All the Devils are Here
I am really going to miss Chloe Price.
With seven total episodes of the Life is Strange saga completed and only one remaining, I’m feeling a peculiar sadness in knowing that my time with the characters in this world is limited. Brave New World, the second episode of the three-episode prequel series Life is Strange: Before the Storm exacerbates this feeling, making me fall deeper in love with Chloe, Rachel and everyone else in this series while reminding me that the story has to end and that it’s going to soon.
Brave New World expands upon the new friendship between Chloe Price and Rachel Amber established in the first episode of Before the Storm, but the plot of the episode is rather mundane. The two further their plans to run away together; fixing up a car, packing clothes and looking for money in an attempt to escape their respective family lives. There is more than enough drama for the pair in the rest of the episode too; near the end, they both find themselves in a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, while offstage Chloe has trouble with her dealer and the truth about Rachel’s father is finally confronted.
There’s nothing all that mind-blowing or exciting going on in Brave New World; a lot happens, yes, but the pacing and plot points of the episode are subdued. Rachel doesn’t start any fires, and Chloe doesn’t even die once. In fact, much of the episode’s action is fallout from the previous, and that’s okay. It actually works in the game and overall story’s favor. In a three-episode arc, the middle episode is expected to play this role, continuing what was introduced in the first episode while setting up plenty for the finale. More than anything though, it adds depth to the characters and their bonds.
Everything about the characters in Brave New World is more realistic and less uncomfortable than the first episode. Only a couple of lines seem out of place or cringe-worthy, and the awkward pauses in between them from the first episode seem to be fixed. This is something the original game did very well too; making everything else about the world so real and believable that the questionable dialogue is easy to overlook. So, either the writing has incrementally improved, or I’ve been sucked in enough that it doesn’t bother me anymore. Perhaps I’m just used to being in this world again by now. Whatever the cause may be, the effect is an impressive and immersive piece of world building.
Brave New World does something else that the original game also did masterfully; making apparently one-dimensional, stereotypical characters burst with depth through subtle storytelling. As Chloe looks around the room of Drew (a conventional, OxyContin-pushing jock) she finds a list of addresses for his father that end in a homeless shelter. She finds letters from Blackwell and potential colleges outlining different scholarship funds. We understand why he needs the drug money we’re there to steal from him. Without saying anything explicitly, the writers are humanizing and creating empathy for Drew, and it’s only one example of many.
Rachel feels more fleshed out in this episode too. She’s inconsistent and flaky, but intentionally so; her home is life falling apart as her relationship with Chloe blossoms, bringing out an extremely wide range of emotions. In Brave New World, these violent mood swings feel earned, and they’re much more believable than they were in episode one. Breaking from the episode’s subtlety, there is a push for a romantic dimension to Rachel and Chloe’s relationship. This point is pushed so hard that when faced with a decision regarding a kiss between the two it feels like you don’t really have a choice. Though based on the percentages shown at the end of the episode, it seems most of the audience doesn’t mind that much.
The writers have done such a good job characterizing Rachel that you almost forget that she’s dead by the beginning of the original game. Almost, but not quite. As you learn more and more about Rachel, and as Chloe does the same, there’s a nagging, uncomfortable awareness of knowing where the story ends up. It underscores every moment in the game, making the happier moments bittersweet and the heavier moments all the more depressing.
The big choices in Brave New World are tough and I was once again surprised at how much I didn’t miss the rewind mechanic from the original game. In Life is Strange, Max lived virtually without consequence, anything she did could be undone. With Chloe, this is obviously not the case, and it again felt like my choices had that much more weight because of it. Chloe has to live with her own decisions, and that makes those put-down-the-controller and think on it moments all the more difficult. For a few, I would push the button and close my eyes because I didn’t want to see the consequences of my choice. These decisions are well executed and have the kind of weight that they should.
The Backtalk Challenge feature is back, but it really takes a backseat to the story. It’s not nearly as much of a mechanic as the time travel was in the original game, but it’s still fun to figure out which response has the most bite in a short amount of time. Though the Backtalks in Brave New World aren’t all that pressing; I even chose not to perform a couple of them.
The art direction in Brave New World is stunning. Life is Strange has never been the most impressive game graphically, but certain sequences in this episode feel nothing short of cinematic. Rachel’s forest fire constantly burns in the background of nearly every scene. A shot of Chloe walking across Blackwell as the sun sets behind her stands out in particular, but it’s just one of many. The soundtrack, as it always is in Life is Strange, is also great this episode. The quiet, ambient music in certain scenes alongside the punk and indie songs in others really gives the game its own acoustic style. It’s a style separate from the original game as well. The use of the song “Youth” by Daughter in the last montage sequence of this episode was a great choice, and it brought all of the emotions I had felt throughout the episode to the forefront in a very real way.
Emotion is what separates Life is Strange from most other choice-based, adventure style games like it. There is just something about it that is so emotionally resonant, and it consistently makes me feel things that few other video games ever have. It’s too easy to forget that all of Before the Storm is being made by an entirely different developer than the original game. Deck Nine have done a brilliant job recreating this world for their fans, and, in the end, that’s still who these episodes are for. The references and foreshadowing are all perfectly handled fan service. And I’m already experiencing that all too familiar feeling I felt as I started episode five of the original game; I really don’t want my time with these characters to end anytime soon.