There are many reasons why Life is Strange built such a passionate following. You could talk about its distinctive art style; its witty writing; maybe its surprising emotional depth; the lively and diverse cast of characters.
Given the critical acclaim that Dontnod‘s 2015 sleeper hit garnered, little wonder that a sequel is on the way. What is surprising is that while Dontnod is hard at work developing Life is Strange 2, it’s not the only new game in the series that’s inbound. A prequel, created by Deck Nine Games, is also in the works.
As a big fan of the original, I was a little wary at first, but the short demo I played at Square Enix Europe quickly reassured me that the studio has taken meticulous care of everything that made Life is Strange so special.
Before the Storm focuses on Chloe, Max’s punk-rock sidekick from the original Life is Strange. As Before the Storm takes place in Arcadia Bay three years before the first game, the Chloe we meet and get to play is only 16 years old – not yet blue-haired and very much a teenager. Her friend Max is nowhere to be found, and her father’s death is a far fresher wound than it was in the first game.
In my brief look at Before the Storm, I follow Chloe as she sneaks into a secret gig. She doesn’t yet have the self-confidence and assurance she will gain a few years down the line but she is already defiant, quirky, and a little too eager to speak her mind. Without spoiling too much about the sequence, I can assure you that Chloe will successfully get herself into trouble before her first meeting with Rachel Amber, Arcadia Bay’s very own Laura Palmer and one of the central characters in the prequel.
In terms of gameplay, the situations and choices Chloe could pick from in the demo are very different from the ones we’ve been used to with Max. Not only are their personalities very different — leaving you with choices that feel a lot more daring than the ones Max often had to choose from — but you will also have to tread very carefully as you won’t be able to rewind time.
If, like me, you’ve played through the original game by picking the craziest choices for a sneak peak of their consequences before using Max’s power for something that felt more in line with your playthrough, the permanent nature of Chloe’s choices will give you pause for thought.
But precisely because there’s now an unfixable risk to what your choices will result in brings a slight tension to even the smallest of your decisions. You’re less blasé, and arguably more attentive because of the lack of the safety net of a time-altering superpower.
The studio offers an olive branch by way of Chloe’s quick wit; a ‘back talk’ mechanic can let her try and talk her way out of unexpected situations, but it’s risky and might not work as you’d expect it to.
Without the sci-fi leanings of a rewind time button, I’m left with the impression of a more grounded experience, which promotes a different approach to the way you’ll play the prequel. It’s possibly one of its strengths, making it a subtly different experience from its predecessor.
Of course, if you have played Life is Strange, you will recognize familiar faces and see nods to the original here and there, but Before the Storm is very much a standalone adventure. Knowing what lies ahead for a few of the characters doesn’t take anything away from the intrigue, and if anything, it makes these discoveries all the more interesting.
Going back to Arcadia Bay and getting the chance to see more of this strange town and unique personalities felt great, and I can’t wait to see more when the first entry of this three-episode series drops on PS4 come 31st August.