The adventure genre of games has seen a great resurgence in recent years, with Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead really leading the charge with its episodic content. Deciding to take their own stab a couple years ago was Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment with the absolutely incredible Life is Strange. While Dontnod is currently working on Life is Strange 2, Deck Nine has taken over for the Chloe-centric prequel series titled Life is Strange: Before The Storm, which is here with its first episode titled Awake.
The original Life is Strange starred Max Caufield as a student at Blackwell Academy who realizes she has the ability to rewind time all of a sudden, just ahead of a major storm hitting the small town of Arcadia Bay. Split across five episodes, Max reunites with her childhood best friend Chloe Price and find themselves in the middle of a mystery all while surrounding this impending storm and its supernatural nature. The game is wrapped up very tightly, which meant revisiting that story would be difficult, which leads us to the prequel. Before moving forward, there will be major spoilers for the original game as a way to discuss some aspects of this game, so be forewarned.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm takes place three years prior to the events of the first game, with Chloe attending Blackwell Academy and Max not even being involved to having moved to Seattle awhile before the game. The episode starts off with Chloe up to no good at an exclusive concert in a mill for the band Firewalk, which is a very fitting setting for the edgy Chloe. This is still pre-blue hair Chloe, but she still has her charm and fire that you are used to, just at a little younger age.
Without going into real spoiler territory for Before the Storm, the major focus of the episode is on Chloe and her new friendship with Rachel Amber, who was missing during the events of the first game. During the game, it was revealed that Chloe and Rachel had a very close relationship, and we get to see that start to blossom here. For those that didn’t think they needed any further backstory from Chloe, seeing how vulnerable she is here with Rachel on their first day hanging out together is worth the price of admission alone. Some really serious and emotional events happen along the way, along with something that really seems to tease a major connection with the original game, which really will make you excited to learn more in the upcoming episode two.
For those who are very familiar with the first game, you may notice something a little different about some of the voice acting, particularly with Chloe. That is because the stellar Ashly Burch actually was not able to reprise her role due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. However, Burch was part of the writing team to make sure she still felt like Chloe, as well as picking the new replacement VA, Rhianna DeVries. You can definitely tell a bit of a difference at first, but DeVries does a fantastic job with the role as well. You can tell that she is portraying a bit younger Chloe, which actually fits considering this is three years prior.
There are some other replacement VAs that were kind of hit and miss, such as David, Chloe’s eventual stepfather, who sounds nothing like his original self. Others like Victoria are either the original VA returning or an excellent soundalike. We heard all about the character of Rachel in the first game, and Before the Storm gives us our first actual dialogue with her character, who is also portrayed quite well by VA Kylie Brown. She manages to capture that mysterious, yet friendly vibe that we expected from her based on what we know of her from the first game.
Beyond the dialogue, the music used in the game is superb as well. The game does a great job at mixing in indie music during certain montages, including music from English indie band Daughter, which really helps to set the tone. Taking a similar approach to the first game really allows the player to feel like they have really returned to Arcadia Bay.
For those that have played Life is Strange, which everyone should do first, there are some very familiar locations that are recreated perfectly. This includes locales like Chloe’s house and Blackwell Academy, though they are a bit more limited than originally. For instance, you do not get to explore the inside of Blackwell Academy, including the dorms. The episode definitely still has other new areas to explore instead, but don’t expect to be able to traverse everywhere you did in the past in this episode.
The big mechanic involved with the original series was Max’s time travel ability that allowed you to not only go back and change decisions you make, but also use that power to solve puzzles. This means that the puzzles found in Life is Strange: Before the Storm are not quite as involved. These mostly consist of finding a solution to a problem, such as finding a way to open up a broken machine that ate your quarter.
Beyond that, the Chloe-based mechanic introduced in Life is Strange: Before the Storm is called Talkback mode. At certain points of the game, you can choose to engage someone like David or Principal Wells in a Talkback battle. By selecting the best answer, which is often very hard to tell, you will move closer to the winning circle. What can make this really difficult is that often you will have to get four correct while the opponent only has to get like two. Thankfully, these don’t cause you to lose the game outright, but they will affect certain events regardless.
There is one part of Life is Strange: Before The Storm’s first episode that has to be mentioned, which is the Dungeons & Dragons like segment that you can choose to participate in at Blackwell Academy. You can just skip this all together, but for those that choose to take part, you may be surprised by this nearly 15-20 minute long segment that is definitely worth experiencing. This is something completely unique to this game and it would be great to see something unexpected like this included in the upcoming episodes as well.
One of the biggest issues that plagued the early episodes of Life is Strange was the game’s lip sync problems. Moving away from the engine in the first game, Deck Nine instead utilized their own variation known as StoryForge that ran very well. With this new game engine, no lip sync issues could be found anywhere, which is really important in a dialogue heavy game like this.
Taking a tightly knit story like Life is Strange and trying to add more backstory to it could have easily backfired, but Deck Nine took the best possible route by focusing on the relationship between Chloe and Rachel. The new StoryForge engine runs very well and the lack of lip sync issues was a welcome change in comparison to the first episode of the original. Even with Chloe’s VA being replaced, Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a excellent companion piece to the previous story and is setting itself up to really be something special.
The original Life is Strange kind of came out of nowhere and surprised us all with just how good it was. As a result, there is a lot for Life is Strange: Before the Storm to live up to. Only one episode of three main episodes has released thus far, but so far it looks to be maintaining the quality of the original while presenting some new mechanics and building onto the backstory that we didn’t even know we needed so badly.
9.0 Hella Origins Out Of 10
Release Date: August 29th, 2017 (US)
Available Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Deck Nine
Disclosure: Life is Strange: Before The Storm Episode 1 – Awake Was Provided By The Publisher For Coverage Purposes