Life is Strange: Before the Storm
It’s a surprisingly faithful return to Arcadia Bay in this prequel
the first big change is the absence of any time manipulation powers
Out of all the games I imagined losing myself in during 2015, the smart money wasn’t on one about a time-traveling college student. LifeisStrange told a melancholy story about ordinary people in a small Pacific Northwest town, where you could control time in the present, even if you were unable to correct what happened to its characters in the past. It was well written and confidently stylized, and it clearly tapped into a kind of drama that people wanted from their games. Square Enix is revisiting Arcadia Bay in this prequel. Picking through the bones of the original game doesn’t immediately sound like a good idea, but BeforetheStorm makes a good first impression. With a proper second season from developer Dontnod already in the works—hopefully with new characters in a different scenario—this comes from a separate team.
Revisiting Arcadia Bay, Deck Nine rewinds the clock back three years in BeforetheStorm, putting players in the shoes of a pre-punk Chloe. With Max out of the picture, the first big change is the absence of any time manipulation powers. Here, Chloe is still just as bold as ever, and players will have to think carefully before committing to a game-changing decision.
My demo opens with Chloe trying to win cool points by breaking into a hardcore gig. Immediately, I’m faced with a choice—do I steal cash from the merch table, or sneak in? I steal the money. And after walking around the venue wide-eyed, it’s obvious that Chloe doesn’t know Black Flag from the Black Eyed Peas.
Chloe then spots Frank, the drug dealer from the first game. Trying to score weed, players are faced with an option— pay off Chloe’s existing debt to Frank, or just borrow more. Like the last game, the choices available to you often stem from the consequences of previous actions. As Chloe stole the cash, the player can use it to pay off the debt and keep us in Frank’s good books, so that’s what I chose.
In LifeIsStrange, Max’s love for photography resulted in photo ops as you wandered the world. Here, Chloe’s penchant for anarchy sees her able to draw graffiti that remains in the game world instead. After leaving her mark on a nearby circular saw, Chloe runs toward the moshpit, accidentally spilling the drink of a mean-looking man. He sneers and attempts to hit on her, and I choose to give him a sassy response. Predictably, this drunk isn’t delighted by Chloe’s reply. Brushing him off, she runs, finding her way round to a podium overlooking the stage. Before she can enjoy the band’s set, she finds herself cornered by the soggy assailant, coming at her with a broken bottle. Luckily, a quick punch arrives just in time to stop him. Chloe’s savior turns out to be the first game’s missing girl, Rachel Amber.
The final section of the demo sees Chloe and Rachel hanging out. It all takes a turn for the angsty, as the two start to argue in a fashion that feels close to the tone of the original—romantic tension lingers in the air, and you have the option to call it a friendship or something more, to see where it leads. Rachel tells Chloe they can’t be friends right now, and there are suggestions of a family secret.
Even without the ability to manipulate time, or Chloe’s original voice actress, Ashly Burch, it still feels close enough to LifeIsStrange in execution that fans will get a kick out of it—even if, presumably, there are only so many ways you can affect the course of the story given that we know what happens. Making it three episodes long seems well judged. Tom Regan
This prequel reveals more about the mysterious Rachel.
Without time-travel abilities players must tread carefully.