Playing Life is Strange long after its initial release, knowing very little about its content other than hearing some positive things from a few trusted sources, was an almost revelatory experience. Specifically, with how it told a very complex and interesting sci-fi story set within the world of an American high-school. The sort of place where a certain rich kid’s dad contributes so much to both the school and small town of Arcadia Bay that he can pretty much do what he pleases. And so, he does. The sort of place where an innocent girl gets bullied and teased and pushed to the very edge of her sanity.
Plus, the sort of place where time travel and being able to manipulate time in an almost supernatural and superhero like fashion became a rite of passage for protagonist Max. All in all, a pretty involved teen drama wrapped up in a riveting sci-fi tale. And if you’re even a casual fan of the adventure game genre, Life is Strange is a must play. Or, if you’re like me and a sucker for anything featuring time-travel.
As a prequel series with three planned episodes Life is Strange: Before the Storm shifts the perspective to a different denizen of Arcadia Bay, the troubled Chloe Price. With most of the story in the first episode “Awake” dealing with the relationship between Chloe and Rachel Amber. It’s an interesting approach, and fans of Life is Strange will no doubt be keen to find out a bit more about the mysterious Rachel Amber, an almost mythical figure - spoken about in passing - during the events of the first game.
With the creators of the first Life is Strange, Dontnod, currently working on a sequel proper, Life is Strange: Before the Storm comes from a different team – Deck Nine Games. But, you wouldn’t know it by playing through Episode 1. All the hallmarks of a sequel (or, prequel) are here, from improved writing and pacing, to a level of confidence that you normally wouldn’t see in a first outing. That being said, Life is Strange: Before the Storm suffers from a few of the problems that you often find in prequel material. The sense of narrative urgency one associates with a story that features a number of supernatural elements takes a hit, and knowing exactly where characters end up lessens the dramatic tension.
One thing that is certainly worth talking about is the almost complete absence of the sci-fi and supernatural elements that played such a huge role in the first game. Merely hinted at here, with varying degrees of success, Life is Strange: Before the Storm is more interested in telling Chloe’s story, rather than one about the larger fate of Arcadia Bay. Or, what happens when you get to travel a few minutes into the past. As with the original, where the high-school setting and dramatic progression of the story felt new and different, the same could be said of the overall narrative ark found in “Awake”. Sneaking into a rock concert held in a sketchy looking barn, stealing money, taking a bag of weed to school, playing a bit of Dungeons and Dragons with the nerds before class.
The biggest surprise with Before the Storm was realising just how much we missed visiting the sights and sounds of Arcadia Bay. This level of confidence on the part of developer Deck Nine, in just letting you experience life through the eyes of an adolescent and troubled Chloe Price - is both a blessing and a curse. For fans of Life is Strange it’s no doubt worth your time, and the way in which Chloe and Rachel’s relationship evolves over the course of the first episode is a pleasure to watch. No so well done though, is all the supernatural stuff. Which fails to reach the same heights of the original, and feels a little forced.