Fire plays a prominent role in the events of Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s second episode, titled Brave New World. Not only does it burn in a literal sense, with the blazing forests illuminating the background throughout the episode, but figuratively its destruction represents how the lives of both Chloe and Rachel are starting to crumble, both in their relationship with their parents and their disdain for Arcadia Bay.
Brave New World is perhaps the most honest, emotionally-impactful episode of the teen-drama series yet—and that includes the original DontNod adventure. Picking up the day after our duo skip school, the episode immediately sees Chloe and Rachel reprimanded for bunking off, which depending on your choices made sees the former suspended and the latter stripped of her role in the school performance of The Tempest.
While Chloe’s smart-mouthing is used as a front for her more vulnerable side, this is the first time we see her let her guard down properly. As such, Brave New World has some of the strongest dialogue and performances to date. We finally get to see a softer side to Chloe as she opens up to Rachel in some tender moments, resulting in a more nuanced characterisation and strong context for why she later goes off the rails in Life is Strange.
Similarly, we’re given a better opportunity to get to know Rachel, whose ambiguities are stripped away and given a chance to really shine as we’re introduced more to her home life and emotional state. The way Chloe and Rachel’s relationship progresses also feels more organic than episode one, and the knowledge of what’s to come in Life is Strange only works to accentuate the more heartwarming scenes between the duo. In short, it’s some of the franchise’s greatest sequences to date; no gimmicks, no ostentatious setpieces, just a raw, emotionally-driven set of scenes built on the foundations of a stellar cast.
As always, the events of the episode are punctuated by some rudimentary puzzles and text banter, which help flesh out the relationships with other characters. The simmering tension between Chloe and her mother is further exacerbated by David announcing he’s moving in, and we’re given further insight into how difficult her future ‘step-douche’ has made things for Chloe in the run up to his marriage to Joyce. Equally, the apparent infidelity between Rachel’s father and a mysterious blonde woman gives Amber’s voice actress a solid chance to flex her acting chops with some emotionally-charged dialogue. Both characters are given plenty of time to shine, and I found myself invested in both as a result — neither one felt sidelined at any point.
The choices you make also don’t feel inconsequential, with many of them impacting upon the nature of your relationship with Rachel, such as opting to take the blame for her or even sealing your feelings with a kiss. As such, Brave New World really feels like the dynamic between the duo is getting stronger, and unfolding in a natural way that puts you in the driving seat; evoking feelings of your own teenage crushes and the impact one person can have on you at such an important stage in your life.
Where Brave New World falters is when we’re forced away from Chloe and Rachel’s ongoing struggles. Scenes where you have to pinch some cash for drug dealer Frank or scour the junkyard for items to pimp out your future ride prove less compelling and feel more like an arbitrary way of elongating the episode length. Similarly, by eschewing the time-travelling mechanics, much of the puzzles lose their charm, and prove slightly dull. Nonetheless, the chance to explore some of the environments and dig deeper into other characters’ lives gives Brave New World a suitable amount of depth and intrigue.
Likewise, the chance to exploit Chloe’s penchant for tagging objects of interest with her trademark graffitti is a welcome addition, and helps keep the proceedings fresh with a chance to venture off the beaten track as it were.
Life is Strange’s charming art design continues to lend itself well to the picturesque community of Arcadia Bay. However, there’s no hiding from the fact the visuals themselves are of a low quality in places, which deter from the impact of some key sequences. The indie-flavored soundtrack continues to complement the simmering teen angst perfectly, while the performances of the cast – with the possible exception of the drama teacher, who has some of the most egregious dialogue in the entire series – are top notch.
Overall, Brave New World is a fantastic follow-up to Before the Storm’s premiere episode, and contains some of the series’ best writing to date. The blossoming relationship between Chloe and Rachel is both believable and heart-felt, and despite some dull moments and technical wrinkles, Episode Two can stand proud as some of Life is Strange’s best efforts to date.