Deck Nine Games had something to prove when it confirmed it was taking over Dontnod’s time-travelling teen opus, Life is Strange. Indeed, eschewing one of the key gameplay components in the original game could have been a major cause for concern, but as mentioned in our preview, it actually works in its favor. In fact, after finishing Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode One – Awake on PlayStation 4, we can state unequivocally that Life is Strange functions hella better for it (we make no apologies for that one).
Before the Storm takes place in 2010, three years before Max Caulfield rocked up in Arcadia Bay and discovered she had the ability to rewind time. Instead, the focus is placed on Chloe Price; Caulfield’s rambunctious, potty-mouthed BFF who at this point in time is 16-years-old and still sticking two fingers up at society. She’s grieving over the loss of her father, flunking high-school, and generally, well, being the Chloe Price we all know and love.
Awake functions as the beginning of a major turning point in Chloe’s life, namely her meeting with the mysterious Rachel Amber at a local gig on the outskirts of Arcadia Bay. It’s through her interactions with Amber that we are able to witness a more nuanced characterisation to Price, as her she lets her guard down and shows a far more vulnerable side to her personality, providing a context for her behaviour years later in Life is Strange.
Deck Nine has pretty much nailed the meat-and-potatoes of Dontnod’s original narrative-based adventure. Choice is a again a permanent fixture, and while not all decisions you make may have immediate consequences, there’s definitely a sense that they’ll come into fruition later down the line.
Perhaps the biggest attraction is the Back Talk system where Chloe has a limited amount of time to hit back with witty responses, potentially shifting the situation in your favor. One such example is Chloe attempting to stand up for a fellow student who is being bullied by the high-school jock. There’s a limited time to pick from three dialogue options to keep the conversation flowing, but picking the wrong one can irrevocably shift the balance out of favor, as I discovered when Chloe failed to intimidate the muscle-bound buffoon and nearly got a clout round the head for her troubles.
Unlike Life is Strange, you can’t rewind after making a mistake so you’re stuck with whatever outcome you got. As such, they’re pretty intense moments, and definitely keep you thinking about what dialogue to pick; it also gives you further incentive to replay the sequence later on to see if you can get another outcome. Chloe’s dialogue is also spot-on, fueled by the typical colloquial, teenage banter that you’d expect from someone of her age and background, and very much congruous with her Life is Strange incarnation.
It also helps to create an interesting juxtaposition between her and Rachel; a rich, popular kid who is the polar opposite of Chloe, yet they make for such an interesting partnership, bouncing off each other and having some brilliant sequences that really allows both characters to shine. It’s a great dynamic, and as mentioned brings out a new side to Chloe, with some poignant moments between the two that help punctuate the more brash side to her personality.
Before the Storm also gives you ample opportunity to explore off the beaten track. For starters, you can find hidden spots to spray graffiti over that unlock rewards, while there’s plenty of chances to have a natter with other characters, some of which lead to interesting sequences, such as finishing a role-playing game with a couple of highschool geeks or pinching a t-shirt from a rock concert by creating a distraction. These smaller sequences never feel contrived or unnecessary, and help to lend Chloe’s story a sense of authenticity and believability.
Much like Life is Strange, there are major choices that flash on screen that pepper the core narrative, and these are the kind that will have significant ramifications—whether it be the next episode or the one after. The fact you can’t hit the rewind button this time around really gives these sequences more weight, and it works all the better for it.
Before the Storm adheres to the same whimsical, dreamy visual template as its predecessor, and for the most part that’s fine. The art direction is a sumptuous highlight, although the character models are somewhat perfunctory in places, with lip syncing off in some parts and poor textures potentially spoiling major scenes.
The aural presentation is where things really shine however, with the indie-rock soundtrack complementing the simmering teen-angst perfectly, while the voice acting remains top notch despite the absence of Chloe’s original performer, Ashly Burch. That being said, some sequences feel a little too forced (the ending, in particular, had a wonderfully subtle conclusion until Deck Nine decided inexplicably to ham up the angst), and the dialogue can at times feel like it’s trying too hard to convey Chloe’s brashness and stubborn attitude. For the most part however, Before the Storm is a charming endeavour, and at its best heartwarmingly moving.
Life is Strange aficionados will feel right at home with Before the Storm’s premiere episode. It gives context to the event that will later transpire in the series, and richly fills out the background of key characters that we’ve come to know and love. Even so, despite its flaws, newcomers can’t really go wrong starting out here, as it’s still an enjoyable narrative-driven adventure that’s worth investing your time in.