Life Is Strange Before The Storm, as the subtitle would suggest, is a prequel to the 2015 hit Life Is Strange from Dontnod. It’s also an unexpected delight when so many thought that this would be a train to nowhere, a futile exercise in padding out a story. Certainly there’s no lives on the line for the characters that reappear here, but at the same time we get to learn a lot more about them in the process.
The three part miniseries starts off with Chloe trying to gatecrash a gig from a favourite band of hers, Firewalk – yes, the Twin Peaks references are still here. It gives you a glimpse of the Chloe that we know from the first season; she’s brash, she’s confident, she’s got one hell of a mouth on her, and she won’t take no for an answer. However, underneath that, she can also be afraid, unsure of herself, all bark and only a little bit of bite when she’s truly threatened.
It takes the sudden appearance of Rachel Amber to rescue her from a somewhat perilous situation, and she’s the real impetus behind this episode’s story arc. It’s a typical teen drama and relatively cliched at points, but there’s some unexpected twists. Firstly, this is a story of how Chloe and Rachel meet, but there’s also the fact that Rachel at this point is the cool kid in class, and yet she’s suddenly rebelling and acting out. At first blush, Chloe and Rachel are almost polar opposites, and yet there’s an instant connection and a shared teenage angst as they run off on what would be called Chloe Price’s Day Off if it were turned into a film.
What’s an absolute joy here is that the cock-sure and confident Chloe that we know from the first season of Life Is Strange is anything but in this prequel. Yes, she gives a very good account of herself in the verbal sparring that is prevalent in the game’s dialogue, but there’s so many times where you can see on her face, hear from her internal monologue and see in her mannerisms and body language that she’s really not entirely sure what to make of the situation.
Despite the fact that we know Chloe as a character, we still get to paint our own personalities into the decisions that she makes. Do you rob a rip off tshirt vendor? Do you take the time to hang out with the class nerds, and in an excellent interlude, play some D&D? Do you mouth off to anyone and everyone, or bite your tongue? Do you let yourself care about others?
What muddies this in a fascinating way is that you know so many of the characters here already, even if they only make fleeting appearances. Just like Chloe is still growing as a character, so are they. Take David Madsen, for example, who at this point is still only dating Chloe’s mum, Joyce. You get the feeling that he means well, but he’s the stereotypical awkward wannabe step dad. How hard you decide Chloe pushes back against his unwanted presence in her life could be affected by his story arc in the original game.
Without Max’s time warping powers, this miniseries plays out like a much more traditional and straight forward graphic adventure. There are a few twists still, centred around Chloe as a character. In place of taking photos, Chloe will take out a marker and graffiti certain items in the world, in a rather superfluous change.
More notable is the Backtalk system, which comes into play on a number of occasions. A somewhat less cryptic version of the Monkey Island series’ Insult Sword Fighting, you essentially just have to listen to what the other character said and find the key phrase that you can turn back on them, building up to a put down that lets Chloe get what she wants. I’m not sure some of the payoffs would actually happen after a barrage of verbal abuse, but it’s a fun little system that puts you on the spot.
As much as I enjoyed this episode, a few things took a gloss off its presentation. The need to recast Ashly Burch as Chloe Price, replacing her with Rhianna DeVries actually plays really well as she has a rather similar voice. It’s also clear that a lot of care and attention has been given to her every move and animation in this game that’s strikingly real at times.
Given how integral Rachel Amber is to this miniseries, it’s disappointing that the same depth of detail hasn’t been afforded to her. She’s much less fluid in her animation, her face can deliver much less emotion, and far too often she has this blank expression during idling animations.
A few points also fall a little flat through the pacing of the dialogue not being snappy enough, some instances of horribly forced laughter, or simply that the options afforded you jump the conversation back and forth a bit too much. That’s par for the course with the genre, but for a game that relies on quick wit and snark, it’s a slight shame. It does little to undercut the episode’s climactic moments, both emotionally and dramatically, setting the story in motion nicely for the second and third episodes.
Despite many expectations, revisiting a younger Chloe Price and Arcadia Bay is very rewarding for fans of Life Is Strange. Deck Nine have found a story of discovery, growth and friendship that’s well worth telling, and doing so in a delightfully unexpected manner. Especially if you’re already a fan of the series, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is easily recommended and I’m eager to see what’s next.
As an episodic series, we typically score the first episode and the season as a whole after its conclusion, but with Before The Storm being a three part mini-series, we will simply score the entire run after the release of the final episode.