Going into Life is Strange: Before the Storm, I was excited and apprehensive. When the original came out over two years ago it blew me away with its relatable themes, depth of choice and diverse, down to earth characters. Its whimsical and endearing nature made it one of my favourite gaming experiences and its roller coaster of a story had me back for more each episode.
Whether the new developers behind this prequel Deck Nine could replicate this feeling for the prequel, in a shorter format and in a story we already know the ending of, to the same standard of the original, was a fear I had. But after playing through episode 1 dubbed ‘Awake’, all my fears have disappeared without a trace.
Before the Storm follows Chloe Price, a sixteen year old teenager at high school, with a major chip on her shoulder and incredible wit to match. Who can beat most in an argument and put bluntly, doesn’t take shit from anyone.
However, she is a slightly different Chloe to the one we already know. Starting three years before the events of the original, she is still in the thick of dealing with the loss of her father and has largely distanced herself from her family and friends. Leading to her skipping school regularly, developing a hate for authority and becoming a headache for her family and teachers alike. Chloe feels lost, particularly without her best friend Max Caulfield, the heroine of the original, who has moved away to Seattle.
The story follows similar themes as the original, with Chloe slowly reconnecting with those she has become distanced from and learning the dramatic impact one person can have on you. But while Max’s story was focused on the impact she had on others, Chloe’s is on the impact other’s have on her well being.
All of which are conveyed through the fantastic Life is Strange formula of attention to detail in every moment and expression of emotion through every scene, song and conversation. All used to develop down to earth and realistic settings, in which to explore serious themes and issues, is the core of what made and continues to make the Life is Strange series phenomenal.
Throughout this first and short episode, LiS continues to regularly delve into sombre moments of thought and reflection, which we so often neglect in our modern fast paced lives.
Each scenes allows for you to take in everything around you to the fullest extent. The places, the people, your feelings and how they make up you right then and there. It gives space for those truly human moments, like listening to the demo from a security guards band, or exchanging banter with a teacher, without being pushed to do so.
Like life, there are plenty of extraordinary things to discover in Before the Storm if you are willing to explore and put yourself out there. But Awake also demonstrates how unexpectedly funny life can be. How the little things can make you smile and turn a day around.
While collecting a burnt DVD of Blade Runner (Director’s Cut of course) from a fellow student, Chloe is invited to join them for the last few minutes of their tabletop game. Myself and Chloe had a ball and were swept away her issues at school and missing her father, if only for ten minutes. But what a great ten minutes they were.
Deck Nine continues Dontnod’s vision (the developer of the original game) to explore this essence of humanity, how nothing cheers us up more than connecting with someone. Whether it be over a beloved comic series or through similar personal experiences of loss, Before the storm continues to embrace and celebrate this and the emotional impact it has on all of its characters. Not just Chloe.
Despite the intricate and delicate ways in which the first episode of Before the Storm’s story is told, it is hard to ignore how relatively short of an experience it is, and how it is largely a setup for the grander tale to come. Establishing characters, the timeline and forcing you to make several choices, which in typically Life is Strange fashion at the time don’t seem overly important, but are sure to have plenty of consequences.
Overall though, Awake is most importantly about you learning about and shaping your Chloe. There were plenty of instances where I could have more or less had tantrums or stuck my finger up to authority (or at least more regularly). But you have the opportunity to be understanding and open. Or as Chloe puts it in one scene, take the ‘Max route’. Although, I couldn’t help but let Chloe’s fun personality and attitude bubble to the surface from time to time. Surprisingly, solving more situations than I expected.
Filling the void that was Max’s time rewind mechanics, Chloe has all but her attitude and driven personality to aid her in her journey. While Max played the introverted shy girl who avoided conflict where possible, Chloe dives head first into confrontation, which is reflected in her ‘BackTalk’ ability.
This new dialogue system for the series allows Chloe to use her wit to overcome conflict through arguments, using people’s words against them and rewarding players who take the time to explore and learn more about the people of Arcadia Bay. It’s a fun mechanic which fits Chloe’s personality and leads to some tense moments.
What struck me most though while playing Awake, was how much closer I came to Chloe. As in the original I always felt disconnected from her, not always understanding her actions. Which was probably the aim. But with Before the Storm you have the chance to get to know her properly, understand her perspective and learn how she became the person she is in the original game.
This is a perfect start to a new Life is Strange saga and left me wanting more as the original series did so expertly. If you’re already a fan of the series you’ll feel right at home (although I do miss Max…) and if you’re new, it ain’t a bad place to start. If anything I would envy the chance to play this first before the original game, as my final choice and decisions throughout the original might have been very different having become attached to Chloe before Max.
Down To Earth And Interesting Characters
Beautiful Environments And Fitting Soundtrack
Explores Serious Themes and Emotions With Expertise