Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: Brave New World Review
After a relatively slow Episode 1, Life is Strange: Before the Storm delivers a strong sophomore effort that packs a lot of story, some really tough choices, and some engaging gameplay. Chloe Price and Rachel Amber’s relationship also takes some major steps forward, and this series is starting to really hook me in to play this direful spectacle out to the end.
Episode 2, entitled Brave New World, throws you right into the action with a visit to Principal Wells’ office after your illicit sojourn with Rachel last episode. As Chloe, you face a tough choice – to take the blame for Rachel, whose stellar academic reputation would take a way bigger hit as a result than would Chloe’s, or be honest and say it was Rachel’s idea. I chose to take the blame, which resulted in my expulsion and a very awkward conversation with Chloe’s mother and sorta-stepfather in the parking lot.
I really liked the big, decisive moments of Brave New World. Later, you have to decide whether to save classmate Drew (who has definitely not been a friend to Chloe so far) by giving up drug-dealer Frank’s money to Drew’s attacker back at the school dorm. And near the end of the episode, you’re put into a very awkward situation when you have dinner with Rachel’s parents, and you have to decide whether to bite your tongue with her cheating father or call him out for the liar he is. My heart was racing at times, caught in dilemmas that I felt had serious consequences no matter what path I chose.
“I really liked the big, decisive moments of Brave New World.”
The Back Talk feature is back and even more prominent in Episode 2. While I like the idea for this mechanic and I have enjoyed it, I wasn’t always sure whether the challenge was always real. For example, in one sequence Chloe has to get into the dorm to get Frank’s money from Drew’s room. To get in, she has to convince the security guard, Skip, to not report her. Now, Chloe must get into the dorm to advance the plot at this point – if you fail the Back Talk sequence, that would prevent the story from moving forward. I thus knew, even while I chose my responses, that I would get in regardless of what happened. This I think was a bit of a weakness and dramatically lowered the stakes of the “verbal battle” aspect touted by the developers for the Back Talk mechanic.
The resulting conversations didn’t always sound true, either. As an expelled student, Chloe’s threats to complain to the Principal about the security guard, which are key in getting him to give in, shouldn’t have moved him nearly as much as they did. Developers Deck Nine have hit upon an intriguing idea here, but it still needs a bit more refinement in the execution. As it is, the Back Talk feature tends to feel like a bit of an artificial pause in the story, an attempt to add gameplay to balance out all the exposition that still doesn’t quite feel organically related to the rest of the narrative.
Episode 2 also features some nice puzzle solving that I found mostly enjoyable. In order to get the keys to the dorm, Chloe has to go through a series of steps, in order. There’s also another sequence at the beloved junkyard in which Chloe must spruce up an old pickup truck in preparation for her and Rachel’s eventual escape from Arcadia Bay. Overall I liked the puzzles in this episode, but they were a little easy at times. For example, in Drew’s room looking for Frank’s money, Chloe must open a locked trunk with a combination. If you can’t figure it out after looking for a while, the game just straight-up tells you the answer – kind of a disappointment.
There’s also an interesting challenge in which Chloe (you) must step in to play a role in Rachel’s school performance of The Tempest. You are given the character’s lines beforehand, and then you must say them correctly on stage later. It is a fun idea and it works, but it ends too quickly as Rachel and Chloe go off-script and talk about running away together. I wasn’t clear on why they would choose to voice these plans and feelings so publicly and at such an odd time – and it was another moment when I felt a teased challenge was not actually in my control as much as I thought.
“…in its narrative, which let’s face it is the bedrock of the experience in Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Deck Nine continues to nail it in Brave New World.”
But in its narrative, which let’s face it is the bedrock of the experience in Life is Strange: Before the Storm, Deck Nine continues to nail it in Brave New World. Rachel Amber is becoming perhaps the most interesting, enigmatic figure of either series so far – which shouldn’t be surprising, I guess, since her mysterious disappearance was a driving force behind the first series. While the visuals are stylized rather than super-realistic, her face is so expressive, capturing perfectly her personality’s combination of flirtatious confidence and suppressed rage.
And if you are looking for plot twists and surprises, Brave New World drops some doozies on you. Not least of these is the episode’s climactic scene, in which Rachel and Chloe confront Rachel’s father about his infidelity. Just when you think all the pent-up secrets have been revealed, he reveals to them a new bombshell that nobody – Rachel, Chloe, or us players at home – ever would have expected. That is followed by a huge development in Chloe’s relationship with Rachel that, although it is not unexpected, was still a powerful emotional moment to witness. To say that I am motivated to play the final episode and find out how this all plays out is a huge understatement.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Brave New World is a great middle installment to the three-part series, and it offers a nice balance of gameplay, tough choices and gripping story that I found interesting and fun to play through. Despite its shortcomings in the area of puzzle challenge and the integration of the Back Talk mechanic, the narrative momentum is strong enough to overcome any of these. Although I know, from playing the first series, that Rachel and Chloe’s relationship cannot end on a positive note, I still can’t wait to see the tempestuous conclusion nevertheless.
** A PS4 code was provided by the publisher **
- Real, tough choices
- Gripping narrative moments
- Great character development
- Back Talk mechanic needs tweaking