LTTP: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (PS4)

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Life is Strange was a captivating game. I genuinely enjoyed the tale and dark twists weaved by Dontnod Entertainment. I expected Square Enix and company to forge a sequel but when I heard a prequel by Deck Nine — a different studio — was on its way, I was very skeptical. Life is Strange: Before the Storm fleshed out the lives and events Life is Strange cast members prior to Max’s return to Arcadia Bay. It gave insight into Chloe Price and how she evolved and it gave Rachel Amber a voice. But were these good additions to the Life is Strange story thus far? I’m not certain. 

I found Before the Storm to be a surprisingly excellent self contained story of teenagers dealing with the real world. The influence of peers and parents were explored through the stories of Nathan Prescott and Drew North. They showed how familial pressures lead people down the wrong path or negatively warp their personalities. Some influences were direct while others were unfortunate circumstances.

Showing the origins of Chloe and Rachel’s relationship was fascinating and cute but it just raised more questions. Before the Storm spanned the nascent stages of their relationship but it didn’t address how Rachel and Frank Bowers got involved. The bonus episode, “Farewell”, explored the fateful day when Max left Arcadia Bay for Seattle but it didn’t share why she didn’t stay in touch. Situations and story threads left dangling like this highlighted more opportunities for Square Enix to introduce another sequel in-between but I think that would be a mistake. Some questions are better left unanswered.

Three full length episodes (about 3 hours each) and a one hour bonus episode was just enough time to explore the Max-less life of Chloe Price. Max’s time rewinding mechanic was replaced with a forced and unnatural feeling argument system where Chloe and I can start shit talking people to get our way. I think the only instance where it felt natural was within the tutorial.

For the most part, Before the Storm served to shore up my feelings and impressions of the characters from the original game. I felt a bit more sympathy here and there but as a whole, my feelings were largely unchanged. Max and her faceless parents, though? They altered my opinions of them quite a bit. Max failed to keep her promise to stay in touch and eventually gave up altogether. And considering the circumstances that preceded her departure from Arcadia Bay and how close Max and Chloe were, I was shocked that Max and her family didn’t even visit. They spent so much time together and to just disconnect like that was odd to me. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised by Chloe’s sense of betrayal by her friend.

One of the most impressive aspects of Before the Storm was how seamless the switch from Unreal Engine 3.0 to Unity was. If that Unity logo didn’t make itself known, I wouldn’t have noticed that they were running on a completely different engine. I wasn’t too keen on the game’s performance on the default “resolution” mode but it ran quite well with the “performance” option. I didn’t fathom 30 FPS would be a problem in an adventure game like this but I was wincing during those camera pans.

I went into Life is Strange: Before the Storm filled with skepticism and left just the same. Was it necessary to delve this deep back into Chloe and Rachel’s lives? I did enjoy their rendition of the Tempest but did I need to see someone remark on that wine stain in the Price living room again? I was glad to see Nathan Prescott before he walked down his dark path but what happened to Samantha? For better and worse, answers and questions ping ponged themselves throughout. While its relevancy and necessity can be debated, its quality was undeniable to me. Deck Nine’s contribution to Life is Strange was solid.

I liked it

Ratings Guide

Game of the Year 2015 Day 2 of 3

You can tell it’s a good year for games when I have more difficulty whittling down my list of surprises than my list of disappointments. I even had to cheat a bit and cut Black Ops III in half in order to give my list of disappointments three nominees.

Most Disappointing Game of 2015

Winner: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture Box Art Logo

Dear Esther was one of my first forays into the “Walking simulator” genres. It was beautiful, fascinating and I felt encouraged to explore a space. Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture seemed to following down the same path as Dear Esther but it became the deliberately slow movement speed and ugly performance issues ballooned to the point where I just didn’t care if I finished it or not.

The plodding movement speed ran against the exploratory nature of the game which is insane when that’s the only means of interaction.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III’s campaign was a significant step down from Black Ops II’s which was surprise considering Treyarch’s track record. However, I wasn’t as bummed out by it as others because I played it in a co-operative setting.

As for Xenoblade Chronicles 3D? It’s my fault for even buying this game. I knew it had MMORPG trappings but I felt compelled to buy a New Nintendo 3DS game after picking up the refreshed handheld earlier this year. The surrounding praise didn’t help but I should have known better. I’m more disappointed at myself than the game, really.

Runner ups: Call of Duty: Black Ops III (Campaign), Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

Most of Surprising Game of 2015

Winner: Rocket League

Rocket League Box Art Logo

Soccer with cars. I heard rumblings about Super Acrobatic Rocket Powered Cars being a fun game I didn’t bother pursuing it. Rocket League was given away through the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection and if it wasn’t for the slowish summer season and the fact that it was “free”, I may have missed out on this simple and incredibly deep game. It’s a game that comes closest to matching the spirt of soccer. I wasn’t controlling a player who manipulated the ball based on his dribbling ability, I used a car and exerted force to manipulate the ball; it was my skill (or lack thereof) that determined if I scored, how well I blocked, how accurate I passed or how fast I dribbled a ball. It was both frustrating and satisfying.

Hitman: Sniper looked like the myriad of other Silent Scope knockoffs on iOS but since it was Square Enix Montreal, I gave it a try and discovered a surprising amount of depth and challenge. I even made my way onto the top 100 or so.

I didn’t think Life is Strange was my kind of game but what did I know? It didn’t matter if it starred high school girls, a heartfelt story was great no matter what.

Runner ups: Hitman: Sniper, Life is Strange

LTTP: Life is Strange

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Adventure games are back. Or perhaps they never left? I guess it depends where you look and what your adventure game criteria are. Does it involve hunting for items and pairing them with other items to yield a solution? Does it involve making tough choices and conversing with all manner of characters? After finishing TellTale’s The Walking Dead in 2012, I placed those kinds of adventure games on hiatus — I didn’t even bother picking up the second season despite enjoying the first season so much. Since then it’s largely been “walking” simulators and other titles that explored spaces rather than people.

Dontnod Entertainment’s Life is Strange created quite the following and their adulation for the episodic adventure game was tough to ignore. Would an adventure game starring a teenage girl attending a photography school in the U.S’s Pacific Northwest appeal to me? It was a tough sell but after watching GiantBomb’s coverage of the first episode, I was on board.

Max Caufield’s classmates showed shades of Mean Girls with the bitchiness and teenage slang that could only be described as “deliberately abrasive”. They threw paper balls and fronted with stereotypical teenage attitude. There had to be more than that, right? More than just Max standing up against bullies and trying to survive high school? Yes. For some unknown reason, Max witnessed the destruction of her hometown through a vision and emerged with the ability to to rewind time.

Looking pass the hipster twee veneer, Max was just a regular teenager who was trying to do right by people. Inner monologues showed that she cared about her classmates, her friends and aspired to be a world famous photographer. She had crushes, she hated bullies but also showed sympathy towards them — or at least, my version of Max did.

I helped shape Max’s personality through key decisions and actions. It was impressive how many little details contributed to key moments in the game. Erasing graffiti on the wall or choosing whether or not to answer a phone call swayed opinions of Max significantly. Some of the reactions may not have been as natural as one would hope but I understood what they were trying to accomplish. And after making so many little decisions along the way, it all began to mesh nicely.

What actually sold me on Life Is Strange was that the developers condoned save scrubbing aka reloading a save after you’ve made a decision. Max’s time rewinding powers allowed her and I to witness the outcome of both decisions before making committing to one. The rewinding allowed me to explore my options and become 100% comfortable with what I thought was the best choice.

Max was able to keep certain objects and remain in her exact spot as she rewound time which lead to some unique puzzle scenarios. One example had Max breaking into a locked office. She used a small explosive to break the door lock, entered the office, rewound time back to be before the lock was blown off and unlocked it from the inside. Dontnod took advantage of the time manipulation powers and lead me to exploit those mechanics in mind bending ways. I often felt like I was cheating the game when I used those built-in mechanics.

I was quite paranoid when it came to Max’s actions. Even though it probably didn’t matter if I didn’t put back a vent cover or close a particular door, after retrieving a particular item, I always rewound time back to before Max disturbed the environment.

The story started out as high school drama and Max using her powers to save her best friend, Chloe, from certain death but it quickly turned to a search for a missing person and other conspiracies surrounding the school, the town and its residents. Each episode revisited locales and characters which bred a feeling of familiarity and comfort with normal life. There wasn’t a fixed daily routine of things to do like in the Persona titles but I felt compelled to check in with everyone and re-explore spaces that I’ve already been to in hopes of finding something new. I was often rewarded with new info and insights which kept me invested.

Little by little, a relationship between Max, Chloe and everyone in their lives began to form. I became increasingly familiar with key characters through nosy dives into their personal spaces. Tidbits on relationships and interests surfaced in old photos, social media accounts and other decorative knick knacks. SMS messages exchanged between Max and other characters also gave insights into people through little details like how they exchanged messages, what they typed and how often they sent messages. Warren was particularly anxious with his texts, for example.

It’s no surprise then that the end of episode 3 was misty eyed affair. Dontnod Entertainment established a norm through two episodes and then disrupted it just enough to make me feel uncomfortable and wanting to go back to what I knew. Max and I felt the same sense of dread in what transpired in that pivotal episode. They taught a lesson in the dangers of time traveling in a very personal manner.

Having played and enjoyed other murder mystery games like Persona 4, I should have seen the twist coming but I didn’t and was genuinely surprised by who the puppet master was. I guess I let myself be fooled.

Unreal Engine 3.0 continued to impress with its ability to produce stylized visuals. It was much easier to forgive the clay hair and poor lip syncing when they were not striving for realism. Every so often, in cutscenes or in-game, canned animations impressed with their fluidity and stuck out in my memory. It’s an odd highlight to remember but when everything else felt stiff and robotic, lifelike gestures resonated.

Life is Strange was a lightning in a bottle moment for Dontnod Entertainment. They managed to create a standout experience in a sea of similar experiences since TellTale’s The Walking Dead made its mark. I don’t know if will resonate with everyone like it did with me but it certainly was a memorable experience for me.

I love it

Ratings Guide


Checkpoint: New Host 2016 Edition

After 7+ years of running this website, I finally decided to take the hosting responsibilities in my own hands. I moved over to SiteGround (that’s an affiliate). Why SiteGround? I saw a few recommendations over in a Reddit thread and they were running a sale. I tried to look for some professional reviews but that was a fruitless exercise. Every website I ran into was either incomplete or woefully compromised with affiliate links.

I was with HostGator and BlueHost before that so I wanted to find something different. SiteGround looked like they had their shop in order. I was swayed by some of their features like the ability to instantly create a staging site. I migrated this site by myself and initiated a domain transfer. The site transfer highlighted my need for more upload speed but went well. The domain transfer took a bit longer than I wanted but it was within the estimated time. Both were relatively painless.

I’ve used SiteGround’s live chat at least four times and all four times I was disconnected prematurely. I decided to use their ticketing system instead which was surprisingly responsive. I received answers to my inquiries within 30 minutes.

As for I took SiteGround’s offer for a free site transfer which was completed within the day. I’ve initiated the domain transfer as well which I hope will be completed by this coming Thursday.

So far so good with SiteGround. Let’s hope the next two years will be equally as smooth.

I’m still chipping away at Xenoblade Chronicles 3D. I’m not enjoying it very much but I see the end of this long journey and I intend to finish it.

I finished Life is Strange and came away pleasantly surprised by the game. It’s definitely worth checking out if you’re a fan of adventure titles.