A prequel to Life is Strange
For all the talk about story-driven games going out of favour, 2017 has sure given us a landslide of hits. The latest to arrive on the scene is Deck Nine’s Life Is Strange: Before The Storm. This prequel to 2015’s Life Is Strange takes us back three years to experience pivotal events of troubled teen Chloe Price. It’s an edgy, daring tale that explores the euphoric highs and depressing lows of a teen struggling to survive. If you’ve played the original, or enjoy graphic adventure titles like those from Telltale, this is the game for you.
Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One
Like the original game, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is an episodic adventure. It’s a three-part story, and you get all episodes when you purchase the digital Deluxe Edition.
This Edition also includes extra content, like the full bonus episode “Farewell” starring Max Caulfield. Max, as fans will know, is the main protagonist of the original 5-part Life Is Strange game. The developer Deck Nine said this is the very last time we’ll have a chance to play as Max, so that’s significant. As well, this stand-alone episode will take place long before the events of Before the Storm.
I should note that Deck Nine is releasing episodes roughly every 7-8 weeks, and currently two episodes are available. The third and final Chloe episode will be releasing in the coming weeks, and Farewell will come out after that. So, for review purposes this article will only be covering my experiences with the first two episodes.
Deluxe Edition owners will also get two more exclusives—a mixtape mode and three new outfits for Chloe. The mixtape mode lets you create your own playlist from the official soundtrack, and have the tunes play during cutscenes. Songs are performed by British indie folk band Daughter and have a nice mix of piano, electric guitar, and vocals. As for the bonus outfits, you get a Punk Doe, Hawt Dawg Man, and Illuminati t-shirt for Chloe. Hawt Dawg Man is funny looking (he’s got human legs and arms) but my favourite was the Illuminati tee. Probably has something to do with my love of Dan Brown novels.
Revisit Arcadia Bay
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm takes us back to Arcadia Bay, Oregon, years before the original game. In the game we step into the shoes of a younger Chloe Price who’s dealing with many personal struggles. Not only has her father tragically passed away, but her only real friend Max Caulfield has moved out of town. You can also toss substance abuse, borderline expulsion from school, and her mom’s new deadbeat boyfriend into the mix. In short, Chloe’s life is seemingly at the lowest it’s ever been.
In contrast there’s Rachel Amber, a miss goody two-shoes with perfect grades, model looks, and is extremely popular. On the surface the two appear like polar opposites, but as we discover they have many commonalities. Love of punk rock music being just one of them.
At its heart, the story is all about exploring Chloe and Rachel’s ever-deepening relationship. There are lots of other peripheral characters, like Chloe’s schoolmates, and Rachel’s father, but they matter far less overall. Rachel, we find out, is secretly suffering inside as well, and the two become each other’s personal salvation. But can they survive their ordeals? And what kind of bond will the two teenagers form? Ultimately, at least to a certain degree, these fates are in your hands.
Choose your own path
Like in the previous Life Is Strange, this game is all about giving you player choice. Dialogue plays a central role, and how you respond to situations is at your discretion. When a bully steals a classmate’s art book, do you intervene or watch and do nothing? When the school principal accuses you of bringing drugs to school do you push back, or downplay the situation? Moments like these happen frequently and how you react will help shape your own personalized story.
Before The Storm does, however, stumble into the same pitfall that affects many games of its ilk. And that pitfall is this: it’s hard to tell how much of an impact your choices actually make to the overall plot. Some decisions seem to make temporary changes, while others appear to be more far-reaching. Then there are the ones that don’t appear to have any impact on the story whatsoever. This ambiguity is a double-edged sword since it heightens the importance of every moment, but also leads to occasional letdowns. Overall the script is excellent though, so even when your responses matter little it’s still entertaining to watch.
Layeth the smackdown
One of the big new features in Before The Storm is Chloe’s ability to “backtalk” folks to take control of situations. It’s a high risk, high reward system where things can swing dramatically in your favour, or get much worse. When entering a backtalk segment you’ll need to use Chloe’s barbed tongue to throw words back in people’s faces. That requires paying close attention to what they’re saying, and retorting with the best comebacks.
Unlike other branching dialogue segments that give you plenty of time to respond, backtalks happen very fast. You’ll have mere seconds to reply—barely enough to digest all four options—so it’s all about gut feeling. These moments also feel like they have a bigger impact on the story than regular conversations, making choices all the more important. As well, Chloe can’t rewind time (like Max could) so there’s a great sense of permanency to your acts. I just wish the backtalk mechanic was used more often; so far there’s only three or four per chapter.
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is a great new addition to Square Enix’s graphic adventure series. The first two chapters have been enjoyable and made me excited to see how the final one plays out. The relationship between Chloe and Rachel is by far the most interesting, and luckily the bulk of the story revolves around them. Hopefully the last chapter utilizes the new backtalk mechanic more, as it’s easily the best feature in this new entry.
+ Well-written story
+ Plenty of emotional moments
+ Excellent voice acting
+ New backtalk mechanic is great
+ Tackles tough subjects well
– Hard to tell how some choices affect the story
– Character movement is a bit stiff
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4/5