LIFE IS STRANGE: BE­FORE THE STORM

De­vel­oper Deck Nine Pub­lisher Square Enix For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Au­gust 31

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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

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