Episode 2 - Brave New World - is the most obvious example to date that Life Is Strange really is at its best when exploring the small moments of human drama and joy that make up ordinary existence. The big, mystical, town-saving thing? Eh, less so. The story here picks up shortly after the events of the previous episode, with Chloe and Rachel both facing the consequences of their magical and ill-fated truant. And while the fallout is one of the most significant beats in the whole Life is Strange story, it’s actually a scene that is quickly forgotten next to some of the beautifully-framed, more reflective moments in this episode.
In fact, the more Before The Storm attempts to force a traditionally thrilling story, the more mundane it actually feels. Brave New World is a real mixture of genuinely heart-rending sequences, and more meandering nods to the original Life is Strange and the more fast-paced nature of that game. This prequel is always at its best when telling its own core story about the relationship between Chloe and Rachel - outright attempts to reference Max and the events that follow feel clumsy and unnecessary because the foreshadowing is implicit in everything the pair do. This is their time in the spotlight - quite literally in this episode - before the tragedy to follow.
Because Before The Storm episode 2 does everything mechanically identical to the first episode (and all of Life is Strange) it’s tough to talk about where this episode excels and stutters without referencing the story. As such, there are some minor spoilers ahead, but I won’t go into too much detail. Chloe’s broken relationship with her mother and step-father isn’t particularly smartly explored in Brave New World, with all three players in this drama reduced to even more stereotypical archetypes than before. Chloe is often far too obnoxious to her mother and step-dad to gain much sympathy (even with the relatively gentle conversation options), while Joyce is reduced to a simpering non-event as she weakly asks her daughter to come home. David is fairly convincing as the failing patriarch - his inconsistent behaviour actually in keeping with his conflicting attempts to control Chloe and stay friendly with Joyce - but the dynamic between the three of them just feels tired by now, especially as we already know how it ends. Or rather doesn’t end.
What mesmerises, constantly, is the relationship between Chloe and Rachel. Sure, we know it’s doomed, but the chemistry between the pair is often so convincing that it’s hard to accept that events transpire as they eventually do. The core mystery of ‘Who was Rachel Amber’ is the true driving force behind this game, and the increasingly intimate relationship shared by the girls magnifies our desire to uncover it. Whether or not you choose to play them romantically, there’s a real sweetness between the pair that generates some of the most memorable scenes in Life is Strange. The Tempest (haha - clever choice of play) and the moments after it showcase the tragic beauty of this series at its very best. Similarly, the scene the pair share at the junkyard (and the stuff Chloe does before Rachel arrives) is wonderfully watchable. On that note, actual interaction and ‘doing stuff’ really takes a back seat in Brave New World, so if you’re looking for a puzzle-heavy, argument-filled episode you’ll be sorely disappointed. For me, the story is mostly strong enough to carry the fact that you’re more a spectator than a player in the unfolding drama.
There are, however, more than a few scenes in this episode that fall very flat. The obligatory cliff-hanger at the end is more ‘Eh’ than ‘OMG’, despite the neat scene that precedes it. And there are other plot-points that either feel like filler (Frank and Chloe), a little redundant (another ‘vision’ sequence), or like reheated material from the original series (the bird-scaring - you’ll know it when you see it). Even Victoria is wheeled out again as a comedy villain to be tortured or spared as you see fit. Yeah, she’s a shitty person, so it’s fun messing with her… but none of it really adds to the depth or her character in an otherwise character-driven game. And one scene with Skip feels outright cruel and totally out of character for Chloe - a blundering attempt to pave the way for David taking his job ahead of the original series.
At roughly 3-4 hours, this episode isn’t a whopper, and there are few sequences you’ll want to replay for different outcomes. Even the more emotionally punchy scenes, accompanied by some of the finest music in the series, are unlikely to elicit another look. Reliving them may - in fact - diminish their impact as the slightly awkward dialogue becomes more noticeable when you’re not as swept up in the moment. The graffiti points are very obvious too, so you should pick them all up on the first playthrough.
Should you download this episode? The answer should be fairly obvious. If you’re already invested in Chloe and Rachel’s story, this is a must, although it won’t thrill as readily as the first episode. If you’re not already into Life is Strange, Brave New World won’t convince you to take the plunge. And if you’re on the fence about whether or not to invest in the full Before The Storm season? It’s worth the price of admission alone for the Chloe and Rachel scenes in this episode, even if the rest of the scenes are nowhere near as brave or new as you’d want them to be.