LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM
Developer Deck Nine Publisher Square Enix Format PC, PS4, Xbox One Release August 31
With Dontnod busy working on a second season of episodic teenage drama Life is Strange, new studio Deck Nine has been picked by Square Enix to explore what came before. This three-episode prequel is an effort to meet the passionate fanbase’s demand for more, again taking place in Arcadia Bay but a few years prior to Max Caulfield’s story. Max has momentarily moved away, and so the spotlight falls on her best friend Chloe Price.
Foul-mouthed and fancy-free, Price is a fan-favourite character, and her troubled past coloured many of the events, choices and outcomes in Life is
Strange. Before The Storm focuses on the complicated relationship between Price and another returning character, Rachel Amber. But there’ll be no time-rewinding powers present in the prequel. In our demo, Price navigates a dive-bar concert without the handy supernatural panic button we’re used to.
Initially, we’re a little disappointed. Despite Deck Nine’s insistence that players enjoyed the first Life is
Strange for its relationships and relatability, we were glad of the time-manipulation puzzles as a pacing device if nothing else. But there will still be puzzles to solve, lead writer Zak Garris assures us: “Our intent was to make sure that from top to bottom, every aspect of the design and gameplay really fits Chloe.”
We watch as our heroine manages to pilfer a band T-shirt: investigating the car they’re sold out of reveals an option to release the handbrake, distracting the vendor. Though we’re told that brand-new mechanics are to be revealed soon, this showing is far simpler than the mental gymnastics involved in the game’s first season – but this is being pitched as a personal story, not the first game’s musing on choice and fate, so perhaps it’s fair enough.
And now that decisions aren’t able to be rewound, those dialogue choices weigh heavier; some prompts had game-changing ramifications in Life
is Strange, but many could be hastily recanted. When Amber arrives to protect Price from some thugs she’s previously angered, the point’s driven home. For fans, this relationship is critical, emotionally charged, yet still shrouded in mystery – and Before The Storm will offer the chance to directly impact it. The responsibility is not lost on Deck Nine. Voice actor Ashly Burch is unable to reprise her role as Price due to her union’s strike, but has been brought on as a story consultant in order to ensure an “authentic Chloe”, Garris says.
Unfortunately, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm can’t help but seem weirdly counterfeit, with its reduced mechanics and replacement vocals. Dontnod’s game was lightning in a bottle, and a different developer attempting to recapture it is bound to feel a little off. The protagonist’s new voice actor does a wonderful impression of Burch, but the fact that it comes across as an impression at all is telling.
This showing is far simpler than the mental gymnastics involved in the game’s first season