In 2015, Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment combined to create the fascinating episodic adventure that was Life is Strange. The story of Max and Chloe was appealing to so many people, incorporating so many different elements into the game, including Max’s ability to reverse time. After a dramatic conclusion, and Life is Strange‘s overall success, it was inevitable we would get another game. This time, though, we have a prequel, exploring the relationship of characters Chloe and Rachel after Max left. Square Enix and Deck Nine Games have collaborated to create Before the Storm, and with Chloe’s voice actor, Ashly Burch, not making a return, there would definitely be some changes this time around.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 – Awake: PS4, Xbox One [Reviewed], PC
Developer: Deck Nine Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 31 August 2017
Price: £5.19 [Disclosure: Game Copy Provided by Publisher]
Before the Storm is set three years before the original, and we join Chloe as she attempts to try and sneak into a gig. Her Dad has sadly died, and her best, and possibly only, friend Max has moved away and seems to have little interest in staying in contact. Chloe is struggling to get on with her mum’s new partner, David, and is more interested in drugs than going to school. It’s the Chloe we all know from the first game, but with less of the blue hair. As she manages to sneak into the gig, she runs into trouble and has to be saved by the most popular girl at school, Rachel Amber, who is spoken about in the first game, and we learn what ultimately happens to her. From this event, Chloe and Amber enter into an intense friendship/relationship which begins in the games first episode – Awake, and will no doubt continue to develop in the next two episodes of this series.
This time around we have no powers or time reversal techniques, so we have to be drawn in by the storyline alone, and the game manages to do that really well. We learn about how much Chloe struggled to deal with the circumstances of her dad’s death, to the point of having flashbacks and nightmares about his crash, which we see during the game. With the original story heavily centred on Max’s story, Chloe’s feelings towards her dad’s death are only vaguely touched upon. This time around, we delve deep into it, and you genuinely feel sorry for her. The game portrays her feelings fantastically, with anger, grief and sorrow all shown perfectly. Going further into Chloe’s story makes the game feel deeper, more serious and even more intense than Life is Strange, which is definitely a positive step.
Max and Chloe’s friendship was simply that – a friendship, but what Chloe and Amber has is teased as something more, depending what direction you take the conversations. Because of this, their interactions are different. Sometimes you can flirt with Amber, and the pair of them together seem to show more emotion than Chloe and Max did, which is another positive direction for the game to go in. Your emotions are taken on a rollercoaster during Awake, and you may even shed a tear or two at a couple of bits depending on how invested you are in the story, but either way, the game does a great job at holding your attention with essentially the story of a girl coping with loss. We also explore some of Rachel’s story, which as expected is not all sunshine and rainbows, but is also interesting to delve into.
Obviously, conversations play a big part in Before the Storm, as they did in Life is Strange, and the things you say continue to have consequences. There’s plenty of people to talk to across the different locations, and some can be completely missed if you don’t decide to talk to certain people or give certain answers, such as a game of Dungeons and Dragons for example, which is an amusing segment. The conversations, while not necessarily essential to understanding Chloe more, give you an insight into the various characters, and help you grasp a bit of a bigger picture. Some characters from the original game also make an appearance, such as Nathan Prescott and Victoria, so it’s nice to see how their lives were playing out at this point in time as well.
Before the Storm has the same inviting look as the first game. The colours still give it that dreamlike quality, and there’s always plenty of things to look at and pay attention to in each location you visit. Instead of taking photographs ala Max, you can now paint graffiti in certain areas, such as inside tool boxes and on the side of walls. You even have a choice of two things to paint, which offers the player more power as to what happens in the game. These can be completely ignored if you wish, but chances are if you interact with everything, which you probably should, you’ll find them.
With no rewind feature available, anything you say in a conversation or do in the world is permanent. The game does offer a nifty new feature though, which acts as Chloe’s kind of power. In certain conversations, you can partake in a back talk challenge, in which you argue with the person, prompting them with certain words or phrases to get what you want. You have to respond correctly to what the other person is saying, so you need to be paying attention, in order to turn the conversation in your favour. It’s no time reverse power, but it’s fun none the less.
The game’s soundtrack is also one of its best features and does an equally good job at drawing you in. The music is atmospheric and also perfect for the moment it is representing, such as the dramatic end of the episode. Chloe’s new voice, whilst perhaps a little distracting at first, becomes an afterthought by the end of the episode and is actually quite similar to the original voice. The only issue I had was with the sometimes-awkward movement of the characters, which don’t quite feel natural but is not distracting enough to be a problem.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a really positive step for what was already a great original series. Chloe is a fascinating character to delve into, if not a little annoying at times, and seeing how she copes with losing her Dad and developing an intense relationship with Rachel is really interesting to be a part of. It is a really well-told story, that doesn’t miss the lack of time reversing powers or anything else that Max brought to the original game. If you enjoyed the first game then definitely pick this one up, and see that life was already strange before.