Episode 1 of Life Is Strange: Before The Storm shows that new developers Deck Nine have a deep understand of why people like the original game by creating a near perfect prequel. The FingerGuns Review;
I’ve been terrified to start Episode 1 of Before The Storm. I bought it on launch date, downloaded it and have reached the “Start Episode One” screen a number of times before bottling it and quitting. You see, Dontnod (the creators of the original series) are one of my favourite developers and Life Is Strange is one of my all time favourite games. When I learnt that a new studio, Deck Nine, had been tasked with creating this prequel in conjunction with a team at Square Enix and that Dontnod had had no involvement with it, I was worried. Terrified even. Sequels rarely manage to spoil the achievements of their forebears but with a prequel, they need to be pitched just right. They can have profound effects on their predecessors and the thought of a new studio coming in and putting their own stamp on a series I hold in such high regard was concerning. Thankfully, after plucking up the courage to start and finish Episode 1, titled “Awake”, all of my concerns have been alleviated. This episode shows that Deck Nine have a deep understanding of why people like Life Is Strange and they have created a truly wonderful prequel.
The story begins three years before “the storm” and a few months after Max Caulfield has moved to Seattle with her parents. It opens on the rebellious protagonist Chloe Price (expertly voiced by Rhianna DeVries this time around) as she heads out in the dead of night to see a metal band at an abandoned mill. These opening moments are a little too on the nose but quickly establish that Chloe is not in a good place in her life. She has little concern for her own well being, is lonely without her best friend that had recently moved away and is angry at the world. While at the old mill, Chloe has an altercation with a pair of “skeevy dudes” (Chloe’s words, not mine) and winds up in a spot of serious bother. In steps Rachel Amber (performed admirably by Kylie Brown) with a well timed distraction which allows Chloe to escape. The pair then mosh the night away, having the time of their lives.
Without spoiling any more of the plot, the remaining 2 hours of “Awake” explore the rapidly (perhaps too rapidly?) blossoming relationship between Chloe and Amber who are both vulnerable and very “real” characters that are dealing with upheaval at home and at Blackwell academy. The branched writing and dialogue switches between being very good to bordering on masterful. Conversations with one particular “Mum’s Boyfriend” had me swearing at the TV because no answer was good enough and I chuckled to myself through a number of the set pieces that Chloe and Amber found themselves in. The events of Before The Storm shouldn’t be a surprise to any fan of the original Life Is Strange series – they’re all hinted at or suggested – but the sub-plots, difficult conversations and comfortable silences are all worth experiencing for yourself without me spoiling them for you. What I can tell you is that through intelligent storytelling, this episode crescendos into one of the most emotionally charged, impactful and intrinsically human moments I have ever seen in a video game.
The absence of Max Caulfield and her timey wimey rewindy powers make the decisions you make in Before the Storm more poignant, final and tense. Conversations happen once and only once and any choice you make can do irreparable damage or positively affect the circumstances ahead. A new addition to Before the Storm are the “Backtalk” sections. These are quick fire conversation moments in which you need to choose one of a selection of retorts which need to be witty and in relation to the conversation. Pay attention and relate your selections back to the wording used by your opponent, succeeding with a Backtalk and you can make life easier on Chloe as well as feel treated by some incredible one liners. Fail by selecting the wrong reply too many times and you can make things a whole lot worse. While the Backtalk options add a lot more spice to the dialogue of Before The Storm and certainly fit with the way that Chloe is portrayed, I found myself concentrating on the subtitles rather than really listening to what was being said, just to make sure I got it right.
On opening, I mentioned that Deck Nine understood why people liked Life Is Strange and that’s entirely true, right down to the little touches. Much like in the original Life is Strange, when sitting down with Max would allow her to internally monologue her thoughts on a situation, the same happens here for Chloe. Just taking a few moments to sit, take it all in and listen to some well written exposition adds a surprising amount of depth the the game. Then there’s the optional extras like playing a portion of a Dungeons and Dragons game with a few Blackwell students. And, of course, the soundtrack. British indie folk band Daughter wrote and performed much of the music in this episode and they really went to town, often stepping out of their own comfort zone into genres you wouldn’t expect but work incredibly well here. Lastly, the foreshadowing. The events of the original season of Life is Strange were continually hinted at in previous episodes with call backs for the explorers and the eagle eyed. With Before the Storm, that element still exists but feels far more self contained.
Visually, Before The Storm is an obvious step up from the original series with more detailed textures used for new areas but it manages to retain that same attractive art style. The rusty browns, autumn yellows and washed out reds still dominate the colour palette and there’s still the occasional block colour poster for Chloe to comment on. There’s very few graphical duds here – cigarette smoke still looks a little dated – and it’s a very aesthetically pleasing episode.
Episode 1 of Beyond the Storm builds a few lines of dialogue from the original series and a character that we didn’t previously meet into a riveting expansion of the Life is Strange universe. The writing. The visuals. The soundtrack. The story. The mechanics. They’re all superb with only a handful of niggles and bum lines. All of my caution and concern was totally unfounded as Deck Nine are obviously very safe hands to carry the series forward. Awake is as good as much of the original Life Is Strange and there’s not a single “hella” in sight.
Life is Strange: Before The Storm Episode One – Awake – is available now on PC, PS4 (review version) and Xbox One.
Disclaimer: We purchased a copy of the game in order to complete this review. Please see our review policy for more information.