The end of the second episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, titled Brave New World, I found myself filled with a hope that everything will turn out okay for these characters even though I know it won’t. I’m primed to care more than I thought possible, given that anyone who’s played the original Life is Strange already know their ultimate fates. Insight into Chloe and her relationships with the other residents of Arcadia Bay has been the strongest element in the series so far, and despite the same awkward dialogue and some dull fetch quests, Brave New World does well by cementing what matters in this story.
Chloe Price’s world continues to crumble around her, with the shining light of Rachel Amber as her only reprieve. School and home life are both thrown into question as Chloe faces expulsion and her mother’s ridiculously antagonistic boyfriend, David, moves into their home. These events come with some unbelievable dialogue, much like the previous episode, but Chloe’s over-the-top reactions feel much more justified and relatable this time around.
A surprising amount of time is dedicated to moments when Chloe is alone, allowing us to connect with her mindset and understand what she is going through. Being forced to poignantly go through her locker and remove each item, systematically revealing her thoughts, drives home the weight of being thrown out of school. In the next scene, we see Chloe lash out in a sort of “last laugh” attempt at revenge, which could have been completely unrelatable without the lead-up. It makes potentially dull moments alone with Chloe feel more deliberate and insightful.
It’s disappointing that Chloe’s Backtalk ability, a clever conversation system with which she argues to solve problems, still felt underused (at least within the decision paths I followed). These sequences can feel very satisfying when implemented well, and it made me wonder why there were so few opportunities to use the clever system.
Instead, we get other puzzles that can feel drawn out, unnecessary, and lacking in refinement. Rummaging through a junkyard to find the lucky pieces of trash needed to complete the quest was a frustrating exercise that shine a harsh light on the somewhat janky movement controls. Interacting with random items in the hopes that they might be what I’m after or reveal some clue toward those items is an unfortunate staple of the Life is Strange design, and it hasn’t improved much since the original series. Pieces of insight and humour can make this somewhat rewarding, but ultimately, when the motivation seems trivial or direction is scattered, it can feel like padding rather than challenge.
Brave New World’s high points come when tough choices present themselves, and these decisions finally feel like they might matter in the long run. More than once I didn’t have a certainty of what the ‘right’ answer was, and am still not sure how these choices will play out in future episodes. Was stopping a drug dealer from beating up a kid by potentially dooming his family to poverty the right move? I don’t really know, and it’s those kind of gray-area decisions that make games like this work.
The other thing that works is that this episode offers some of the sweetest Life is Strange moments we’ve seen to date. I’m invested in the future of Chloe and Rachel even though I know it’s a short one. Two teenage girls who feel like their lives are collapsing are offering each other strength and support. Watching them provide an impromptu therapy session for one another or leap to each other’s defense, regardless of consequence, has me wanting them to succeed. Seeing them celebrate and confess feelings while they plan for the future they desire makes me want them to have it. These moments feel real, which is crucial because the ones that feel forced don’t matter anywhere near as much.
On the other hand, everything outside of Chloe and Rachel’s relationship feels like a dull hum, regardless of the suggested consequences. Almost all of Chloe’s actions come with Rachel in mind, leaving every other issue feeling more like casualties of war. Things that should feel important, like doing side missions for a drug dealer or being essentially homeless, felt like small distractions in between scenes where the pair are together. It gives a fair insight into Chloe’s budding obsession with Rachel, which is so prominent in the original series. However, it does more to undermine the potential stories of other characters than to boost that of what are clearly the stars of this show.