I didn’t know what to expect when I first played Life is Strange in 2015. The episodic adventure told the story of a young student named Max after discovering she had a hidden power that could rewind time. The game used this system to allow players to reverse choices made throughout the story in an effort to stop an approaching storm. In all honesty, I feel like I might have started playing through the episodic adventure ironically because everyone was raining praise about it and then found myself joining in on the conversations.
Now, developer Deck Nine has delivered a prequel to the original story with Life is Strange: Before the Storm. The game will continue with its episodic release structure, but instead focus on Max’s best friend: Chloe. So let’s just get right in and take a look at the first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm titled Awake and see if it holds up when compared to its novel predecessor.
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm’s Episode 1: Awake begins with the known troublemaker Chloe as she sneaks out of her house to attend a shady concert that she is not old enough to be at. Unlike Max, Chloe often chooses to be blunt and loud — a byproduct of her broken home life — which allows the game’s scenarios to play out differently. During conversations where Max would give well thought out responses, Chloe tends to just say the first thing the comes to her mind.
Playing as Chloe gave me the freedom to be rude and blunt to people I would interact with, whereas before I would try my hardest to make Max the most popular girl in school through even, tempered responses. However, there are times throughout Awake where Chloe shows a softer side of her personality; it’s only after the person she’s speaking with is deemed “cool” by her inner thoughts. Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s Episode 1: Awake provides a fair balance of responses during conversations to the point where I never felt like a particular response was missing from the choices given.
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm’s Episode 1: Awake tells the story of how Chloe met Rachel (who some will remember from the original Life is Strange) and how they grew to become best friends. Being that this is the episode’s main premise, it’s hard for me to believe Chloe and Rachel’s friendship at first since it just seemed too coincidental how they became close. However, after figuring out their individual issues with the world and their personal situations, it’s very believable that both of them are internally screaming for someone to understand.
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm’s Episode 1: Awake’s biggest departure from the previous entry is the removal of the signature time reverse ability and it affects the flow of the game immensely. Since there is no going back, the choices you make are the ones you are stuck with. I must admit, at first I missed the ability to retry a situation, but throughout the game’s story I knew exactly what kind of person I wanted my Chloe to be. It might feel confusing during the first 30-minutes of gameplay, but after you get a feel for who Chloe is and where you want her life to go the pacing of the game flows at a smooth speed till the very end.
However, Awake does add a new mechanic that happens to be one of Chloe’s greatest skills: Arguing. During certain conversations an option will be if you’d like to argue with the person or not. During arguments, players will have a certain number of tries to give the correct responses and win the argument. On the other hand, if the player gets these responses wrong than the other person wins then they must deal with the consequences.
Arguments can be pretty fun and they offer break from the choice system that I’d grown accustomed to. The only problem I found was that some of the choice in this mini-game were quite cryptic and vague. This could be because the responses were timed and so they needed to be as short as possible.
Also, when I lost a part of the argument I didn’t understand why — the game doesn’t really explain why either, you just lose a point and go on with the mini-game. This just made the argument scenes feel too random at times and I never felt like I completely understood how to respond.
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm’s Episode 1: Awake maintains a good balance on familiar and new areas that gave me enough time to find my place in Arcadia Bay as Chloe instead of as Max. Returning to areas like Blackwell Academy allowed me the chance to see how Chloe reacts to the school and the students. However, being that this game is a prequel, one could easily play through Life is Strange: Before the Storm and rediscover the school as Max instead of Chloe.
Often Chloe will be given the option to tag a wall or object, which is followed by another option about what exactly she’ll draw. This is pretty much the collectible of the game and requires the player to search around the settings and find places to add some street art to walls, or just a sentence that Chloe finds funny.
Episode 1: Awake left me feeling anxious and helpless as the credits rolled. Clocking in at a little over two hours, with other playthroughs encourage to find collectibles, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm’s Episode 1: Awake is a worthy prequel to Life is Strange, but left me feeling like there should have been more.
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm’s Episode 1: Awake focus on themes of depression, loss, and the inability to fit in, which it does an excellent job at presenting throughout this first episode. Sadly, the episode’s main focus on Chloe and Rachel’s friendship can feel a little forced early on, but inevitably lands on plausible after learning about the mental state of each of the characters.