For a lot of players, Arcadia, the leafy town in the US Pacific North West in which Life Is Strange was set, was probably one of the last places they thought they’d see again.
Not that Arcadia wasn’t a nice place to visit (it was) and or that Life Is Strange wasn’t a great way to spend time there (once again, it was), but DontNod’s time-bending ode to teenage angst felt so self-contained.
By the time the credits rolled on the game’s final episode, any further examination of its plot and characters felt unnecessary. Furthermore, a sequel that picked up from the first game’s plot would face huge set of narrative problems – as anyone who has played the first game knows.
With all this is in mind, a prequel was probably the only way Square Enix could go with a new entry without alienating Life Is Strange’s player base. To that end, it’s tapped up Deck Nine to tell the story of Chloe Price’s transformation from angsty teenager into teenage nightmare with blue hair.
Some fans may be a little concerned that DontNod isn’t handling development duties for Life Is Strange: Before The Storm, but on the evidence of the first episode, those fears are misplaced. Deck Nine’s trip to Arcadia is nearly note-perfect, and while the odd line of dialogue is clunkingly bad, the developer’s efforts remain true to the spirit and atmosphere of Before The Storm’s source material.
As the first episode begins, Chloe is still a student at Blackwell Academy and her mother has yet to marry her doofus ex-military redneck boyfriend. Max is absent and Chloe has a friend-sized hole in her life, which makes the pressures of being a teen (school sucks, parent sucks, there’s nothing to do in Arcadia) harder than ever.
At a punk gig out in the sticks, Chloe almost runs afoul of some aggressive scumbags until Rachel Amber – one of Blackwell’s more popular kids – hurls a beer bottle at their heads.
Turns out Rachel is leading something of a double life; while she’s perceived as a straight-A princess with a perfect home life, Rachel has a penchant for punk rock and ditching school. Chloe finds something of a kindred spirit and Before The Storm’s first episode focuses on the relationship that starts to develop between her and Rachel.
By this stage, anyone who played Life Is Strange will know who Rachel is and her place in the first game’s narrative, so they’ll have a pretty good idea as to where this story is heading. To players this is all new to, we urge you to avoid Life Is Strange until you’ve completed Before The Storm, because it’ll take you deep into spoilers territory.
The writers on Before The Storm do a very decent job for the most part; Chloe may be a pissy teenager – much like many of her peers in the game – over time it’s hard not to like her, the odd tantrum notwithstanding. The only time Before The Storm becomes cringe-worthy is when it employs its main game mechanic.
The time-bending mechanic from the first game has been replaced with something called the Back Talk ability, which dovetails nicely with Chloe’s mouthy nature. By listening out for certain words in verbal exchanges, players can win verbal sparring with some of the more difficult characters that Chloe runs into.
While some of these exchanges border on ridiculous (there’s no way a bouncer would let some kid into a club for making fun of his motorcycle), a lot of them are pretty satisfying, such as when Chloe sees off a bully or tells her mother’s boyfriend where to stick it. None of the Back Talk battles seem to have much bearing on the narrative in episode 1, so one can only assume some of the outcomes – as well as some decisions the player makes as Chloe – will bear fruit in the next episode.
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm Episode 1 – Verdict
So there are reasons to be optimistic about Before The Storm. In spite of its weaknesses, it tells a decent yarn and makes controlling Chloe Price less of a chore than one might have imagined. On the basis of episode 1, it’s worth heading back to Arcadia again… or visiting it for the first time, if you never have.
- Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode One was reviewed on an Xbox One. A retail download code was provided by the publisher.