The final episode in the Life Is Strange prequel series is the most emotional yet, as gaming’s great romantic tragedy comes to an end.
Much like video game movies, prequels have such a terrible track record that we’re constantly surprised companies keep making them. There are a few exceptions to the rule, such as The Godfather Part II and Metal Gear Solid 3, but in cinema at least you’re much more likely to get a Phantom Menace than even the modest success of a Rogue One. Prequels don’t have quite the same negative reputation in video games, but given the unimportance of the timeline few probably realise that something like Metroid Prime even is a prequel.
But since Before The Storm is entirely story-based its prequel status is important. And having loved the original Life Is Strange we were initially worried that it would prove unnecessary and, given it was by a different developer, unlikely to reach the same high standards of writing and interactivity. But as has been obvious since the first episode, this at least as good as the first series – and in some ways superior.
As the third and final episode there are by now a lot of spoilers for us to avoid, but the basic set-up in Before The Storm is that you play as 16-year-old college student Chole Price, who, following the death of her father, has become an authority figure-hating delinquent. In the first episode she met the enigmatic Rachel Ambers, with the two forming a close but potentially self-destructive bond.
Unlike the first Life Is Strange there are no magic time powers or city-destroying threats in Before The Storm. Instead you’re left with an essentially ordinary tale of teenage love and rebellion. Or at least it would be considered ordinary in real-life and non-interactive mediums. In video games it’s almost unique, in that it deals with everyday issues without any kind of gameplay or visual gimmick.
The closest you get is Chloe’s attempt to ‘Backtalk’ people, in what is essentially a modern-day update of the insult fighting from The Secret Of Monkey Island. But it’s actually the least enjoyable part of the game.
From a gameplay perspective the most notable success is how well the story branches depending on your decisions. In most other games like this it becomes obvious that your decisions have only a trivial influence on the overall story, but that’s never been the case with Life Is Strange. There’s one possible story outcome that, according to the stats at the end, only 5% of players were able to reach. And we are now desperate to go back and see if we can figure out how.
In story terms the most interesting part of the game has been watching Chloe’s relationship with Rachel evolve. But while we’re not going to be churlish enough to drop this third episode’s score any lower than the others, we have to admit that overall it is the least compelling. Partly because the first hour or two is simply spent dealing with the aftermath of the last episode, and partly because the story’s ending is limited by having to tie-in to the beginning of the first Life Is Strange.
Before The Storm avoids the latter problem as best it can but despite what we’ve just said about prequels sometimes working, it’s still always been obvious that this would’ve been better as a standalone story. But then it wouldn’t have got made, so we’re not going to criticise it for that.
The other reason Episode 3 might seem slightly disappointing is that while the previous episodes had an exciting ambiguity about what they were building up to, here it becomes increasingly obvious that Chloe is not suddenly going to gain superpowers and be called upon to make a godlike, life or death judgement. Except she kind of does anyway.
As the story builds to its conclusion it ends with a decision that, on a personal level, is every bit as earth-shattering as the first game. But here it’s the sort of decision that normal people have to make all the time, which should seem mundane and anticlimactic in a video game but because you’ve grown so attached to the characters, and are by proxy responsible for the conundrum, we spent just as long agonising over what to do as we did at the end of Life Is Strange.
Before The Storm is one of the very best story-based video games of this generation, and arguably the best video games have ever been at portraying ordinary people with ordinary problems. The dialogue isn’t always as sharp as it needs to be (although it does seem to have improved as the series has gone on) and outside the main two characters the voice-acting can be distractingly poor, but it works on an emotional and dramatic level in a way we’ve never seen before.
It’s heartbreaking now, to think of the events yet to come for Chloe, and we wonder whether the bonus episode – a prequel to this prequel, that is only available via the deluxe edition – is meant to mitigate that, or perhaps hint at the forthcoming sequel. But either way, Before The Storm is a game we recommend without hesitation.
Almost uniquely, it manages to portray romance and friendship in a believable and realistic fashion, as a part of an unpretentious and enjoyable gameplay experience. By its success it expands the scope of what a video game story can be, and its few flaws only make it more exciting to imagine the future of the series, and of interactive storytelling in general…
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm – Episode 3
In Short: The episode itself has its weak points, but it’s still a successfully heart-rending finale to one of the great storytelling achievements in gaming.
Pros: The writing and acting for the two main characters is excellent, and the web of decision-making possibilities is hugely impressive. Interesting cinematography and use of licensed music.
Cons: Still some moments of inconsistent dialogue and voice acting. Low tech graphics can distract from the drama. A slow start to the episode, and being a prequel limits the options for the ending.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Price: £4.99 for Episode 1, £9.99 for Episode 2 & 3 bundle or £13.99 for complete season
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Deck Nine
Release Date: 19th December 2017
Age Rating: 16
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