Life is Strange – Before the Storm is a prequel to the original episodic series developed by Dontnod. This time, Deck Nine has taken over development duties while Dontnod works on a proper sequel. So how does Before the Storm fill in some of the blanks leading up to the events of the first Life is Strange?
I’ll readily admit, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of the episodic format. I’m impatient, and don’t like having to wait for a sometimes uncertain amount of time before venturing on. The kind of person who binge watched an entire season of a show and would rather fall behind as others watched weekly shows than to suffer a week long wait every time. Of course there are exceptions, since I was happy to wait for subsequent parts of Lord of the Rings, but I generally prefer my stories nicely wrapped up. Perhaps that’s part of why I enjoyed Before the Storm as much as I did…
Knowing what comes next, during the events of the original game, playing Before the Storm always feels like I have that nicely wrapped up conclusion in the back of my head already. And yes, I played through all of Life is Strange in one sitting as well. What Before the Storm does really well is capitalize on how well received the original game was, exploring some of its characters in more detail and giving you the ability to round out their personalities in your own meaningful way.
Of course, the gameplay mechanic through which this takes place revolves completely around the various ways you have to tackle any given situation. Focusing on Chloe, now sixteen years old, you start off already carrying a heavy emotional load. Her best friend just moved away, she has lost her father, and her non-conformist attitude isn’t helping her either.
It’s your choices that determine how Chloe develops her friendships and copes with her inner demons – her grief over the loss of her father being a key plot element here. Chloe’s natural disposition is one of bitterness and sarcasm – two things that don’t help her form warm fuzzy relationships with others. Despite this, she befriends a fellow girl from school and ends up in various situations where conversational choices make up the bulk of your gameplay. Do you lie and manipulate just to stay out of the crosshairs, or do you open up and show more compassion, making yourself more vulnerable?
Talking isn’t the only way to manipulate the world around you. You can also decorate walls with your socially critical artwork or dress differently to get the reaction you’re looking for. So far, only two out of a total of three episodes have been released, with the release date for “Hell is Empty” not yet announced. The first two parts, “Awake” and “Brave New World”, flow together seamlessly as part two picks up right where part one left off – focusing on the problems that Chloe and her friend Rachel have in school and how their life outside of school is showing signs of turmoil as well.
The writing’s actually so good that I completely forgot about the events in the original game at times, being completely involved with Chloe’s story as if I’d just met her. Of course, knowing about her later self adds an extra layer to the narrative that newcomers won’t have, but I’d wager that most people who pick up Before the Storm previously played Life is Strange.
I personally can’t wait for episode 3 to hit so I can wrap up this prequel story – it’s just been announced as coming out right before Christmas. Until then, I’m happy to keep exploring the many sides to Chloe’s character in this worthy addition to the Life is Strange franchise – which is still a solid alternative for anyone interested in a graphical adventure that focus on very real human emotions rather than the tales of sci-fi or fantasy fiction we see elsewhere. Now excuse me while I play Life is Strange again to see how Before the Storm is changing my perspective of it.