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.

Ar­ca­dia Bae

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.

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