Sometimes I wonder if we’re a bit unfair to adolescent culture. Sure it’s easy make light of the drama by simplifying the cause to raging hormones (kind of like what I’m doing right now), but adults have the benefit of hindsight, where things get funnier the further back they get. For people who live the much dramatised adolescence, things aren’t necessarily so funny. Perhaps all that angst shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand, not when the conflict is real to them, and not when phrases like “teen-suicide” actually exist.
Maybe the teen-drama genre isn’t so helpful in this regard. Maybe teen-drama should really just be “drama.” After all, it’s all human experience, and human experience shouldn’t be dismissed simply because of age brackets.
Life is Strange insists that this is true. The story isn’t framed as a teen one – it’s framed as a drama that so happens to be about teens. Chloe’s problems are genuine and her concerns valid, even while she draws a penis across someone’s van.
It’s taken me a while to realise, but I’ve been habitually holding the controller in the event I walk over a trap, or a zombie attacks me off-frame. Maybe QTEs have made me paranoid. You don’t need to be so alert in Life is Strange. You can safely put the controller down. The only curveballs you’re gonna get are conversational ones.
Of all the major choices, I don’t think I could safely say any one of them were easy though. There was no conundrum whose answer was correct in disguise, or slightly more beneficial. I spent a fair while mulling over the potential consequences and all the factors therein, knowing such consequences are usually more thought-out than you might give them credit for. Because if you’re gonna create a game without the danger-states most players are used to, then you have to create a different kind of danger. For Life is Strange – and particularly Episode 2 – that danger is intimate and relational.
You’ll be thrown several of these within the first third of the episode, and only in the second is Chloe given reprieve to reflect and interact with other characters about her newfound difficulties. This is also the time when the game’s foremost problem from Episode 1 becomes evident again. Part of what makes Life is Strange so interesting is Chloe’s internal monologue. While a greater wit has noticeably improved the writing this time beyond fumbling sentiments, the main way to hear from Chloe is still to look at things and passively hear her opinion – something you feel obligated to do because there’s so little else, and it’s the only immediate way to expand the story
Her unique and often amusing way of seeing the world is the only reason I do it (that, and I’m reviewing the game), yet can’t help but feel like I’m dragging Chloe’s opinion through a self-guided museum of random objects.
A more thought-provoking and less passive design idea comes in the last third. Without divulging their exact nature, Episode 2 introduces a kind of puzzle design I’ve really wanted to see in adventure games. Plainly put, ones that actually make you use the noggin. The game doesn’t give you much of any help in doing these; the only thing you’re really presented with is the problem itself. All the inbetween stuff is up to your deduction, your memory, and perhaps a little bit of trial-and-error.
There’s an underlying trend of thought in our culture which disregards teenage turmoil, romance, and general experience as an emotional exception that’ll give way to reason and stability once it’s over. I don’t find that particularly helpful, and neither does Life is Strange. The stereotypes of delinquency the game brands Chloe with are only there to be circumvented by how authentic the experiences are that spawned such behaviour. Chloe’s story is relatable because it is simply human, and not simply another teenage story with a set of pre-defined adolescent tropes in a self-contained genre.
So far, Before the Storm is maturing nicely.
Ben received a digital copy of Life is Strange: Before the Storm from Square Enix for review.