I doubt you’ll find many people who played the original Life is Strange who didn’t shed a little tear at the end (or least wanted to, but were too manly to actually cry). Its powerful relationships, strong characters, and attention to the little human things in life ensured the episodic game grew a passionate community following. That community has warranted the original developer, Dontnod Entertainment, to work on a sequel, but this is something different. Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a three-episode long prequel from a new developer called Deck Nine, which explores a prequel story focusing on Chloe Price.
Launching a brand new spin-off from a different development team was always going to be a risk for Life is Strange, because of that community passion. But I’ve just finished the first episode of Before the Storm and it’s rather brilliant - even though it does things a little differently to its source material. For a start, best buddy Chloe is the playable character this time around. She’s at a rather vulnerable point in her young life. Her father died just two years previously, her mum’s got a new beau who she really doesn’t like, and her best friend Max has moved to a totally different city and gone incommunicado.
Cue a ton of teenage angst, rebellion and a whole load of daddy issues. And romance. Because what would a Life is Strange game be without a little bit of romance and sexual tension? But the potential love interest here is another familiar face from the original game: Rachel Amber.
Unlike Max, neither of these girls are equipped with any supernatural power - or so it seems so far anyway - so the time rewinding power doesn’t feature in Before the Storm. Instead, Chloe channels her aggression into a back chat power, where you get a special prompt that allows you to try and talk your way out of (or into) different situations. Choose the right comeback and you’ll move one point along the back chat counter that pops up along the bottom of the screen. It’s definitely not an exact science and you’ll need to channel your inner sass to succeed, but it’s an interesting take on powers for Chloe.
There is a tendency in Before the Storm: Episode One for things to feel just a little too teenage angst. Perhaps the supernatural elements of the original game detracted from the occasionally over-egged 16-year-old girl dialogue, but it feels like Deck Nine have particularly ramped it up for Chloe’s lines. Regularly her throwaway quips feel overplayed and exceptionally cheesy, to the point I regularly found myself cringing. I have been a 16-year-old girl and I don’t remember any of my friends being that emo - or at least I hope we weren’t. Rachel and Chloe balance each other out well though, with Rachel seeming like the more authentic character at this stage, mostly because her dialogue feels comparatively more grounded.
It might also be the change in voice actor for Chloe. Ashly Burch originally voiced Chloe in Life is Strange, but couldn’t do it for Before the Storm due to the voice actors’ strike. She’s on the writing team for the game, but there’s a subtlety to her portrayal of Chloe that feels missing from this prequel.
But thankfully the great bulk of the dialogue isn’t crammed full of cringe. There’s a beautiful awkwardness to Chloe, she’s a wonderful ball of emotions that are constantly in flux - hello puberty. While I won’t spoil any of the juicy details of the story in Episode One, what I will say is that the major moments are explored with a sensitivity that does the Life is Strange franchise justice. It’s touching, poignant and will definitely move you.
There’s no doubt that the focus of Before the Storm is going to be the relationship that develops between Chloe and Rachel. Even in this first episode, it’s clear that it’s going to be an emotional rollercoaster in the very best of ways. Of course, what that relationship becomes is up to you - there’s even a moment where Rachel specifically asks you to define it. LGBTQ themes were always sensitively dealt with in the original Life is Strange and the same can be said here too. Those themes are more overt than they have been in the series so far, but seeing a blossoming lesbian relationship dealt with in video games with such delicacy is incredibly important and just plain lovely.
That’s not to say that there won’t be other strands of storyline forming through the rest of the series. This is very much the introductory episode, introducing those opening relationships and personalities before the story kicks off properly. There’s a definite speed ramp in the last half an hour of this three-hour episode, where the closing moments introduce the other major players in Before the Storm, even if we don’t know exactly who they are yet. I was left fuelled by intrigue as the credits rolled on this first chapter, feeling confident that the pace will ramp up through the next two episodes.
If the first episode of Before the Storm is anything to go by, we’re looking at a prequel that could live up to the expectations of Life is Strange.