Life is Strange: Before the Storm was released in 2017 on various platforms and developed by Deck Nine. It is a prequel to the popular graphic adventure game, Life is Strange. The story is set in 2010, three years before the events of Life is Strange and focuses on a 16-year-old Chloe Price and her relationship with Rachel Amber, who quickly become close friends. Before the Storm is shorter than the main entries in the Life is Strange series, with 3 episodes instead of 5. It was also the entry where I actually first played it individually by episode and waited for the next, so I remember the pain of having a couple of months between episodes. With other Life is Strange games, I played them once all the episodes were already out. The concept of Before the Storm makes for an interesting prequel as it’s interesting to see Chloe’s life before Max came back into it, the nature of her relationship with Rachel Amber and to see the mysterious Rachel as her own character brought to life because we only have previously seen her in missing posters and testimonies from Chloe and others.
The story begins with Chloe loitering on her way to the Old Mill to watch her favourite band Firewalk. She cannot get into the gig, however with Chloe where there’s a will there’s a way. After getting in, she ends up in conflict with two men after accidentally knocking beer on them. Things get tense, Rachel rescues her and the pair have the night of their lives. The next day, both skip class to stow away on a train and hang out at Overlook Park, where they use a viewfinder to observe people. Rachel is suddenly upset, although does not initially disclose why and turns on Chloe. We are in the dark as Chloe is about why Rachel has changed suddenly. Later it transpires it’s because she spotted her dad, the district attorney named James, kissing another woman. Enraged, Rachel burns a photo of them, kicks over the bin and causes a forest fire that can be seen from most of Arcadia Bay. It also symbolises how intense their friendship has become so quickly that it spreads like fire. The fire from episode 1 remains visible in episode 2 and by episode 3 it has subsided into smoke.
Before the Storm focuses on Chloe and her vulnerabilities with losing her dad and Max. She is struggling to adjust with her mother Joyce’s relationship with David Madsen, who later becomes her stepfather, as their personalities massively clash. Chloe is defiant both in school and at home, but when we first see Chloe hang out with Rachel, she comes across as nervous, probably because this has been her first friendship in a while. Chloe is enamoured with Rachel and is almost blinded to it, but given the context it’s understandable. Chloe has already lost her best friend Max after she moved up to Seattle and doesn’t have any other strong friendships. The text exchanges become less frequent; however, Max is still clearly in Chloe’s mind as seen in her journal and general thoughts. In the scene where Chloe gets upset in the junkyard after Rachel leaves, Chloe smashes things she can find, including a camera which she associates with Max. Just before Max left, her father also suddenly passed away after a car accident and after smashing things in the junkyard, she lastly sees her father’s car. Throughout, she has various dreams about her father and talks to him.
Rachel has this mysterious allure about her which is what draws Chloe in so fast as she’s pretty, she is skilled academically, she is a talented actress and seemingly down to earth. From the end of episode 1 where she causes the massive fire is an immediate sign of Rachel’s unpredictable and destructive behaviour. Even before it happens there’s foreshadowing during a dream sequence Chloe has with her late dad as she sees Rachel burning. Even after playing, I still feel like there’s so much about Rachel that I still don’t know and there’s a lot of debate as to just how much of an actress she is on or off the stage and that potentially she’s a femme fatale. I believe that Rachel cares about Chloe, but she is ultimately selfish as she goes on to have relationships with Frank Bowers and Mr Jefferson, all of which Chloe is unaware about. I think not being able to see this aspect of her life in the lead up to her death contributes to the remaining mystery, but it’s clear that with the lying and drugs she later gets involved in that she inherits the worst aspects from her parents.
Chloe and Rachel’s intense friendship makes them plan to get out of Arcadia Bay together. It’s very much watching the start of an exciting relationship. With Max, Chloe had a friendship that was built on stability and longevity, the relationship with Rachel is built on unpredictability and excitement. In episode 2 where Rachel is partaking in The Tempest play (a not-so-subtle reference to the storm), she gets Chloe on as a last-minute stand in, Chloe is clearly not in her comfort zone, but does it anyway. There’s a questionable scene beforehand where there’s an option for Rachel to drug Victoria or if Victoria attempts to drug Rachel’s tea it can be switched. Considering one of issues highlighted in Life is Strange itself was young girls were getting drugged and put into vulnerable positions (as well as Rachel getting drugged causing her death), I’m surprised it takes the scene of Victoria being drugged so flippantly. With Chloe’s disdain for her homelife, for her it’s a no brainer to go to California with Rachel and have an exciting new start, even if only ever stays as a dream. Chloe remains dedicated to Rachel, even after she goes missing.
The rest of the narrative is largely about Rachel with the truth behind her parents and her life. It is very much like how Chloe’s world is quickly revolving around Rachel. In episode 3, we learn more about what happened with Rachel’s dad and the woman – it turns out to be Rachel’s biological mother, Sera. Sera was a drug addict and to protect Rachel, he paid her off to stay away. Sera, much like Rachel, was the popular girl at school. Allegedly the kiss was a kiss goodbye. It transpires that despite this, James is very much corrupt and has teamed up with the antagonist, Damon Merrick to ensure that Sera stays away after she shows an interest in contacting Rachel. Chloe and Rachel know that Frank knows Sera so they try to get information, however he brings Damon with him and after a scuffle where Rachel attacks him, Damon stabs her in the arm. In hospital, Rachel implores Chloe to find out what she can about her mother. Sera is at the Old Mill being held hostage by Damon, and afterwards Sera and Chloe talk. Sera decides that Rachel needs her father and says Chloe shouldn’t say anything.
While Chloe doesn’t have superpowers like Max, she does have the backtalk challenge. You use arguments to get your own way and this is done by paying attention to the words your opponent is using. The first time you use it is when speaking to the bouncer at the Old Mill, if you get it right then he will concede and let you in, if you fail then you have to sneak in. This time there’s no relying on rewinding and changing your answer this time. Choices of course are also crucial, one of the main choices that you can make throughout is whether you want to keep Chloe and Rachel’s friendship purely platonic, or whether to go further with it. In episode 2, before Chloe goes to Rachel’s house and have dinner there, there’s an option to kiss and I think most chose that, right? The final choice at the end after the showdown with Damon is whether to tell Rachel the truth about her mother or to protect her from the truth. I opted to tell her the truth, but as we know Rachel dies a couple of years later, so maybe it’s better if she doesn’t know?
Once the main story is completed, the fun doesn’t end there. There is a bonus episode named Farewell, set in 2008 showing the last time Chloe and Max hang out before Max has to move to Seattle and her dad William dies within days of each other. It’s nice to see a side to Chloe that is happy and carefree – although Chloe’s mischievous side is apparent as the first scene is blowing up dolls with explosives in her room. Most of the episode revolves around Chloe and Max reliving their pirate days and Max is grappling with when to tell Chloe that she is leaving as she has been putting it off. When Chloe does find out, it turns out she already knew and she is incredibly gracious with the news and she is a really good friend to Max. They plan to enjoy their last day together and her mother Joyce walks in with the bad news about William. They have the funeral and Max leaves, leaving Chloe behind a heartfelt recorded message. I think this marks the start of when Chloe’s attitude changes, it’s clear the rebellious side was always there but through the trauma it escalates.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm very much respects and is faithful to the source material in which it came from and expands upon that universe. Chloe is an interesting character and I think picking Chloe and Rachel’s relationship to focus on was the obvious choice. I just wish it showed more of their relationship closer to the run up to the events of Life is Strange itself as it left me feeling like there was more that I didn’t know. Between the end of Before the Storm and the start of Life is Strange there’s still gaps where’s there’s still questions. The only hint is the very last scene where Rachel has numerous missed calls from Chloe as she is in Mr Jefferson’s dark room. It’s a sad reminder of the inevitability of Rachel’s fate and shows her and Chloe are still close. Ultimately, you know that Chloe and Rachel don’t get their happy ending no matter what choices you make. If you liked Life is Strange, then Before the Storm is a must play, there may be no superpowers but it still remains a very human story with relatable themes of friendship, loss, truth and lies.