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Deck Nine’s interactive teenage melodrama Life is Strange: Before the Storm continues in uuEpisode 2: Brave New World, and if you’ve played both Life is Strange and the first episode of this prequel, you probably already know that you’ll be downloading it. Just in case you were disappointed by its moody introduction, however, rest assured that the second episode is an improvement.
The most awkward part of the first episode, Awake, was how it negotiated its relationship with the original game. Not only does Brave New World advance its own story enough that it has its own identity, but the few references to the original are thoughtful and fun. A certain junkyard scavenger hunt is a great example of interactive backstory that makes you feel like you’re shaping an important piece of Chloe’s future even though you know it’s already established. The series’ two most consistently praised elements are its story and impactful decisions. The opening scene in Principal Wells’ office highlights these strengths: Chloe’s new BFF Rachel has cooled off since the explosive revelations of the previous episode, and attempts to take the blame for their skiving adventure. I decided to challenge her here, and the sobering consequences of my decision were more far reaching than anything I anticipated. Despite this, Chloe and Rachel’s closer relationship makes Brave New World more optimistic than the previous episode, from the opening scene to the impromptu therapy session to the theatrical monologue that will have you either cringing or cheering.
Another example of the fascinating depth and realism of Brave New World is giving relationship advice to Samantha, a quietly confident freshman and one of Deck Nine’s most interesting original characters. Choosing how she should approach her crush is an excellent expression of the dramatic genre in a videogame, just like becoming a hilariously awkward dinner guest by choosing which conversation topic to fail at joking about is great comedy.
At the end of the each episode of Before the Storm, there is a page at that compares your choices with those of other players around the world. After the first episode, I was frustrated, because I noticed that I had missed a significant amount of what seemed like interesting optional scenes, such as listening to bro security guard Chip’s mixtape. In this second episode, I once again explored each environment in the game as thoroughly as I could, not for fear of missing optional dialogue and Easter eggs, but because the realism and atmosphere naturally invite the player to do so. Even so, it seemed like when I returned to that screen at the end of the chapter I was faced with even more missed opportunities. I can’t say for sure if this frustration was simply a result of my own ineptitude, or if Deck Nine is risking too many players missing out on their best work. I do, however, admire the realism of not always having every encounter as a guarantee.
I loved Awake, but I disagreed with players who found it better than the original Life is Strange. Brave New World doesn’t convince me Before the Storm will surpass the original, but it does something more important: convince me it will be a great game in its own right.