Arts video game review

Love done right

An in-depth look at Rachel Amber’s impact on Chloe Price‘s life

8432 rachel amber
Rachel Amber as Prospera in 'The Tempest.'
Courtesy of Square Enix

Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Developed by Deck Nine Games
Published by Square Enix
Rated M for Mature
Available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Having developed a lifelong hobby out of playing video games, I can say I’ve handled a variety of situations from defending the balance between darkness and light, losing multiple loved ones, mastering the art of stealth, and simply farming. And yet, out of all these experiences, very few games have ever exceptionally impacted me. Life is Strange: Before the Storm is one of these exceptional games.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm serves as a prequel to the first game of the series, Life is Strange, which came out in 2015. It helps to set up the events leading to Rachel Amber’s (Kylie Brown) disappearance in the first game as well as dive into the complexity of Chloe Price’s (Rhianna DeVries) character. There lie many similarities and differences between this game and the first, but the poignancy and artistry remains exceptionally memorable.

Before the Storm is a tri-episodic game that focuses on Chloe Price as the main character. Abandoned by her childhood best friend Max Caulfield (Hannah Telle; main character of the first game) and still dealing with her father’s abrupt death by car accident two years earlier, Chloe feels dumb, out of luck, and purposeless. Her personality consists of an agglomeration of edgy punk, casual weed user, angry at life, yet also deeply confused and emotionally conflicted about what life has to offer for her. She hardly goes to school, has a problem with dealing with authority, and hates the stuck-up “stepdouche” her mother gradually falls in love with.

The answer to her senseless trouble-making then arrives in the form of Rachel Amber; star student of Blackwell Academy, drama protégé, beautiful, popular, yet also impetuously vibrant and emotionally impulsive. She shines a light on Chloe’s darkness, but also derives to be just as complex and ridden with problems as she is. Together, the two girls form an intensely close bond within days and showcases the most compelling whirlwind romance I have ever seen portrayed in a video game setting. It’s teenage recklessness at its best and most wonderful.

In terms of gameplay mechanics, Before the Storm borrows significantly from Life is Strange, which makes sense since they are from the same series. This parallel, though, works excellently in detailing the similarities and differences between Chloe and Max’s character. For example, Chloe uses the journal mechanic to document her days as they pass by, but in the form of letters to Max. On the other hand, Max uses the journal as a diary to herself as she copes with moving back to Arcadia Bay.

The interactivity with the environment is also something to be championed within the series. Chloe will give players her thoughts on literally anything and everything, from a “drug-free zone” poster, to the old television sitting unused and forgotten in the living room of her home, to playing a Dungeons & Dragons-esque tabletop game. One way I really loved the developers’ use of this is after a plot twist takes place near the end of Episode 2. Before the twist, Chloe’s thoughts on the environment are snarky and witty. After the twist, her thoughts have transformed to reflect her sorrow, despair, and confusion at the new situation.

Another great plot device used in the game is symbolism. The raven motif is ever-present, especially during Chloe’s dream sequences in which her dead father is brought back to life with breath-taking vitality and realism. The dream sequences themselves represents Chloe’s inability to let go her father and how she learns to cope with this inability as the game progresses. The forest fire that starts in Episode 1 and is finally contained and extinguished by the end of Episode 3 can be interpreted to mean a variety of things: Rachel Amber’s witch hunt against her father; the passion that unfurls and is realized between Rachel and Chloe; or Rachel Amber herself as a fiercely independent and brash individual.

One last thing I will touch upon in regards to this amazing game is the sound mixing and voice acting. No doubt the writing put into this game is absolutely phenomenal, but the characters would not have come to life as they did without all the wonderful voice actors and actresses behind each and every personality. Kylie Brown breathed life into Rachel Amber with her charismatic beauty and her emotionally charged actions. Rhianna DeVries mastered Chloe Price’s witticisms and employed the perfect heart-wrenching tones whenever Chloe felt she was going through an exceptionally rough or puzzling moment.

Then, if you’ve played the original Life is Strange, you’ll know that the developers have a very good taste in music; this game being no exception from their wonderful soundtrack decisions. My personal favorites from the listing include “Dreams of William,” “Departure,” “Voices,” “Flaws,” and “Youth” (all by Daughter). Others not from the band that basically did most of the soundtrack are “Now Below” by Speedy Ortiz, “Through the Cellar Door” by Lanterns on the Lake, and “Taking You Here” by Broods. As Torri and I noted as we played through Before the Storm, something that is often overlooked and underappreciated in the game development process is the use of a solid soundtrack. Games can be beautiful, well-written, or have the most innovative gameplay mechanics, but a beautiful, soul-provoking soundtrack can be one of the factors that takes a game to the next level. In this respect, I can’t praise the makers of the Life is Strange series enough.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is, to put it simply, one of those games you will never forget. Never have I so strongly felt adoration, fury, sadness, sympathy, and amusement within a single playthrough; and yet, the few things that rise above all other emotions at the end of the day is an appreciation for the deep love and companionship Chloe and Rachel find within each other, as well as an immense sadness knowing their fates by the end of the original Life is Strange game.

If you haven’t picked this game up already, I highly recommend you give this game a chance. Additionally, the content for Before the Storm has not yet run out, as its bonus episode “Farewell” is set to release for Deluxe Edition possessors on Mar. 6 of this year.