After the surprising success of 2015 life is strange– Dontnod’s episodic tale of teenage rebellion – we expected publisher Square Enix to return with a sequel. Less expected, however, was the E3 2017 reveal of Life is strange: before the storm, a prequel that tells the story of serial star Chloe Price during her early years. Dontnod isn’t behind the prequel, with development tasks handed over to Deck Nine Games instead. While the cynics may call this a cash-in, Before the storm has its moments – at least if the E3 demo has anything to offer.
The biggest change – aside from a slew of new locations alongside well-known ones – is that: Before the storm ditches the time travel mechanic from the original and puts the teen melodrama on thick. The power of life is strange was always in its writing, where it masterfully dealt with complex topics such as addiction, cyberbullying, and suicide. Before the storm deals with difficult themes of his own: Chloe Price, now 16, coping with her father’s death three years earlier, and the loss of her best friend Max, who has moved out of town.
Chloe’s life changes for the better when she meets Rachel Amber, the most popular girl in school. In an early scene – after talking her way to a concert in an abandoned sawmill – Chloe meets Rachel for the first time, but not before she was faced with a dilemma: steal a T-shirt with her favorite band, or the right one. do thing and walk away. The choice is yours, of course, although here at E3 Chloe’s actions are dictated by a committee of journalists in an E3 demo room. Of course they choose to steal the shirt.
Chloe releases the handbrake on the salesman’s car — the trunk of which he uses as a makeshift shop — causing him to plow into the back of a nearby truck. In the confusion, Chloe is free to grab a shirt, but soon faces another dilemma: steal the pile of cash left by the T-shirt dealer, or run away. Naturally, the committee chooses to steal the money. Decisions like these, highlighted through a series of animations, can have profound consequences spanning multiple episodes.
Before the storm it’s all about those choices. There’s no action, or fast-paced events, or complicated character customization to distract from the storytelling. Dontnod did a great job telling one life is strange-and, judging by the E3 demo at least, Deck Nine Games is doing equally well in Before the storm. Chloe is an intelligent, moody, deep-seated person. Instead of showing us the best of her, Before the storm invites you to explore her toughest moments.
Rachel is also complex. In a later scene, overlooking the mountains, Chloe and Rachel use binoculars to spy on unsuspecting passers-by and create caricatures of their personalities by portraying what they are saying and thinking. “No matter how fast I go, I’ll never top this wedgie,” Chloe says of a runner nearby. It’s the kind of relationship building that made life is strange so endearing, a die Before the storm cleverly mimics.
It would be unfair to say that I found everything about Chloe and Rachel recognizable. But as they sat in a dump, sulking Rachel and Chloe not sure whether to help or withdraw, I hoped they would get through their relationship. That Before the storm can be so convincing after such a short showing makes me optimistic that despite the loss of Dontnod, this is far from cash-in.
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm will be released on August 31st for Windows (pre-order here), Xbox One and PS4.