Time-bending teen drama Life Is Strange made waves when it released episodically in 2015. Not only did it garner high critical praise, but it also developed a passionate fanbase who emphatically clamored for a follow up to Max and Chloe’s touchingly intimate narrative-driven adventure.
Fans were ecstatic when the game’s original team – Dontnod Entertainment – announced a fully-fledged sequel earlier this year. However, the icing on the cake was the announcement of a three part prequel series Life Is Strange: Before The Storm, developed by Deck Nine, which re-focused on Chloe’s relationship with Rachel Amber (an important friendship that helped form the emotional backdrop at the heart of Dontnod’s original 2015 game). The good news is that this prequel miniseries is off to a very promising start, though, if you haven’t played the original game, I’d very much recommend that you start there.
Set three years prior to the events of Life Is Strange, Before The Storm centers on the rebellious counter-culture shenanigans of Chloe Price. The time-traveling heroine from the first title, Max Caulfield, is no-where to be seen (except for the occasional text and unsent letter that can be discovered in-game). As a result, the rewind ability that allowed players to redo any actions they deemed incorrect is now not present either, but instead, this time around we see the game take a more traditional point-and-click adventure template which focuses solely on the purity and strength of its narrative.
It’s been a tough time for Chloe, and the first episode of Before The Storm helps serve as a reminder of this. Not only is she up to her old tricks of breaking curfew and scamming her way into grimy rock gigs in the middle of nowhere, but she’s still very much grieving for the painful loss of her father in that fatal car accident which was witnessed in the first game. All the while, Chloe has to also bravely attempt to balance the myriad of spinning plates of anxieties that everyday adolescents in their formative teenage years have to face day-in and day-out.
Thankfully, Chloe discovers a silver lining in all of the chaos that surrounds her; a schoolmate called Rachel Amber. Though Rachel doesn’t appear in the original Life Is Strange, her presence is felt throughout, in both the actions, motivations and dialogue of Chloe. It’s clear that Rachel had a profound impact on Chloe, and it’s in this prequel where we see those narrative details laid bare and come to fruition.
As a fan of the first Life Is Strange, I must admit that getting to meet such a mysterious character from the original series authentically felt like some pretty cool fan-service. Meeting Rachel in-game genuinely felt like meeting a real person, which is an amazing feat for a game to achieve.
As most fans would probably expect, it turns out that Rachel Amber is a very enigmatic and charismatic classmate of Chloe’s, who is also very popular, too. She’s both kind-hearted and charming, though she too hides a secret that I won’t dare to spoil here. Suffice to say, Rachel and Chloe’s friendship looks to be the central focus that’ll pave the way for the narrative backbone of this forthcoming prequel miniseries.
As I mentioned earlier, Max’s time-traveling mechanics have been stripped out here, however, that’s not to say there’s a dearth of new ideas within Before The Storm. A new mechanic that makes an appearance are Backtalk challenges. These brand-new snippets of gameplay task you with convincing other characters to do various things.
For example, early in the first episode, Chloe must convince a bouncer to let her into a rock gig, and this is accomplished by choosing the correct dialogue options during an argument with him. Throughout these segments it’s important to pay attention to what your competitor says, in order to achieve the “best” outcome from a confrontation. Though it’s not particularly groundbreaking, it’s a system that works well within the context of the game and serves the narrative nicely by injecting impetus into its conversations.
There were no real fail-states that I came across within Before The Storm, but like its predecessor, there are many hidden branching paths tucked away behind the scenes. There’s a surprisingly intricate spider-web of decision-making that sometimes make a perceivable impact on the story. It’s nice to see that the choice and consequence gameplay — which worked so well in the original Life Is Strange — make a prominent appearance in this prequel.
Visually, Before The Storm looks like a slightly more polished version of its forebear. Despite some awkward lip-syncing and some occasionally stiff character models that leave a lot to be desired, the game’s strong voice acting and surprisingly good quality writing really helps to offset these minor presentational blemishes. Plus, it’s also got a kickass soundtrack that really nails the soul of the original Life Is Strange’s indie-rock mixtape ambiance.
Though it doesn’t feel quite as “high stakes” as its predecessor, Life is Strange: Before The Storm – Episode 1: Awake is still a very promising start to Deck Nine’s new prequel mini-series. It may not consistently hit the “hella” high emotional heights of its forebear, but it still manages to stay true to the series’ intimate and heartfelt spirit.
Though it doesn’t feel quite as “high stakes” as its predecessor, Life is Strange: Before The Storm - Episode 1: Awake is a very promising start to Deck Nine’s new prequel miniseries.