DONTNOD took the world by storm (not sorry) when they unleashed the outstanding Life is Strange back in 2015, so much so that the series is highly regarded as one of the best games of that year. This acclaim saw the announcement of a second series, which is currently in development, on top of this prequel miniseries, Life is Strange: Before the Storm. The major difference between each of these servings is that this prequel series has been developed by Deck Nine, so there’s a lot of weight and pressure riding on this three part episodic installation. Is it any good? Clearly we can only judge the first episode, titled “Awake”, and although it’s not quite as impressive as the source material, it’s certainly a series that’s worthy of the name.
Awake revolves around Chloe and begins with her sneaking into a concert that she’s not old enough to attend, to which she bumps into love interest Rachel. It’s instantly apparent that Chloe suffers from a torn lifestyle, being that her father passed away just two and half years prior. It’s understandable that such a loss would manifest on the surface of ones personality to a great extent, and Chloe is by no means an exception to that rule. She’s rebellious, she’s anxious, she’s loud mouthed, and she’s got plenty of issues to contend with. One such forefront issue is her relationship with her step-dad, which is rocky to say the least. To top it all off, her best friend Max has moved far away and has seemingly disregarded all forms of communication. Safe to say, Chloe is hardly living life to the full.
Before the Storm lacks the ability to travel through time, or (as of yet at least) any supernatural abilities whatsoever. You would be forgiven to believe that this iteration was just emo-fest on the face of it all, but that’s only the coating of the deep and meaningful story that’s rooted in the experience. The interactions between Chloe and Rachel are well struck and provide plenty of intriguing moments throughout the story of episode one. These two characters have polar opposite personalities and traits, but bounce off one another to a wonderful degree. I’ll not spoil any of the plot outside of the premise, but what I will say is that the character growth and story arc, albeit a tiny bit predictable, is something that returning fans and newcomers alike will thoroughly enjoy.
Understandably with this being a prequel it can take a while to pick up some traction, but it does so at a decent pace nevertheless. One aspect of play that’s quite dominant is the dialogue options, and boy do we get to throw out some verbal diarrhoea along the way. That concert that I mentioned earlier? There’s a cocky bouncer that blocks you from going in, that is until you show him who the boss of insults really is. These choices in dialogue don’t seem to move the story or add to the character growth as such, but they do give you some great opportunities to unleash Chloe’s juvenile attitude.
I think more than anything, these moments serve as a reminder that Chloe is a relentless individual, which in-turn reminds you that she’s going through a lot. Despite the lack of innovation when it comes to the mechanics on this front, along with the cringe-worthy script, these are things that you would expect to hear from someone of this age, and on that score, you learn to appreciate it. I only hope that this functionality is better implemented in the next episode and the last episode, rather than just being there for the sake of showing you how much of rebel Chloe is.
Rhianna DeVries replaces the voice of Chloe, taking the roll from Ashly Burch due to the infamous voice actors’ strike. Burch does still have a good level of involvement however, being that she has aided DeVries on her performance for the prequel. Obviously fans will gravitate and prefer the original cast member, but that’s not to say that DeVries hasn’t done a stellar job, because she has. With that in mind, I cant grumble at the performance of any singular voice actor in Before the Storm. I thought each character was portrayed with great care and attention to their age and personalities. It upholds the story magnificently well, which is no easy task when you consider that the protagonist, on paper, is far from likeable to begin with.
In regards to Arcadia Bay, it’s every bit as well realised as you’ll remember from Life is Strange. There’s a wide range of different locations that you’ll be treated to throughout your time with Before the Storm, both returning locations and new locations alike. The gorgeous watercolour-like art style is as pleasing as ever and every bit as exceptionally detailed as the predecessor. You can even graffiti in certain places, which replaces the photograph feature from the first title. You don’t really get much in return for doing this outside of some added dialogue, but it’s worth it regardless. This is all tied up by a wonderful soundtrack (Daughter’s) which sits brilliantly with the mood and theme of the game.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm offers up a deep and meaningful first episode which may be a slow starter, but manages to pick up traction half way through. There’s no denying that much of the dialogue is cringe-worthy, and that Deck Nine could have better implemented the backtalk system in key places for the story, rather than just use it to showcase Chloe being a smart-ass, but with these issues to the side, there’s very little to groan about. The voice actors have done a remarkable job, and the art style is every bit as impressive as the predecessor. Obviously there are no supernatural powers in this game (yet, at least) but the focus here isn’t about time travel, it’s about the growth and bond of two individuals on a very touching personal level. Deck Nine have set the stage with episode one, and I cant wait to see what comes next and where it takes the story.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.