Before the Storm gives us a meaningful insight into the events prior to Life is Strange. With deep character interactions, high-stakes events and excellent storytelling, this prequel is worth playing regardless whether you completed the original or are stepping into the series for the very first time.
Developer: Deck Nine; Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: December 20th, 2017 (All 3 Episodes)
Review Platform: PC
System Specifications: Core i5-6500, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1070
Get it on: Steam
The teen drama plot of Life is Strange wasn’t completely believable with its time rewind powers, but nonetheless set a very high standard for interactive storytelling games. Excellent writing and memorable characters invoked a relatable plot that stayed engaging throughout the entire five-episode adventure, keeping players invested in the story. One thing I wished for at the time was to get an insight into some of the events that happened prior to Max’s adventure. That has been answered with a different studio Deck Nine, which picked up from Dontnod Entertainment to create a three-episode prequel series. Life is Strange: Before the Storm delivers consistently excellent plot and characters, shedding light on rebellious life of Chloe Price during Max’s absence from Arcadia Bay. We also get to learn the character of Rachel Amber, and watch hers and Chloe’s relationship evolve through the short but sweet adventure. Before the Storm delivers impactful story and relatable struggles, invoking compassion for Chloe and Rachel as you follow their journey along. Regardless whether you played Life is Strange or are just jumping into the series, this prequel follows in high-quality storytelling that is well worth experiencing.
Playing a prequel can be strange if you’ve completed Life is Strange, and for newcomers diving into the series, I’d certainly recommend starting in Before the Storm. At the same time, those who would have played the original will appreciate the many connecting points between the two games, whether it be plot details or many characters you are familiar with. Although I pretty much knew the outcome of Chloe’s and Rachel’s stories from cues in Life is Strange, the fact didn’t make experiencing their journey any less memorable or interesting, and once more, I fully engaged with the plot. Secondary characters all connect well into the events, and decisions through dialogue are extremely important, as there is no ability to rewind now.
Despite being handed to a different developer, Before the Storm turned out completely in faith of the Life is Strange, setting an excellent backstory that I was so dying to experience when playing the original game. Chloe and Rachel feel very alive against the backdrop of Arcadia Bay, which isn’t a dull setting per say, but nothing interesting happens in this town. They are both trying to escape their problems, connecting on a deep level that has potential to turn into much more than a friendship if the player chooses so. While it can feel weird they fall in love with each other so fast despite trust issues both possess, it invokes deeper care for the characters and their journey together. Despite knowing Rachel’s unfortunate fate in Life is Strange, I chose to connect her and Chloe on a deeper level just to see how their journey shapes, and I wasn’t disappointed in the end.
Chloe can engage in many side conversations if the player chooses so, which adds additional interest to discovering the side stories of everyone you interact with in Arcadia Bay. The most memorable of those was a Dungeons & Dragons tabletop game she can engage in with a few schoolmates, and participating in that yielded a fun side of Chloe Price. A lot of content can be surprisingly missed, as is natural of a story-driven game, and it is only in the list of choices displayed at the end of each episode did I discover that I missed quite a few. The more you are willing to discover, the more rewarding Before the Storm is by showing a deeper focus on its characters and story above gameplay.
Not much changed from Life is Strange: you still interact with everyone around you, solve minor puzzles and watch excellent cutscenes. Exploring the environment for clues and objects unlocks more conversation choices, and often reveals additional information about characters and their life. This time around, instead of time rewind, Before the Storm has a “Backtalk” function, whereby Chloe has to convince a character to reveal certain information or do a specific action. Most of it can devolve into her yelling at a problem until it goes away or completely insulting someone, but it isn’t any less hilarious to watch than it is to play. The Backtalk mechanic isn’t particularly difficult, and you simply focus on matching Chloe’s response with whatever was said in the previous sentence. Despite that, Before the Storm shows a deeper care put into its characters and story-building, where choices are made based on how Chloe would feel, rather than the ideal approach taken by Max in Life is Strange.
Chloe’s personality is simply outstanding, and while she is a complete rebel against everything in life, the game’s tone is all better for it. You could almost entirely suppress her loud and rebellious character through dialogue options, however that simply wouldn’t be fun. I instead chose to express Chloe’s true nature in her angry and profane responses against many people in her life, especially her mom’s boyfriend David. Like in Life is Strange, I simply couldn’t get along with that guy, and it almost feels like he exists just to put an additional struggle in front of Chloe. On contrary, those I wanted her to care for got the better end of it, with Chloe expressing affection for Rachel or being friendly to Steph and Mikey.
I was pleasantly surprised by the level of detail Deck Nine put through to connect Before the Storm to the main game on so many different levels. Whether it was through events referencing something from Life is Strange, or characters acting the exact same way the last time I saw them, Before the Storm captivates the universe’s now extended plot. There may be less supernatural in it now, but that wouldn’t stop anyone from absolutely enjoying this game.
I also found fun to be had in writing optional graffiti on select objects throughout the plot. Chloe’s quirky and fun personality is conceived through some of these messages, many of which stand out as small distractions from a more serious atmosphere around her. Writing “Definitely absolutely not a Meth lab here” on her dealer’s RV trailer had me laughing more than I probably should, and there is plenty more spots for Chloe to express herself using her trusty permanent marker. She is an artist at heart, and players can take advantage of that to add more flair to Arcadia Bay, even if the graffiti spots are ultimately limited.
Despite being created on the Unity engine like its predecessor (albeit odd to say given Before the Storm is a story prequel), the game never failed to impress me with the quality of its animations and environments. It may be completely redundant to talk about visuals in a story-driven title, but first, I simply can’t avoid the topic as a PC gamer, and second, graphics can play a big role in enhancing the experience. While interactivity in Before the Storm is quite minimal, the other parts of visual experience are absolutely outstanding. Believable expressions, movement and voice synching all contribute to an extremely important image of the game’s story, and never once did I feel taken out of the experience by some flaw. Must be the extensive backing by publisher Square Enix at play here, but Before the Storm simply looks amazing for its visual engine. And if you don’t believe that, play through a theatre play here and then tell me it doesn’t look as good if not better than a play you stage in Witcher 3, that’s how impressive it is.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm delivered on everything I wanted it to be. Its rich and engaging plot showcases the wonderful journey of Chloe Price and Rachel Amber as they develop from barely knowing each other into a deep friendship and much more on. Shedding a backlight on two of the most talked about characters in Life is Strange, the prequel explains their complete background leading into events of the first game, with plenty of opportunity for interaction with everyone around them. The game’s focus on storytelling above gameplay reveals the stronger suit of Life is Strange as a universe, and even if you played the original first, the prequel is just as enjoyable if not more than if you start off in Before the Storm. With excellent voice acting and cutscenes, Life is Strange: Before the Storm delivers one of the best storytelling experiences out there, and shouldn’t be missed even by those who don’t consider adventure games compelling. Completing it not only made me really look forward to Life is Strange 2, but also wanting to go back and replay the original just as much.