Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, gather around because Life is Strange is back! If you’ve been with us for the last couple of years, you may be familiar with not only my reviews of the first season, but my editorials, as well. As a girl who grew up in Northern California trying be as punk as humanly possible, Life is Strange hit home for me. The first season helped me cope through the toughest loss in my life, and also hit a lot of points with the NorCal culture. Needless to say, the series holds a very dear place in my heart (and for good reason).
When I heard developer Deck Nine was coming in to do a prequel, I was very skeptical. With the SAG-AFTRA strike going on (resulting in none of the original voice actors participating) and having a completely new team take over the successful IP, I wasn’t sure if I should go in expecting a lot, or expecting nothing. I will admit, the first twenty minutes or so of gameplay felt lackluster in both writing and the overall feel, but I’m glad I remained open-minded, because Before the Storm excels in writing just as well, if not better than the first season.
There are some major changes in Before the Storm to take note of. First, there is no time reversal – the things you choose to and say are what you are going to have to live with until you decide you want to start over. Without spoiling too much, there is some foreshadowing of powers of the sort at the end of the first episode, but I could be reading too far into it – we’ll just have to wait and see. Second, your controls have been changed from click-and-drag to click-and-WASD. I did go back and play the first episode of the first season, and I have to say: I’m torn. While click-and-drag feels smoother to me, I can see why they would switch to this new method. Since there is no time reversal abilities, these controls are a lot more secure and lower the chance of choice error.
In Before the Storm, since you can’t turn back time, you have to take your time and interact with your environment to unlock as many dialogue options as possible. If you played the first season of Life is Strange, you may recall you would engage in conversation with someone, and based on the mistakes or discoveries made in said conversation, you would be given the option to rewind and re-do the conversation with the new dialogue available. To succeed in a backtalk challenge, you have to unlock certain dialogue options. The challenges are timed, shown by the hourglass in the middle; your goal is to fill all of the dots and out-bitch the other person.
I did not toy around with choosing irrelevant options to see what it’s like to lose, but these are pretty fun and in some cases totally optional. The one shown above from my understanding was required to progress, but the others I encountered were optional (I still did them). If you’re really into the story of Life is Strange, the way these backtalk challenges are written really give you an insight to who Chloe was when she was younger, and how she’s changed between the events of this story and the first season.
The last major change is instead of taking Polaroid photos, you whip out a big marker and tag things. I found a few of these more difficult to find, as the hints weren’t drawings of the objects, but words. Like we saw in the E3 preview, Chloe has the ability to tag a chainsaw blade on the wall of the old wood mill where the band is playing. Instead of showing a hint photo in the tab menu, there is a square with a vague text hint. To get all of these, there are some actions required in order to unlock the option for the tagging. If you played the original, you recall the frustration in having to replay the entire episode to get each Polaroid and get the achievements. Lucky for us, Before the Storm prompts you with a “collector mode” after you beat the episode for the first time.
Collector mode will break down each episode into the environmental segments, and have a number on the bottom right indicating how many collectibles are in that scene, and how many you have. This made it easy to go exactly where I needed to go to grab the rest of the graffiti spots and snag the achievements. This mode does not in any way alter your save file or the decisions you made, which gives it more versatility. If you just wanted to look around in a specific area, or toy around with conversation options without consequence, collector mode is the way to go.
Life is Strange gave us just enough of Chloe’s backstory and character for Deck Nine to step in and give us beautiful context. Even though Chloe’s original voice actress, Ashly Burch, could not contribute with acting on this project, she did oversee the writing of the script for the first episode. There are several articles out there talking about how Chloe is an annoying character, and “all she does is bitch and complain,” but just like before, I was still able to relate to Chloe on a serious level.
This is a different Chloe – this isn’t blue-haired, established punk Chloe Price. This is trying-to-figure-all-this-bullshit-out Chloe Price. In this first episode of Before the Storm, we’re shown the beginnings of her relationship with David, her mother’s new boyfriend (and eventual husband). As someone who lost my father at an incredibly young age (and had to go through my mother dating some interesting people throughout my upbringing), Deck Nine does a fantastic job of capturing what it is like to go through those things as an angsty young teenager. Her dialogue can seem almost rusty and amateurish at times, but that’s due to the fact she’s still developing her persona and who she wants to be – not because of bad writing. You do also encounter a couple of dream sequences, where Chloe dreams about her dad; I’m very interested in seeing where this goes in the coming episodes.
If you’re a fan of the first Life is Strange, you’ll be happy to know the story is still out of this world, with this episode ending on a note filled with plenty of hype and anticipation for what is next. Deck Nine keeps the soundtrack within the same realm (soundtrack and score done by the band, Daughter), giving the environment a very recognizable aesthetic. Even with all the familiar faces and places within Arcadia Bay, Before the Storm still has plenty of new content and surprises.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a true prequel, doing what it should in providing context for the first season. If you have never played Life is Strange, and want to get on board now, you can go either way: start with this prequel and wait to dive into the first season, or play the first season and go into the prequel like other players. Either way, the story is truly an experience.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is now available on Steam (PC), XBox One and Playstation 4.