After a very mediocre first episode, Before the Storm is back with “Brave New World” the second of the three pieces that form this prequel-season to the excellent Life is Strange. Without further to do, let’s find out what it is like!
I didn’t like the first episode very much until the last few minutes. The story was weak, characters lacked depth, mechanics felt wrong… It was quite a disaster. Those last few minutes did manage to leave a better taste, but the result was bittersweet to put it mildly. That same structure seems to be coming back once again, as this new chapter has been an effort to play, only to finish with a very compelling cliffhanger. Damn it, Deck Nine, you did it again.
This time around too, it seems time has been a major reason to the game’s poor quality. It’s been less than two months since its predecessor, and that really shows in the shallow writing and lazy design choices. Lots of recycling has been done again, with locations from the first game seemingly being forced into the script in order to avoid spending time crafting new ones. In a certain scene a crowd is supposedly giving an ovation to some characters, but that crowd has not been animated at all, so you just see some people sitting down without making a move while listening to cheers and applause. The elegance and finesse of the original game have been replaced with stereotypical dialogue that doesn’t feel natural at all, and all this results in a definitely poor experience.
Last time we talked about how they used the decision-making mechanic both in great and awful ways, and today I wanted to bring another layer to that very mechanic. In Life is Strange, every time a decision must be made, it’s not an easy one. Sure, sometimes it can be clear depending on what our opinion is, but it always made you think twice. When playing as Max, our very morals were brought into the game, as her decisions had an ambiguity that players had to solve according to their criteria. Options weren’t “the good thing” and “the bad thing”. What could be beneficial to the player would harm other characters, and the other way around. It was challenging at times, and even the time-rewinding abilities didn’t make it dull.
In Before the Storm, however, decisions are very simple. They are, almost with no exception, “be a good girl” or “be a bad girl”. This could be acceptable, but with the lines Chloe, the protagonist, bursts throughout the entire game, the decisions aren’t moral, but relative to the script. Let me explain. Chloe hates her stepfather. Like really hate him. When he gives you an order in the beginning of this episode, you have the option to either comply or refuse. But it’s not the player’s morals or opinion what matters here, as the option of agreeing with that guy completely breaks the protagonist’s character. The script has clearly stated what Chloe would do in that situation: refuse the order. If you do otherwise, it simply makes no sense at all. I was really annoyed with this, as it felt like developers were cheating. “Sure, it’s your decision, but if the script is fucked up that’s your problem, not ours.”
Also, what’s up with shattering the immersion of players with the wardrobe choices? When choosing an outfit for Chloe, there are several options that can only be accessed if certain conditions have been met: being a member of Square Enix, having pre-ordered the game or owning the Deluxe Edition… These requisites are clearly stated inside the game, which makes absolutely no sense in the universe depicted. Was highlighting these bonuses so crucial to the experience that bringing elements that make no sense was an absolute necessity? Come on!
If I recall correctly, Life is Strange, whenever you had to figure something out, gave you a set of possible answers. For example, when looking for a password for a computer, you had to inspect surrounding elements looking for dates, important names, and other pieces of information, and those were later presented as a list from which you could pick when typing the password. In this episode of the prequel, however, a much more compelling solution has been found by Deck Nine. When trying to deduce a padlock’s combination, you do something similar: look for posters, letters, addresses and birthdates in search of four-digit codes. However, you can’t choose from a list anymore, you have to actually type in the four numbers. This completely deletes the brute-force approach and is much more compelling for the player.
And then they screwed up. Because there is no solution to that challenging puzzle. Upon giving the lock a few tries, Chloe speaks to a friend, who gives the code to our nosey protagonist. They basically had us wandering around in order to waste time and make the episode longer. Heck, you don’t even have to input the password yourself, Chloe does it in a cinematic! It seemed Deck Nine understood what gameplay is, but it was just filler.
Duh… While re-reading the review it seems that I really want to hate Before the Storm. Trust me, I wanted to love this. Life is Strange is a very meaningful game for me, I even have a tattoo of it on my chest. I wished this was going to be this year’s best game. But it’s simply not. Characters are not believable, script is dull and silly, and gameplay has been reduced to ashes by this time. Sure, it does have a beautiful art direction and some pretty good music choices in its soundtrack, but… Is that enough? I’m afraid it’s not. 4/10