Life is Strange was one of the surprises of 2015 from Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment. It managed taking some of the best aspects of adventure games with choices that actually matter and some amazing characters. Fast forward to today, Square Enix has gotten Deck Nine games to work on a prequel to Life is Strange called Life is Strange: Before the Storm. I was initially sceptical of this because of the developer change but having played through the episode twice, the team has done a wonderful job with almost everything and even gone above and beyond the original in some ways.
Set a few years before the events of Life is Strange, you play as a 16 year old Chloe Price. The opening is really strong. You try and sneak into a small concert taking place in an abandoned mill and eventually end up in a situation where you’ve pissed off a few people only to meet Rachel Amber. There’s loads of great interactions and development for characters. Even though I know how many of said characters turn out in the future, the writing is fantastic and manages keeping you wanting more. As a premier episode, I’d go so far as to say this impressed me as much as Episode 1 of Life is Strange when it released. I would recommend playing the original game before the prequel for sure even though you will be mostly ok playing this directly.
While there’s no time travel, a new mechanic called Talk Back has been added where as the name suggests you talk back and try and persuade through insults or various dialogue options. The implementation is good but it doesn’t work out well in some situations where just a normal dialogue option would’ve been ok. Exploring each area properly will reward you with slightly hidden locations where Chloe can use her marker to do some graffiti. This replaces Max’s photograph collectible mode from the first game. These episodes are always split up into a few locations that act as small sandboxes for you and only one of them felt padded here. There’s one where you need to look for a way to get a quarter out of a viewfinder and this whole dialogue and “puzzle” section felt poorly thought out. Other than this, I love it when developers add optional sections to their games for people looking to go the extra mile. There’s a full tabletop RPG section here where you can spend about half an hour playing one outside school with 2 of your friends.
Lip sync was a big problem in Life is Strange when it launched initially. I had no problems with that here and the overall visuals have definitely seen an upgrade In terms of lighting and just animations. I expected a drop given the engine of choice here but Deck Nine nailed everything about what I wanted in a new Life is Strange experience. Even Chloe’s room looks fantastic while the credits play out initially in the episode. I had no performance issues either which is shocking given it is a Unity game on consoles.
Music was definitely a highlight in Life is Strange with both licensed tracks and original music. Square Enix got the UK indie band Daughter to compose a full album for Before the Storm and it is superb. I didn’t think I’d find a contender for best game soundtrack in a single episode but here we are. Voice acting is also really good. I’m a little disappointed that Ashly Burch couldn’t reprise her role as Chloe. Rhianna DeVries did a great job though.
Outside of the single section that felt padded and the Back Talk mechanic not working well in some situations, this is a fantastic first episode. If you’re a fan of Life is Strange already, I’d recommend getting the Deluxe Edition. It has an extra Max Episode that releases later and a Mix Tape mode that lets you listen to music from the game with visuals of Chloe in her room just like in the actual episode opening credits sequence.