SPOILER ALERTS for Life is Strange and Before the Storm
Every so often, a game or game franchise comes along that makes you say, “Oh damn,” then reevaluate your whole life. Life is Strange was one such game. The follow-up prequel story, Before the Storm, doesn’t have the same twists and turns, is such an endearing, compelling snapshot of the life of Chloe Price, who’s still reeling from her father’s death two years later, that it became an instant hit. Fans of the original and newcomers alike loved episode one–but many hated episode three for feeling like it rendered their choices irrelevant.
That’s part of what makes Before the Storm so great: You never had a chance, and your choices never mattered.
Given that Before the Storm is a prequel to the five-episode cult classic where Max Caulfield helps Chloe Price uncover the murder and hasty burial of Chloe’s girlfriend/arguable soul mate, this installment’s ending was obvious from the beginning. Of course it had to end the way it did. Whether you reunite Rachel with her birth mother, or help Chloe bridge the emotional divide between her and David, you never had even a slight possibility of really fixing any of their problems.
Why? Because you’re playing as a sixteen-year-old girl who’s trying to help a near-stranger (Rachel Amber) reconnect with her birth mother, avoid being murdered by a violent drug dealer, and keep Rachel’s mother from being murdered by that same drug dealer after her father paid him to kill said mother.
All this happens while Chloe is (potentially) expelled from school, while her mother’s overbearing boyfriend moves into their house and tries to exert authoritarian control over her, while dealing with the guilt of almost burning down the entire state of Oregon, and while assisting a low level dealer (Frank Bowers) in not ALSO getting murdered by the violent career criminal mentioned above.
Not to mention Chloe is still clearly dealing with severe PTSD and depression regarding her father’s death, and no one appears even remotely aware of the storm still ranging in her head. Mental illness, at the best of times, can be a crippling burden, bringing the most resilient and well-adjusted people to their knees.
Chloe, a teenager with no support structures, few friends (if any, really), and a slight drug problem (which I say only because pot’s still illegal in OR at the time of BTS), who is bullied at school by Victoria (and likely others), couldn’t have been expected to navigate the events of Before the Storm well on her own. The fact that she even SURVIVED is a miracle on par with Max’s ability to go back in time every six seconds to prevent saying something awkward during pretty much any given conversation.
So, despite that I, too, was disappointed by how restrictive the choices were throughout episode three, and the fact that the choices I made ultimately didn’t matter, that’s how Before the Storm had to end. Because you’re a sixteen-year-old freshly expelled from high school dealing with untreated mental illness, and that shit is god damn hard.
People go through less than her every single day, and not all of them make the right choices. Not all of their choices matter. Not all of them survive.
So yes, Life is Strange: Before the Storm ended with some stiff moments and unanswered questions (I still want to know how Rachel wound up involved with/taking semi-nude pictures for Frank), but that’s how it had to be. No teenager ever has full control over their life. Even less so, in a life full of drug dealers, schemers, and general criminal activity.
Chloe wasn’t trying to save the world, or even Arcadia Bay. Leave that to Max. Chloe just wanted to save Rachel, because she knew that was the only way to save herself. When Chloe found herself in a mental tempest, Rachel came along as the only ship to offer her a chance at keeping her head above water. Every action Chloe undertakes isn’t an attempt to calm the seas. She just wants to plug the holes threatening to sink her only boat. Rachel, likewise, isn’t trying to be a good person, or even keep Chloe afloat. She’s just trying to figure out why people keep lying to her, and what consequences the truth might bring.
So, in short, this is the one time I’ve played a visual story and felt it was actually good we didn’t have more choices. The fact that the ending locks Chloe into a specific path, beyond being necessary for original Life is Strange continuity, is the end result of her circumstances. She’s just a kid, fighting like hell against overwhelming odds to survive day-to-day existence, even though we, as the players, knew exactly that Before the Storm was leading to The Dark Room.
That’s why Deck Nine was right to not give us real choices: Chloe and Rachel never had a chance.
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