The original Life is Strange is admittedly a series I played quite late. I was never pulled towards it when it came out despite all the positive press and my undying love for Telltale-style games. It wasn’t until last year I finally sat down, played it, and loved it. When a prequel was announced earlier this year at E3, I was skeptical. A shuffle in voice actors, a change of focus onto a character I didn’t particularly love from the first game, and just the notion of a prequel wasn’t nearly as appealing to me as a sequel. I’m happy to say that my preconceived thoughts are wrong, though – at least for now – because Deck Nine have delivered a promising first episode that has set the standard for what’s to come.
For the uninitiated, Life is Strange is a game all about decisions that releases in an episodic fashion. All the decisions and dialogue choices you make influence the outcome of the story through the butterfly effect. Before the Storm is set three years before the events of the original and follows Chloe Price, a close friend of the original protagonist. Chloe is somewhat of a loose cannon; she breaks the rules, ignores her parents, ditches school and more. This usually gets her into tricky yet interesting situations with the characters around her.
It’s hard to go into detail about what takes place without spoiling something, and Life is Strange is heavy on story, so I’ll try to talk about what it does differently compared to its predecessor. The game is definitely similar in terms of structure. Most of your time will be spent conversing with other characters and walking around the environment while inspecting items that might catch your interest. If the lack of action and high-level player interactivity doesn’t sound appealing to you, then Life is Strange probably isn’t for you. However, if you like good story-telling and fleshed out characters, you’ll probably enjoy it.
I feel like the characters here haven’t been strongly developed just yet, and I think this is due to the short amount of time the episode takes to complete. It can be breezed through in a little over an hour, so there’s little time for limelight when it comes to new characters. The focus is mainly on Chloe, but that’s okay because what Episode 1 sets out to do it achieves relatively well.
Chloe is a little different from the previous protagonist in the sense that she has more options in conversation. In certain situations, she has the opportunity to backtalk to people in order to get what she wants. It’s a bit more of a risky option because making the wrong choices can have bad outcomes, but some situations really do call for it. It enables Before the Storm to feel different enough from its predecessor in a good way.
It wasn’t until halfway through the episode that I became fully invested in it, because I honestly found the first half kind of dull. It doesn’t feel like it has any real direction or driving force behind it until an integral character is brought into the mix. From there it really starts to tug on the heart strings, especially if you’re familiar with the events of the first season. Some of the events discussed in the original are directly referenced to here and are further explored, and there are plenty of cool little nods if you look for them.
The performances here aren’t as good as the original’s, but that is arguably because of the change in voice actors for Chloe. Ashly Burch has been replaced by Rhianna DeVries (due to a voice actors strike) and while she does a good job, it simply isn’t the same. The rest of the cast is solid, though, and deliver a believable experience across the board, even if some lines do feel a little exaggerated.
In the long run, I’m happy with the direction Deck Nine is taking with Before the Storm. It doesn’t really unveil itself until the ending, but it climaxes with a cliff hanger that’s bound to leave anyone who plays it desperate to know more. It’s provocative, thoughtful, and I know it’ll stick with me right up until the release of Episode 2.
The water color art style is certainly nothing new, but it’s still easy on the eyes and is certainly a pleasure to look at with its soft lighting and vibrant colours. The entire experience performs well too, though the biggest problem I have with some of its visuals is that some of the textures are just low quality in areas, and it really sticks out like a sore thumb. The one area where I had complete faith in Before the Storm, however, is definitely in its soundtrack, and my god it delivers. It contains licensed tracks alongside a musical score composed by Daughter, and it’s an incredible collection overall. It never fails to make you feel the way it wants you to, and it’s hard not to just sit there and listen to it when the opportunity presents itself.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm manages to get off on the right foot with its first episode despite a relatively slow start. It’s Life is Strange through and through, but it still feels different enough to stand on its own two feet as a prequel. The opener is a little shorter than I’d have liked it to be and a little less hands-on when it comes to player interactivity. The change in voice actors is also quite jarring, especially if you’re a fan of the first season, but small nods and references more than make up for it. I’m definitely interested to see where they take the narrative from here, and I’m interested to see how they further implement the Backtalk system to really make this story unique. Before the Storm shows it has a lot of potential, so now it just needs to follow the steps of its predecessor and tap into it.