Released through 2015, Life is Strange was a successful experiment in episodic gaming, thanks largely to its focus on narrative storytelling that pulled players from one segment to the next. The final, collected story digs into the secrets and trials of Max, a high school student who discovers she has the ability to rewind time.
At E3 2017, Square Enix and new developer Deck Nine Games announced a prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm. This time, the spotlight is refocused on fan-favorite character Chloe Price, and her years prior to her supporting role in the first title. Gone is Max, and with her, the time-traveling powers. In its place is a more linear story.
Showed behind closed doors at E3, a demo of Before the Storm suggests that the game — despite dropping its lead and her gift — still feels quite familiar. Gameplay is essentially the same. Players take the role of Chloe and interact with objects and characters at the press of a button. Again, each choice, large and small, affects the overall narrative.
In the section I saw, Chloe attended a party where she stole a T-shirt, bought weed, and ended up in a fight with a couple of sleazy guys before running into Rachel Amber, Chloe’s friend from the original Life is Strange. (Rachel’s relationship with Chloe will feature significantly into the story of Before the Storm.) There were clear points where players could have had the opportunity to choose different paths, leading to a presumably different experience.
The most significant change is the aforementioned lack of Max’s time manipulation abilities, making the prequel a simpler and more direct affair.
The decision not to offer supernatural powers in the prequel was intentional. As Before the Storm’s lead writer Zak Garris explains, the team felt that the recall and time-travel abilities are integrally tied into the Max’s character and personality, and while there were discussions about giving Chloe powers more suited to her temperament, the decision was ultimately to preserve the established canon from the first game.
“The most important, most compelling aspects of Life is Strange wasn’t the time travel,” says Garris. “It was the story’s willingness to take its time, to focus on authentic and relatable characters dealing with real world issues.”
It’s certainly an interesting move, favoring story and consistency over a core gameplay mechanic. There’s an argument to be made that the new system adds a certain weight to decisions, given that there’s no way to immediately change those choices. That said, players will be able to go back and replay different branches of the story, and Garris encourages those looking to delve deeper into the world to do so.
Given that the story is getting even more of an emphasis this time around, it’s doubly important that Before the Storm delivers. Barring the occasional snippet of awkward dialogue, the demo met expectations. Suffice to say that if you enjoyed the teenage drama of the first game, you’ll have a lot to look forward to in Before the Storm.
Despite the fact that Before the Storm is a prequel, Deck Nine is still planning on offering multiple endings to the game, intentionally setting it far enough back in the series’s chronology to a point where “fans of the first season will be familiar with many of the elements of Before the Storm, but they will not know how it ends.”
Life is Strange: Before the Storm seems to be giving fans of the series what they want, emphasizing the narrative and complicated, interconnected choices that were so popular in the first game. We’ll find out if it works well enough without time-travel powers when the first of three episodes are released on August 31st.