lot more noticeable than DeVries’ turn as Chloe, however. Joyce doesn’t quite have the same twang in her voice nor does David’s. Those were the things I found more jarring, actually, than Chloe’s new voice actress.
We’ve dealt with grief in many different ways. We’ve dealt with it in emotional ways. Angry ways. Even in ways that are unspeakable. For me, when I dealt with that three years ago, it was more emotional to the point I had left myself incredibly vulnerable. It was needless to say hard, as I have written on here a few times.
How I coped with it was games. A lot of games. And Frasier. Because why not.
Chloe’s coping mechanism in dealing with her dad William’s death a few years earlier is a bit more different than mine: a lot more angsty with a no fucks attitude. As you go through the episode, you unravel more of how Chloe is dealing with that grief whilst simultaneously letting it manifest to the point of letting it boil over, as shown near the end of the episode.
It’s an angst, no fucks attitude with a side of vulnerability that comes out when she smashes stuff in the junkyard. First lamenting what happened a minute or two earlier with Rachel Amber (we’ll get to her), the leaving of her best friend Max to Seattle and the death of her father particularly.
Even after all these years, I can still relate to the frustration I felt when my mum died. It’s still something that – and maybe this isn’t something I should say publicly admittedly, but fuck it – eats at me in various ways. So seeing that side of grief from Chloe was something that stuck out for me in a scene that was just brilliant.
There’s a good chance there are some people who read this have had a friend who they’ve skipped school with to do shit. I nearly did it once with someone who was then a friend of mine but we only went as far as around the corner from the school. I was too chicken shit, but he wasn’t. So I tried to hide around in the school theatre for the remaining 45 minutes left of the school day. It failed.
(Tip: don’t return to the scene of the crime)
Which is why seeing Chloe and Rachel skip school oddly bring back memories of me and said ‘friend’ trying to dob out from class (‘dob’ or ‘dobbing’ is a Northern Irish term for skipping class, but who knows what the kids use these days to express such plans) in an oddly refreshing way.
The chemstry between the two immediately clicks and just as refreshing as the relationship between Chloe and Max in the first season of Life is Strange. Equally, Rachel opens herself up to be more vulnerable than Chloe does.
The two truths and a lie game the two play on the train heading out of Arcadia Bay was a heavy test in whether you can trust what someone is saying or not. As the episode goes further and further in, Rachel and Chloe develop more and more where there is something immediately there between them. Whether that is a friendship or something more is something the game actually throws at you as a massive choice at the end of the episode.
You see that there’s stuff about both of them that feels like they’re fucked up that just makes them feel a perfect fit for one another, no matter what choice you make. The next two episodes will be key in how Deck Nine Games continue to flesh that out, but this lends itself to a promising start.
There was one word I could think of by the end of episode one – fire.
Fire as in the massive forest bush fire that Rachel seems to have started after kicking over a burning bin in a rage with a burning photo of her and her dad she had just set on fire.
Fire as in that weird, kinda supernatural dream Chloe has near the end of the episode where Rachel is somehow on fire.
Fire as in even before the game came out, for better or worse (or even jokingly), this was suggested as Life is Strange’s version of Twin Peaks’ Fire Walk with Me, only with Rachel Amber taking up the more prominent (and alive) role than the main series in the same way Laura Palmer did in FWWM than the main Twin Peaks.
Having played episode one through now to the end now, there are elements that do remind of that Peaks influence and there does – at least in my view – seem to be a trace or two from Fire Walk with Me. But to outright say Before the Storm is Life is Strange’s version of Fire Walk With Me in a non-irony free context is doing it a injustice, albeit with one episode down and two episodes to go.
There’s still enough here that it stands out on its own. Here’s hoping it stands out from that shadow even more in the next two episodes. That being said, it may not even be so much as it is less Twin Peaks and more a modern telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest (all three episodes are named after it and there are quite a few Tempest references in the episode).
Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s lack of time-rewinding makes conversations and choices means the decisions you make have a bit more weight and permanence to them.
Its new talkback mechanic which sees you as Chloe have verbal one-on-ones with characters that also fits with her personality. For example, at the beginning of the episode, Chloe’s comes up against a bouncer who won’t let her in to see one of her favourite bands at what is otherwise a run down warehouse and filled with some of the shittiest people in Arcadia Bay, including a certain Frank Bowers from the first game.
Some of the responses you give are based on keywords mentioned by the person you’re going up against. There are quite a few people in the episode you will have the talkback mechanic utilised, such as David and in a scene that involves Nathan Prescott after.
From this first episode, it feels easy to pick up on certain words and certain choices whereas with the two truths and a lie game played between Chloe and Rachel on the train, the game gave me reasonable enough doubt to pick a certain option. I’d love for the other two episodes to capitalise on that doubt and use it with talkback. But it’s an interesting enough mechanic that it still works.
One of the big aspects of Life is Strange’s first season was its soundtrack. It has for my money one of the best soundtracks ever in a game – licenced or unlicenced – and the way it used that soundtrack around certain scenes, from episode three’s end with Mogwai’s Kids Will Be Skeletons to the finale with Foals’ Spanish Sahara (depending on what choice you made at the end) to Alt-J and Jose Gonzalez being played on Max’s guitar, made it even more iconic.
Before the Storm’s soundtrack this time is mostly original, with work entirely composed by band Daughter. That’s not to say there won’t be licenced works from elsewhere, but it is Daughter who provide the main crux of its soundtrack and score.
And from what the first episode contained in terms of music and samples, it works really, really well. I can’t wait to listen to more throughout the series and to delve into the album when it comes out tomorrow (I think it’s tomorrow?) but as first impressions go, it fits the tone of what Before the Storm is going for. Moody, dark, vulnerable. Just some wonderful standout stuff already.
It’s one episode out of a three-part mini-series. But the first episode of Before the Storm was a home run for me. The story resonated with me big time, Daughter’s soundtrack is just fantastic and Chloe’s transition of Ashley Burch to Rhianna DeVries is surprisingly pulled off after a few minutes of getting used to it.
That’s not to say it’s perfect, it isn’t. DeVries may have taken to her new role near immediately, but the newer cast for known characters didn’t gel as well. And the controls in terms of the camera and character movement feel, for the lack of a better term, stiff.
Nevertheless, I’ll admit that while I was excited for Before the Storm, I was still apprehensive about it considering Deck Nine Studios didn’t have much narrative experience beforehand (in its past life as Idol Minds, it made PSN title PAIN and Cool Boarders). Not to mention the question that was a prequel entirely necessary?
The latter question is still up for debate, but the first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm near nails it. The season premiere sets up an interesting two episodes to come and I’ll be going into episode two with a little less apprehension after this one.
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