Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is a game that doesn’t need to exist, and yet I’m glad it does. With a different studio developing the game, with Chloe becoming the protagonist, with this being a prequel to a game that already delved numerous times into its backstory, it’s a recipe for a throwaway cash in. Yet it’s actually shaping up to be a good addition.
The alarm bells were ringing in people’s heads when Deck Nine Games were announced as the developer, and not just that, Ashly Burch would also not be reprising her role in the game, thanks to the still ongoing voice actors’ strike in the US. However, even from a small glimpse of the game, it feels like Deck Nine get the original and have found a place for themselves to be able to tell a story, with Ashly Burch lending some advice to give Chloe a degree of authenticity. Not only that, but Rhianna DeVries would have to be put side by side with Ashly Burch to distinguish the two.
Of course, Chloe can’t rewind time in the manner that Max could, and so Before the Storm reverts back to a more standard graphic adventure form. Immediately it puts a different slant on how the game plays, with no going back on the decisions you make. It perhaps helping to emphasise how impulsive protagonist Chloe can be in comparison to Max, the eternal worry wart.
There’s always a risk with prequels, though, with the potential that they feel muted and unnecessary, without the same kind of high stakes and suspense. We know for a fact that Chloe’s going to be alright at the end, regardless of the challenges put before her, we know many of the characters that she’s going to meet, we even know that Rachel Amber is going to disappear, though the time frame of this game suggests not during the events of this miniseries.
You see, this is three years before the original game, and it picks up just as a younger version of Chloe saunters into Fire Walk’s gig out in the middle of nowhere, eager to see them playing live. She mooches around near the bar, looking at various things, even showing off the game’s new tagging mechanic, as you get to graffiti certain items, choosing between two options.
Through the game, you’ll get to put your slant on Chloe through what she says and does. My take on Chloe? Sure she’s a bit of a badass and a rebel, but she’s not an outright thief. When she butts up against a t-shirt seller who wants an extortionate $20 for a top, my Chloe walked away, but she could just as easily have pulled the handbrake on the car he was selling out the back of, distracting him as it rolls down and out of the barn so that she can grab a t-shirt. Further to that, she can actually steal a wad of cash from him, using it to pay off her drug debt to Frank.
Of course, the entire point of going to a gig is to actually see the band, but trying to get into the mosh pit doesn’t go so well. In fact, it goes badly, very badly, landing Chloe in a spot of bother with a couple of guys who she accidentally bumped into and spilled a drink. It’s backed into a corner like this that you can see the tough girl facade begin to shake. Sure, she’s still got one heck of a mouth on her, and can fight back given the opportunity – my Chloe is one to knee someone in the balls, that’s for certain – but there’s a vulnerability to her.
We definitely get to see more than one side to Chloe in this game. On the one hand you have the Chloe that heads out of the house, doing drugs, going to secret remote gigs and (potentially) engaging in petty larceny, but then you have the Chloe at home in the next scene, and it’s here that we find what’s shaping her character. At this point in time, just a few months before Max returns, it’s not just the death of her dad that she’s dealing with, but how he’s being replaced at home by David. He’s not yet her stepdad, he’s not yet moved in, and Chloe is forced to come to terms with or rebel against that.
It will be really interesting to see how people treat David as they play this game. Those who played the original will have seen his story arc, perhaps changing their opinions of the character in the process, and that could alter how they respond to him in this game. Alternately, for those who haven’t played the first game, it could be that seeing David’s character here might mellow or intensify opinions toward him there. Then again, nobody’s going to have time for his condescending mansplaining as he changes a spark plug.
More than that, Before the Storm gets the opportunity to flesh out further aspects of the world and the characters within it. In particular there’s Rachel Amber and the budding friendship she forms with Chloe, but wandering around and looking at various objects at the gig also gave more of a background to the Prescott family, showing their ruthless streak that has gained them their power and reputation, beyond simply having lots of money and a despicable son.
It’s really here that Before the Storm manages to shows its value. While Life Is Strange already did more than a little trawling back through the pasts of its characters, Deck Nine have found a time that has yet to be really explored. So no, there might not be the world altering stakes of the original game, nor the time altering gameplay, but Before the Storm doesn’t need those to be a story worth telling.