Continuing Deck 9’s prequel miniseries, Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: Brave New World is the second instalment in Chloe and Rachel’s teen-drama origin story. The first episode, Before The Storm, wasn’t quite as “high stakes” as the original series, however, it was a very promising start that felt authentic and respectful to its critically lauded source material.
Deck 9 maintains its solid streak with another well-made piece of fan-service that helps add more context to the peculiar goings on in the small town of Arcadia Bay. At its core, this is another lovingly crafted piece to Life Is Strange’s rich and charming emotional mosaic. Its portrait of two young girls coming of age, while the world around them tries its darnedest to extinguish their spirits and dreams, is definitely one worth discovering.
To avoid too many spoilers, I’ll paint with broad brushstrokes when I dig into the game’s narrative, as what’s truly special about such a narrative-focused game – like this one – is for the player to experience it for themselves.
The forest fire that was ignited at the tail-end of the opening episode continues to spread across the woodlands of Arcadia Bay. It’s always there, constantly in the backdrop, and its presence is twofold. Firstly, it acts as a reminder of the mysterious supernatural powers that Rachel secretly harbours. And secondly, it’s a clear metaphor for the ardent passion that has been enkindled within the two central protagonists. It’s a fitting piece of symbolism, especially when you consider the potential damage the burning fire can unleash on the town of Arcadia. Essentially, their love is potent and powerful, but it also has the potential to shatter the hearts, souls and minds of the family and friends that surround them.
As you can see, it’s a poetic and artful tale and one that’s also surprisingly unique. Still, what’s really special about this prequel series is its strength to give nuance to the characters that would go on to form the bedrock of the first season of Life Is Strange. There’s a ton of emotional depth here, and these poignant moments and interactions are doled out with measured regularity.
I’ve never felt quite as sorry for Chloe’s mum, Joyce, than in Brave New World, and it was all down to a simple text message. Now, I’m not saying that I’ve never empathised with her, but seeing Joyce’s texts to Chloe, plus, seeing Joyce continually trying her best to support her daughter in a rough time in her life, really gives credence to a fact that never fully dawned on me in the original series: Joyce is a loving mother and is always trying her best for her daughter Chloe.
Strangely, that was a plot thread from within the original first season that sort of passed me by. Honestly, I just thought she was a bit of a cow, with a massive bee in her bonnet — but it’s interesting seeing her character developed in these prequels while subverting your previous expectations. Chloe’s mum is actually a really kind, warmhearted, misunderstood mother with her own personal grievances. And I won’t go into too much detail, but the same could be said about Chloe’s dealer Frank who is also very much a “more than meets the eye” kinda person, too. Frank really ain’t so bad per se, either.
Events unfold at a fairly deft clip; a fraught meeting between the Price and Amber family with the eternally cantankerous Principal Wells, a mischievous spur-of-the-moment favour for your dealer Frank and – in what remains as one of the most bizarre scenes in the franchise (which is saying a lot) – an impromptu acting gig performing and ad-libbing Shakespeare’s The Tempest on-stage. It’s a vast smorgasbord of real-life, experiential activities, and for the most part, they’re all entertaining in their own distinct ways and shed light on each particular character with new, subtle ideas.
As is common for the series as a whole, there are a few moments where you are given some big, impactful choices to consider. These branching decisions have narrative consequences that affect the story later on down the line. It’s nice seeing callbacks to earlier choices that I’d made on my journey within Arcadia Bay, though, I’m still interested in seeing how things shake out in the story’s climactic third episode.
Backtalk challenges return in this episode and again they’re fleeting glimpses of a mechanic that doesn’t add a great deal to the gameplay. That said, its inclusion adds a little agency to the dialogue options, though, I never really knew if I’d made the “right” or “wrong” decision until it was too late. I guess that’s part of the point of these short multiple choice debates, but it would’ve been nice if the game offered players some more feedback to know if they’d failed a particular challenge.
All told, it’s cool returning to Arcadia Bay and learning more about the mythos that form the heart of Life Is Strange’s teen-drama. Compared to the original series, it’s more of a straightforward coming of age tale that smuggles in some effective nuance, foreshadowing and context for its rich assortment of unique characters. But its true strength is in how it subverts your expectations of the tale’s peripheral players in surprising ways. It’s often poignant and is clearly a lovingly crafted passion project for Deck 9. For fans of the series, Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: Brave New World is a compelling emotional mosaic that is definitely worth seeking out.
This review is based on the PS4 version.
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm — Episode 2: Brave New World is a compelling emotional mosaic that's definitely worth seeking out.