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It’s time to go back to Arcadia Bay with Life is Strange: Before the Storm…

 

….but before that, lets take a look at why we fell in love with the Town and it’s occupants, in the first place. When Dontnod’s Life is Strange was announced, its strong word of mouth and clever use of individually released chapters, we quickly realised we had something of a sleeper hit on our hands. While there was no combat or initial urgency to the story, what we found instead was a very gentle, almost laid back game with a charming setting and some very rich characters. There were beautiful graphics, fantastic artwork with almost childlike imagery, a simplistic but affecting score and a heroine you could really root for. It was, in my own experiences, very unique and one that would put me through the wringer and leave me, more than once, just sitting there with my mouth open. Life is Strange can really play with your emotions and Dontnod know this. After all, there’s no small reason as to why, after one chapter, it simply says “Thanks for Crying.”

You play Max Caulfield, voiced by Hannah Telle, a young student and keen photographer who doesn’t quite believe in herself. Max realises through a life changing event that she can rewind time, and it is this ability which drives the narrative, as Max discovers how to use it and what consequences it causes. Soon after she discovers this power she has a very hard choice to make, and the result of this sends Max on a journey that will have the whole fate of Arcadia Bay resting on. However, it won’t be the last decision Max will have to make and it’s the results of these choices that you make for her which shape the story you will follow. While there is a linear structure to the story, the details are anything but. Depending on how you make Max choose, you could have characters die, or have them act completely different. It’s a clever mechanic and at the end of each chapter you can see how you and others chose. You’ll be surprised at how many choices there are in each chapter, that even the smallest choice could affect things far down the line. The Butterfly Effect in full effect, as it were. There are subtle and not so subtle references to The Butterfly Effect strewn throughout the game. There are random encounters with butterflies and strange weather phenomena that pre-empt the impending storm coming to destroy Arcadia Bay. These won’t go unnoticed, nor the metaphors that they are implying.

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Max is supported by plenty of great characters, who at first may seem a bit cliché. There’s Warren, the nerdy excitable boy, who has a crush on her. Kate, the insecure classmate. Nathan, the psychopathic drug dealing rich boy, who’s father owns half the town and who everybody is terrified of. Then there are the shallow girls and boys who hang around the rich, spoiled in-crowd and the haughty, mean spirited self-entitled queen of it all, Victoria. It’s quite a group and yes it may seem cliché but they are so well done, they just seem right.

Finally there is Chloe, an unpredictable punky, stoner dropout . She’s an absolute tour-de-force, who you quickly warm to as she becomes the most interesting, likable and brilliant character in the game. She is Max’s best friend, although their relationship is a little prickly due to Max moving away when she was young. They lost contact but Max and has now returned. Chloe’s energy and excitability, ably portrayed by Ashly Burch are contrasted by her traumatic past and emotional mood-swings. She is just as likely to snap at Max as she is likely to hug her, which makes her such a compelling character and one who has an enormous army of fans. You’ll find many Chloe’s in cosplay at conventions. You cannot miss that shock of her trademark blue hair.

Chloe’s story also intertwines with Max’s on many levels. It’s their first encounter that leads to Max’s discovery of her rewind powers and Chloe’s search for her missing friend, Rachel Amber, which makes up a large portion of the story. There is something rather sweet about Chloe’s and Rachel’s friendship. It’s left deliberately ambiguous as to whether they were in a relationship or just best friends, and its left to your own imagination as to which way you lean. It doesn’t matter, in the ends and that’s what really matters.

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Max and Chloe’s paths lead to the same point eventually and then they team up to solve the mysteries of Arcadia Bay, together. While the story is predominantly set in a University with all its typical student hang-ups, the themes are surprisingly adult and mature. The execution is natural and though the characters drop the F-bomb and worse, with regularity, it never seems forced or gratuitous. There is implied date-rape and murder and it can get very dark in its later chapters.

As the impending storm gets nearer, and Max and Chloe get closer to the truth, the game becomes almost relentless and you won’t want to tear yourself away. It’s this gripping finale and that the end comes down to one simple if agonising choice that elevates it into one of the truly great games.

Now with the sequel/prequel, Before the Storm, just released, it’s time for us to re-acquaint ourselves with Arcadia Bay. No Max this time, but instead the focus shifts to a young Chloe and we finally get to meet Rachel and what their friendship means. It will be interesting to see their dynamic and as there is no rewind powers this time theres a mystery around what the narrative of the game actually is. It’s not the only thing that has changed, the developers, Dontnod have given way to Deck Nine and Ashly Burch only consulted, as she could not reprise her role due to an Actors Strike.The torch has passed to Rhianna DeVries and as Chloe is younger, it works surprisingly well, if the pre-released footage is anything to go by.

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Yes, it’s definitely time to go back to Arcadia Bay and I for one, can’t wait.