There are two fires burning in Arcadia Bay; one that is engulfing the forests, and another that is eating at the heart of our teen protagonist. Before the Storm Episode Two starts off by hammering home the idea that actions have consequences. You’re continually testing the boundaries of your both your self-worth as Chloe and the lengths at which you’ll stretch yourself for Rachel Amber.
The beginning of Ep. Two lands Chloe and Rachel in Principal Wells’ office for cutting class, something that the player was warned about several times – but did anyway for Rachel. That sets the theme for everything else going on in this episode, which is nearly that everything that you’ll do, whether or not you’re aware, is for Rachel. You’re totally under her spell, but how far will you go?
Life is Strange has been painting this beautifully tragic picture of Chloe Price. The world seems to be bearing down on her in every way possible, but she fights back. She seems so utterly independent and like a free agent of the world. But as I’m playing Before the Storm, I’m starting to realize that Chloe isn’t as free as I thought she was. In the original Life is Strange, Chloe is almost completely under the will of Max. Chloe is dependant on Max to shape her future for better or for worse. Now, in Before the Storm, we’re under the will of Rachel. Both of the games frame Chloe as a symbol of freedom and rebellion, but Chloe, trying to navigate the fucked up reality that she’s been forced into, is, in fact, a slave to the people she loves.
Before The Storm: Brave New World expands upon that idea in the most explicit terms the series has presented up to this point. The game forces the player to continually test the boundaries of this new relationship with Rachel Amber. Will you lie for her? How far will you go to protect her or defend her? Will you put yourself in danger if it means getting closer to Rachel? The answer, always for me, was yes. More like, hell yes, because if there’s one thing that Before the Storm really captures, it’s the excitement and immediate regret of making a decision you know will bite you in the ass later.
There’s no denying that Rachel Amber does have something about her. In my last review of Ep. One: Awake, I questioned the motives behind the use of The Tempest as a motif and the particular casting of Rachel as Prospero. Even though there isn’t an explicit supernatural element to Before the Storm like there was in Life is Strange, Rachel does have some kind of magic about her. Without spoiling anything, there is a moment where you literally believe that Rachel is about to cast a spell or summon a sort of supernatural entity in a fit of emotion, but the game defies your expectations of the series by providing something completely grounded instead. She has a different kind of magic, one that’s more, almost relatable and familiar. Rachel uses that magic to get her way, like Prospero in The Tempest.
The Tempest, if you’re unfamiliar with the play, the gist of it is about Prospero – usually portrayed as an old curmudgeonly dude – who used to be the Duke of Milan until his family cast him out, where he and his young daughter Miranda escaped and wound up on an Island. The events of the play take place 13 years after that, where Prospero has devised a plan, apparently all this time, to catch The Royals who deposed him in a titular tempest, strand them, and make them see what pieces of human garbage they really are. Then once everything is resolved, the bad people are revenged, the clowns are hung over, and Miranda is married, everyone leaves for Naples and Act V is all tied up in a neat bow.
I think what’s clever about Before the Storm’s use of The Tempest is showcasing the very unbalanced relationship between Rachel and Chloe. They could have easily made Chloe and Rachel the archetypal “Lovers” – Ferdinand and Miranda – but instead they chose the relationship between Prospero and Ariel. In The Tempest, Prospero originally finds Ariel entrapped “into a cloven pine” (I.ii.413), after the witch Sycorax left the spirit for a dozen years. Prospero found and freed Ariel, and Ariel being thankful has been helping Prospero, but not entirely of its own will. Prospero tells Ariel (in the scene presented in Before the Storm, though the dialogue is, shall we say, improved by some choices Rachel and the player make) that if Ariel doesn’t do what Prospero asks, he will “rend an Oak and lodge thee in it’s knotty entrails” (I.ii.433). This is not a “healthy” relationship.
Prospero in The Tempest claims over and over again that the destruction he causes, the tempest, and the (sort of) slavery of Ariel is all for a just purpose, and at the end, it will all make sense. I think that’s the allusion that the developers are foreshadowing. Especially by including Chloe in the performance of The Tempest as Ariel in particular. In The Tempest Prospero does love Ariel. He sees the spirit as a companion, but ultimately uses Ariel as a slave time and time again, and tests the boundaries of their relationship in order to get what he needs. In The Tempest and in Before the Storm that need is to get off the “island”. I think Rachel sees the potential Chloe could be for her. Rachel sees Chloe as the escape off of the theoretical island that is Arcadia Bay. Even possibly seeing that she rescued Chloe, from The Old Mill in the first episode, and from the old Chloe herself. However, like inThe Tempest, I believe that Rachel does have reciprocating feelings for Chloe. Those two are crushing hard on each other – and what teenage relationship is a healthy one anyway?
Although a bit slower paced and more grounded comparatively, Ep. Two is still really solid. The first half of the game is much more sluggish than Ep. One, but it ends up finding its pace towards the middle in a very satisfying way. The second episodes of trilogies are usually the filler installment, and this one definitely fits that trope. I feel like we’re building up to something big since we as players are making very difficult decisions that could easily turn the game one way or another in the future, but the consequence of that just hasn’t hit us yet.
Overall, Before the Storm as a whole so far is just killing it in the writing department. I am consistently shocked at all of the tiny details and care given to really tell this story as though it were a novel. Chloe Price is one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever seen written in gaming, particularly in this episode, with writing makes that makes her awkward, grounded, relatable and unknowingly tragic all at once. The heart and the fire of this story are starting to smolder, and so is the uneven relationship of our lovers.