When Life is Strange was first released back in 2015 I had never heard of DontNod Entertainment, the fact that it seemed so similar to what DontNod Entertainment was doing back when they still produced legit games is what originally made me purchase the game, but I stayed purely for what Life is Strange ended up presenting to me in its first few minutes.
Life is Strange is a game I have been wanting to talk about ever since it was first released. There are so many subjects and characters within that game that I profoundly empathize with or see as a representation of various experiences I’ve had in my life, or aspects of myself, I will get to it, I’m sure. When Life is Strange’s story reached its end, it has garnished a massive fan based, adults and teens alike had fallen in love with the story of Max Caulfield and Chloe Price, and I absolutely was one of those people. The end of their story raised many questions that DontNod Entertainment gave us sometimes clear sometimes vague answers to: what then? Originally, it seems absolutely set in stone, Life is Strange would not get a sequel, the game was the one and only story taking place through Max, and the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. But in June 1st, 2017, images were leaked from the website of a developer called Deck Nine, and everyone learned that Life is Strange was indeed not getting a sequel, but a prequel. Although it felt a little odd to hear that DontNod Entertainment, a developer that gave us such an amazing game, wasn’t going to be the one giving us its sequel, people were excited, but also confused: what could the game be about? What could be possibly be said, shown or given to us knowing the story of Life is Strange, the future of Before the Storm?
Life is Strange: Beyond the Storm was thus released on August 32st 2017, and that evening I returned to Arcadia Bay, knowing that this time, I would follow the story of Chloe Price…and Rachel Amber, the one who seemingly started it all.
Chloe wasn’t exactly my favourite character of LiS, I’ll be honest. I found her to be bratty, annoying, unnecessary angsty, I struggle to empathize with her, I struggled to like her, I struggled to care. Through the game, I found myself often wondering why Max and Chloe were friends at all, but throughout the game began to realise that Chloe had changed, that she wasn’t the person that Max used to know, that anyone used to know. Although we are given a (quite valid) reason why, my original feeling was difficult to shake off, and by the end of the game I saw Chloe as, almost, sort of a lost cause. There were too many other characters I wanted to care about, and what made Chloe interesting at times, for me, was her relationship with Rachel Amber, a character we never meet in LiS, but only hear of as if she if both myth and phantom. So, I was curious to play Before the Storm, which focuses on Chloe 2 years after the death of her father, but 3 years before the return to Arcadia Bay of Max. I wanted to understand her better, to feel for her as the previous game allowed me to feel for her at the time, towards the end of its story.
I was given this, and so much more.
In Life is Strange: Before the Storm: Awake, we follow Chloe in the woods, attempting to sneak into a music venue she is too young to attend. There, although various issues and conversations go down, she meets Rachel Amber for the first time. It is electrifying, as Chloe complains about having a hangover the next day, we are left feeling the same. The first few minutes of Awake have been described as “slow” by many people, but the beginning of the episode focuses on Chloe’s current state of mind, making it more than clear to her that the loss of her father is still painfully fresh for her, that while experience depression, grief, anger towards the loss of her father and emotions of abandonment.
Abandonment was the biggest cause for the clash between Max and Chloe in the previous game, and where I struggled to understand then Before the Storm made me feel a completely different way about both Chloe as well as Max. We learn that after the death of Chloe’s father in a car crash, Max’s parents moved to Seattle and so, she did as well, but for two years Chloe attempted to reach out to her friend for contact, empathy, a connection, this was the time she needed her the most, and in two years, Max never checked on her friend, she left her behind to deal alone with the loss of a parent, and we are only to assume that Joy, Chloe’s mother, did not attempt to experience any of her own loss with her daughter. Nobody tried to connect, and Chloe drowned in her emotions, directionless. When the story begins, Chloe is clearly self-destructive, but she sees her mother’s attempts, her fear of losing her daughter, she is approached by people who aren’t strangers but not yet her friends, who see her not for who she is or could be, but as an angry kid, angry for no reason, and Chloe’s state of mind stop her from caring about others, or about herself as well.
Rachel Amber brings something into Chloe’s life that Chloe longs for, someone who will make her feel alive, make her feel interesting, cool, make her feel like she isn’t utterly invisible. Throughout the game, Chloe writes letters to Max, letters she does not plan on sending, where she expresses her anger and disappointment towards her friends, and later on, her awe at Rachel Amber, an awe that feels very particular. In LiS, Chloe and Max’s queerness is mostly hinted at, Chloe’s love for Rachel feels more than a platonic albeit deep love for a friend you care about, she expresses awe, pride, as well as jealousy. All the while Max experiences the same awe, pride, and jealousy for the place that Rachel has in Chloe’s heart, a place she wishes she could almost entirely occupy.
Although there are many ways in which you could play LiS, the romance between Chloe and Rachel, and Chloe and Max is, as I’ve said, mostly hinted at (even if it’s obvious). This isn’t what goes on in Beyond the Storm. Chloe describes a type of relief at Rachel’s sudden appearance in her life.
She describes feeling as though she can do anything when she is with her, and eventually, after many options given to us to straightforwardly flirt with Rachel, the episode ends with the option to confess to Rachel your feelings for her. If you choose to, although Rachel originally turns you down (not because she doesn’t want to, she does, but she can’t) which causes Chloe to have an intense emotional breakdown, feeling yet abandoned, rejected, simply not loved or worthy enough, Rachel ends up confessing to Chloe as well. In that moment where the choice is offered to us, and you tell Rachel that you only see her as a friend, Rachel expresses disappointment, and becomes angry with you nonetheless, once again triggering intense emotions in Chloe.
The episode’s focus on the life, mental state and pain of Chloe, as well as Rachel, later on, feels far more focused than it did back in LiS. I empathize with Chloe, I felt angry as well as sad with her, I felt her grief and believed in it (as someone who has lost a parent, I truly felt it).
There is kindness left in Chloe where we are at at this moment in the story. Through dreams that Chloe has of her riding in her father’s car, we see that she is haunted by his death, a mixture of guilt, anger and sadness, and she is left alone to deal with it as the kids in her school go on with their lives, mocking her struggle, and as her mother begins to move on with a man who disrespects her, her pain, and the memory of her father. Chloe doesn’t attempt to fill that hole with Rachel, Rachel is the one who reaches out to Chloe and holds her hand, dragging her where life still lingers.
But Rachel Amber is not who everyone seems to think that she is. Rachel struggles too, there is an amount of darkness in Rachel, a darkness that isn’t in Chloe, not yet. Both girls struggle with life, struggle with caring, struggle with finding reasons to stay in Arcadia Bay where they hurt so badly, where their lives seem to matter so little, and there is a reason why these conversations and the way they are presented feel so similar to conversations on depression as well as suicide.
I truly fell in love with Beyond the Storm. Its approach on depression, anxiety, grief, anger, self-destructive behaviour, as well as queerness within teens who are barely figuring out why they feel the way that they do about, well, every aspect of their lives. It completely changed my perspective on Chloe and how I feel about her, it made me care for her, worry, it made me understand, and I was amazing at how much I was given to feel in what ended up being only a single episode.
Life is Strange: Beyond the Storm, Episode 1: Awake deserves incredible praise for continuing the wonderful stories that it has given us previously, and even better. I am incredibly excited to play the next episodes and see what else we will learn of Chloe, Rachel, and their relationship, even if we know, due to Life is Strange’s first story, that there isn’t a happy ending. I also want to take the time to give a huge praise for the soundtrack for this episode which was produced by British and Indie Folk Band Daughter, it was incredibly fitting but set itself apart from the music from the previous game.