‘Life Is Strange: Before the Storm — Episode 1: Awake’ (PS4) review: A trip down memory lane

Prequel to ‘Life Is Strange’ starts off slow, but intriguing

I’ll be honest: I’m not sure I see the point of “Life Is Strange: Before the Storm,” the prequel to Dontnod Entertainment’s quirky, charming “Life Is Strange.” The original game, released episodically across most of 2015, featured a teenage protagonist, Max, who suddenly has the ability to rewind time. It was that particular element that made the teen drama set in Arcadia Bay, Ore. (which was inspired by Astoria), that kept me interested throughout the first game. Because if I can’t go back in time to screw with people, then there’s no reason I’m going to sit there for hours listening to their angsty drama.

So while I enjoyed the first game for what it was, even if it didn’t explain much of anything, I wasn’t exactly itching for any type of follow-up, especially one that focuses on one of the most annoying characters in the first game: one Chloe Price (voiced by Rhianna DeVries rather than Ashly Burch as in the first game). And while she’s still raging her empty rebellion, there’s a sense of sadness that wasn’t really explored in the first “Life Is Strange,” and if anything is capable of saving this prequel, it’ll be the full realization of a young girl in grief.

Developed by Deck Nine, the first episode of “Before the Storm,” titled “Awake,” focuses heavily on character establishment with Chloe and her popular schoolmate, Rachel Amber. Those who played the first game know how the story ends for one of these characters (spoiler alert: not well), and having the chance to find out more about two girls who played such a major role in the first game already is proving to be a treat, even if supernatural powers haven’t manifested as of yet. (I’m still waiting for them.)

You know what’s not? The still-stilted dialogue and the fact that Chloe still is basically a jerk to everyone. You see, her father died in a car wreck, and then her best friend, Max, left for Seattle with her parents. All at once, Chloe found herself very alone, and that sadness turned into sarcasm-laden anger and an apathy for basically everything around her that wasn’t frowned upon or illegal. She smokes pot, skips school, misses curfew, drinks, vandalizes (in the form of graffiti) and talks back at every opportunity. You can understand why, but it can a bit grating sometimes.

Which leads to a bit of a problem I’m having in this player-choice-driven game: As the player, I make a good deal of decisions about how Chloe is going to react in any given situation. And at the start of “Awake,” I wanted to play Chloe the way I thought she actually behave: talking back, throwing shade, basically being the worst type of angsty teenager. But as I progressed the surprisingly long episode (clocking in just shy of 3.5 hours for me), I felt more and more that I just didn’t want to be that petty, to be that mean, to be that sad. Maybe it’s personal experience, of the desire to always be the good guy, but it’s hard to reconcile those two Chloes, especially when I know she’s just going to revert to her apathetic self at the start of the first game. It’s almost painful trying to make her happy, knowing that isn’t meant to be. (At least not yet; Dontnod announced “Life Is Strange 2” a little while back, though it may not feature Max and Chloe.)

Speaking of talking back, that seems to be Chloe’s superpower here. Instead of being able to rewind time, she can use people’s own words against them to get herself out of sticky situations. It’s a bit strange, if you’ll pardon the pun, but there’s some satisfaction in talking the principal out of keeping me after school or telling my mom’s new boyfriend to jump off a cliff. The ability has a time limit and forces you to pay attention to the dialogue in a way that’s almost like a word game. I’m not sure they have a great deal of effect on the story, but time will tell.

There’s also is more than once case of cognitive dissonance going on here, where Chloe, without my prompting, bounces between interactions that are totally believable and interactions that made me shake my head. Maybe getting in too deep with Rachel in about five seconds flat? She’s a teenager; I can believe it. Basically jumping into a bar fight with grown men that she more or less caused? Not so much.

Visually, “Before the Storm” maintains the same graphics as the first game, a comic book-like type of shading and slightly cartoonish features. I noticed a few noticeable stuttering problems, especially as the game loaded in new environments. But other than that, the episode handled pretty smoothly (with the exception that my controller’s sensitivity was set way too high).

In the end, “Awake,” the first episode of “Life Is Strange: Before the Storm,” is slowly becoming a heartbreaking reminder that people and their own stories existed in Arcadia Bay before Max and her time powers returned. It’s slow, and I’m not all too sure where things are going (other than already knowing how they end). But I’m curious to see how the relationship between Chloe and Rachel plays out, considering how monumental those two are in the first game. I have a feeling my heart is going to be broken. But hey, as long as I get to play some more “Dungeons and Dragons,” everything will turn out OK. Right?

Three “Where are my time powers?” stars out of five.

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