I find myself repeating weird patterns with episodic reviews. I’ll start with an optimistic episode 1 review, gushing excitingly about how it seeks to reinvent the genre with its brash new ideas and its unusual careful tale. Episode 2 until the second-to-last or last review will be generally positive with a layer of disappointment as expectations of greatness slump to generally inoffensively good. Then the final reviews will either be thickly layered with disappointment, or have a dose of contentment (as though the five stages of grief just went from denial, to depression then to acceptance). At this point, I’m not sure if it is the developers (starting strong and simmering off) or me.
Maybe that’s why I find myself musing about Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: Brave New World in relation to my reviewing ability. Episode 2 of Life is Strange: Before the Storm does suffer from complications of expectations, as well as fumbling parts that I’d expect out of most other games/narratives. Yet, the episode feels like a confirmation of what Before the Storm is and isn’t, in both good and bad ways.
[There will not be any spoilers for Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: Brave New World, but I may end up discussing Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 1: Awake as well as the review of the episode (which you can find here). However, the rating at the bottom will be spoiler-free if you wish to skip there.]
Brave New World is the second episode in the Life is Strange: Before the Storm trilogy (no, the Deluxe Edition episode doesn’t really count, and I am still bitter you have to buy the Deluxe Edition for an episode), a game about walkin’-n-proddin’ your way around as Chloe Price prior to the events of Life is Strange. Last time Chloe meets Amber, falls head over heels and Amber sets fire to a tree for revenge of catching her father making out with not-wife.
Now we’ve got the rigmarole of the intro for the Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: Brave New World review done, let us leap straight into the mechanical newness. The main new part is a long-awaited addition to choice mechanics. No no no, not the ability to just throttle the annoying side characters if they rub you the wrong way. Nathan’s throat is unfortunately untarnished by the end of this sodding episode, the weasel.
Usually, puzzles in prod-n-shuffle games boil down to picking the right conversation choices or bashing your head against combine-X-with-Y puzzles until you win. Without spoiling things, you are tasked with a somewhat tricky memorization puzzle that you have to do in one shot. While it doesn’t seem to impact much, besides some soon-after commentary on how shocking your memory skills are, it’s a nice way to mix up the formula.
On the other hand, well, glitches. In the second half of a street scene (no, don’t worry, you’ll know when you hit it), it seems Deck Nine realized a deadline was coming up and rushed things. The animation suddenly takes a dive as it flows like chewed-kebab-vomit down a drain on a Saturday night. Similarly, incredibly odd glitches appear, as I swear I’m sure I saw Rachel Amber suddenly get a tic in her neck requiring her to snap her head violently to the side and then back to normal.
In fact, the writing suddenly gets noticeably worse just for that second half as well. This is especially as you’re presented a choice with only one “correct” answer, the other two being absolutely laughable. Worse still, the “correct” answer depends on you playing Chloe as loving Rachel rather than seeing her as a good buddy to hang out with, as the more neutral non-romantic options are abysmal and seem to see Chloe as bizarrely quick to change her mind. Then again, choices did seem a bit rail-roading this episode, so it could be a victim of following the writer’s vision of how a character should act, with two other lesser non-consequential options to be able to say it’s a choice-focused narrative game rather than an interactive film.
That said, the writer’s vision is still going pretty strong within Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: Brave New World. To get the main criticism out the way, it has further submerged itself in having very low stakes. The paranormal element hinted at in episode 1 never resurfaces, instead just focusing on the conflicts in Chloe’s life up to the lead up of Life is Strange. Besides knowing that Rachel Amber does get her throat cut by the local photography teacher, it feels more like a teenager story that doesn’t really have a conflict to resolve because you already know it doesn’t. Then again, that is the problem with prequels I think.
Beyond that, Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: Brave New World further humanizes its cast. It becomes increasingly obvious why Rachel Amber wants to leave Arcadia Bay badly, as you peel away the perfect image of the perfect family to see that maybe things aren’t great. That maybe Rachel is trapped in a life she doesn’t want and is looking for a friend (or a lesbian lover) to escape with.
While it was genuinely interesting (while unfortunately tame compared to Life is Strange‘s Kate suicide scene or Chloe’s euthanasia, but those scenes were spectacular), I did keep mentally comparing Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: Brave New World to the 1996 film Bound by The Wachowskis (before they made The Matrix). In a similar way that Bound always felt like a film missing a betrayal turn as Violet felt like she was leading Corky on to hatch an escape (complete with Corky as the scapegoat), I keep half expecting a betrayal by Rachel. There’s none in sight, but episodes 1 and 2 still feel like Rachel is just using Chloe rather than harboring genuinely feelings. Then again, maybe it is the perfection problem from my prior review combined with the love aspect going from 0 to “let’s make out” in two episodes.
Which brings me to my score. Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: Brave New World gets a 7.5 out of 10. Besides a pretty nasty moment where the quality drops off the cliff and some questions about the agency on show, Life is Strange: Before the Storm still executes its primary goal of a dramatic tale of Chloe prior to Life is Strange meeting the girl whose death fuelled Max to hunt down a serial killer. It sets up the middle arc of why Rachel Amber talked about leaving so much, which hopefully the third episode Hell is Empty will click into place the circumstances around her death.
Does Before the Storm look to be shaping up to be a game of the year contender like the original Life is Strange was for some people? No, not really. There is very little commentary about issues (with a passing nod being given to domestic dysfunction), the backtalk mechanic can encourage choices rather than allowing the player to pick whatever is their heart’s desire (in contrast to Max’s rewind mechanic lending immediate consequence knowledge before you lock in for long-term consequences) and Rachel Amber is reminding me why I found Bound frustrating. However, so far, the series is an easy recommendation that has me excited for the finale.