A Stuttering Start but Solid Fan-Service
In the world of gaming, prequels are risky business. Prequels developed by another studio entirely are really risky business, but with a strong enough franchise behind you – anything is possible. That’s why Life is Strange: Before the Storm is an absolute gamble of a game.
Its predecessor (developed by DontNod Entertainment) had a low-budget, indie-film aesthetic that new developers Deck Nine wouldn’t find too hard to emulate. However, the fantastic weight behind the Life is Strange canon rests not in its visuals but in its writing and storytelling – something that could be far harder to replicate second time around…
Name: Life is Strange: Beyond the Storm – Episode 1
Platform(s): Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Square Enix
Developer(s): Deck Nine
Genre(s): Graphic Adventure
Release Date: 31.08.2017
Reviewed on: Xbox One | Amazon
2016’s Life is Strange: Limited Edition was my game of last year. I remember going in completely cold to the series and being utterly swept away by its fantastic storytelling and rounded characters. It told the story of Max Caulfield, a supernaturally gifted 12th-grade student who develops the ability to rewind time, Prince of Persia-style. With a faithful companion named Chloe alongside her, Max gets to work investigating the disappearance of a high-school classmate (whereby things naturally escalate like crazy over the course of the games’ five-act episodic structure). Life Is Strange: Before the Storm strips the game back to its rawest components, re-angling the story on Chloe and eliminating any sci-fi elements that made the original compelling. It’s a very bold move in this day and age to remove such gimmicks and really champion emotive storytelling, yet it’s a move I fully support.
Replacing the sci-fi shtick is a gimmick called Backtalk, a timed conversation mechanic that has you thinking on your feet to outwit annoying bouncers, bullies & general a-holes. Here, you use the knowledge you’ve garnered from exploring your environments to pull one over on your opponent, finding flaws in their arguments or coming back with slightly grating one-liners (in the UK, we’d just say “your mum” and that pretty much settles every argument). I’ve noticed that gamers are finding Chloe’s dialogue options too brash, cocky and scripted – however, I found her pretty well written and consistent with who she is in 2015’s Life is Strange. It’s some of the characters around her that could do with a little more fleshing out.
To date, only episode 1 is available to review and it’s a particularly tricky episode to analyze out of context with the other two. Chloe is a younger, feistier version of who she will later become (I know, right?) and I found her character arc wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped due to the way Deck Nine have approached their storytelling. It feels as though they’ve opted for a slow build approach with minimal narrative progression but lots of character interaction. I’m hoping this will pay off by the end of episode 3; for now, it feels a bit of an anti-climax.
We initially join Chloe trying to sneak into a grunge rock gig and it’s here she meets Rachel Amber, the girl who’s fate we know is already sealed. Knowing the fate of a key character means as we can predict the finale of episode 3 will be an emotional one, yet it’s the adventure to reach that point that I’m excited about most. During the two/three hours of gameplay, you’ll find yourself wandering around old familiar locations – such as Chloe’s family home (where you must endure conversations with Chloe’s insufferable ‘step-douche’), Blackwell Academy (a particularly emotional and nostalgic place to return to, until the generic high-school drama kicks off) and the memorable train tracks of Arcadia Bay. There’s an extended sequence that involves interacting with some Dungeons & Dragons-y classmates which felt a bit of a misstep, however, aside from that the episode is quite focused and sets itself up nicely for part 2.
Episode 1 more-or-less feels like a step in the right direction. It’s slow-build means I have to class it as somewhat of a stuttering start, yet it’s great fan-service for the long-waiting masses and I’m sure will build to a fantastic payoff in two episodes’ time. I have every faith Deck Nine will do a fantastic job fleshing out the lineage of Life is Strange – the game really does deserve a prequel; I only hope it lives up to the hype…
Review Disclosure Statement: Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 1 was provided to us by Square Enix for review purposes. Our reviews are rated 1 – 5 and scored in .5 increments. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.
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Overall, episode 1 of Life is Strange: Before the Storm isn’t the strongest entry in the saga – but it’s far too early to judge. I’m hoping centering the story on Chloe isn’t a poor choice on Deck Nine’s behalf, there must be a story to tell without meandering around old locations and looking at random objects strewn across the floor. They’ve established some great roots here, now they must build on them to take gamers on an emotional rollercoaster.
I look forward to playing all three episodes together in one sitting once they’re released, maybe then things will feel a little clearer.