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Feature: The final choice in Before the Storm isn't a choice at all


Spoilers for Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

When you think about it, it’s remarkable that Life is Strange: Before the Storm even exists. Very few of us could have predicted that an episodic adventure centered around adolescent girls – by the studio that brought you Remember Me – would have been such a smash hit; the first series of Life is Strange appeared from almost nowhere and exploded in popularity. Everyone thought it was hella good. Good enough that there was probable demand for a prequel explaining some of the mysterious, unseen relationship between Chloe Price and Rachel Amber, which was sent out of house to Deck Nine, a studio who last worked on the 2013 remaster of a Ratchet & Clank game from 2005. That’s quite a strange bundle of circumstances to all work together.

A strange bundle of circumstances is also quite a good descriptor for Before the Storm in general, really. A pre-blue hair dye Chloe Price is just warming up to her role as a hell raiser. Not over her father’s death, Chloe has lost interest in almost everything and is acting out at school where before she was a model student, and the adults in her life can’t find a way to respond that has a helpful or positive impact. Rachel has a positive impact by finding different ways for Chloe to enjoy life again, sometimes pushing her out of her comfort zone.

There are some bits of Before the Storm that are very, very accomplished pieces of interactive fiction. There’s a performance of The Tempest in the second episode that finally gives you an insight into what everyone sees in Rachel Amber: as she improvises a scene between her Prospero and Chloe’s ad hoc Ariel you get a sense of how smart and charismatic she is, despite seeing her manipulative side as she spiked a drink moments before. In this episode Rachel shines brightly and you see how Chloe is drawn to that light, just as much as you see how it can frazzle the proverbial moths that get too close to it.

before the storm ep 2

Similarly, the game smartly contrasts the impact of different male role models, including different teachers, fathers and father figures in interesting ways. Nathan Prescott’s overbearing and verbally abusive father Sean is shown as an implied source of Nathan’s cruelty later in life, while Chloe’s stepfather-in-waiting David is authoritarian and struggles to show he does actually care. Meanwhile Chloe’s actual father is perfect and loving in her dreams and memories even if he wasn’t always so in real life. But eventually Before the Storm muddles Chloe’s relationship with her father with Chloe’s relationship with Rachel and comes out with Rachel’s relationship with her father, in a way that doesn’t quite work.

Life is Strange was always about choices, a lot of the time, and how one choice isn’t necessarily better than another even when you can try out different ones. Before the Storm, absent Max Caulfield’s power to rewind time, feels more about the consequences. In Before the Storm we see the consequences of other characters’ actions, as well as the actions that lead to future consequences in Life is Strange. Chloe’s version of taking polaroid photos is leaving graffiti, some of which you see in Life is Strange, and is another smart little addition by the devs as Chloe literally leaves a mark she cannot erase, whether positive or negative. Players are presented with pivotal choices for Chloe to make through the game. The final one is presented like this:

TELL RACHEL EVERYTHING or PROTECT RACHEL FROM THE TRUTH

And the truth, in this particular instance, is that Rachel’s dad is a dangerous, single-minded dickhead. Your choice is to tell Rachel or keep it a secret.

Here’s what James Amber did: he paid a drug dealer to kidnap Rachel’s birth mother Sera and inject her with heroin, causing her to relapse from sobriety back into her addiction, and agreed to destroy evidence implicating said dealer in an actual murder. And this is all fine to sweep under the rug, apparently. It’s a weird final choice to cap off the series, especially when informed by what eventually happens to Rachel – people I spoke to said they chose to ‘protect’ Rachel because the poor girl will be dead soon and she might as well be happy out while she’s alive.