Initial Release Date: 31st August 2017
“How do I want to express my teenage angst today?”
With the overwhelming success of Life is Strange back in 2015, it’s not surprising that a sequel would be well-received by fans. What is surprising, however, is that the original developers, Dontnod Entertainment, have seemingly handed over the reigns to Deck Nine to produce the prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Given how unique and captivating the original was these are some huge shoes to fill. Like with the first game, many of the decisions you make have far-reaching consequences. However, you aren’t able to mess with time anymore, so you must make those decisions wisely. Like the first, it is a chapter-based game with each chapter being released separately. Chapter One is called Awake and is available on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.
LiS:BtS follows the story of Chloe, Max’s blue-haired best friend from the first game. You will get a closer look into her life in Arcadia Bay while Max is living in Seattle and they have lost touch. Whether it’s sneaking out to go to a concert, adding witty graffiti in any blank space, or skipping class, Chloe is the very definition of a teenage rebel. It’s very liberating to play a character who does all the things you wanted to do as a disillusioned teen but couldn’t! Chloe’s journal also gives you even more insight into her current state as you read her unsent letters to Max. You have the choice to play her in the most aggressive way possible, a way more sympathetic to the other people around her, or a combination of the two. While it might be satisfying to yell at the school principal, is it really the wisest course of action? Only you can decide.
One of the biggest drawbacks to LiS:BtS is the control system. For a game designed with looking around at various objects and people in mind, the camera control is frankly horrible. You are able to change it, but that really only takes you between ‘so slow it would be faster to physically walk around for a better perspective’ and ‘so fast if Chloe moved like that in real life she’d get whiplash’. This makes it easy to miss things at times, and is extremely frustrating. It also appears to be impossible for Chloe to walk in a straight line as she tends to veer off in a diagonal direction unless you manage to position the camera perfectly. As amusing as it is to watch Chloe walk around the school campus like a drunk with vertigo, it makes getting anywhere take twice as long and gets nauseating fast.
Many people have taken issue with the Unity engine in the past, some even going so far as to refuse to buy any game made using it. However, Awake shows us that Unity can produce amazing results. The scenery is truly breathtaking, and captures Oregon’s natural beauty well. If you ignore the awkwardly-rendered squirrels, about which the less said the better, the character models are excellent. Chloe and Rachel have the perfectly slouchy teenage amble down, while the adults are more rigid and stiff. This is a really easy way to demonstrate the difference between the characters without being patronisingly obvious about it. Deck Nine have utilised the Unity engine in the best way possible to give the game a distinct style, without losing animation quality. (But honestly, squirrels are not their forte…)
Instead of time travel, which is definitively Max’s forte, Chloe has a really fun “Backtalk” ability. Whenever you get into a tight spot you have the option to “Backtalk” and select options relevant to your opponent’s lines to rebuff them and get them to do what you want. Being timed does add a small amount of challenge to the ability, but it is still fairly easy to beat most of the time. It is so satisfying though, especially when arguing with annoying grown-ups. Living out your aggressive teenage dreams through Chloe is just so much fun. Thankfully there is a Collectible Mode at the end of the game, which allows you to not only go back and find any graffiti spots you missed, but also to explore other dialogue options without changing your overall game outcome. This is a much better way of giving the game replayability, and is something Telltale Games and other multi-path developers should explore!
With a grungy, often melancholy soundtrack that reaches deep within you to your own teenage angst, Before the Storm sets the mood of every scene perfectly. Mixtape mode, which is unlocked at the end of the game, allows you to create a playlist of your favourite songs from the game too. The developers have artfully mixed moments that will make you laugh out loud with moments that rip out your heart and stomp all over it. By the end of the game you are definitely desperate for more. Whether you’re playing D&D with the nerds or venting heartbroken rage, every moment is filled with emotion. Is it as good as the original? Only time and the next two episodes will truly tell, but for a first chapter it’s definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of the first game.
VERDICT: 8 out of 10
We were provided a copy of the game by Square Enix for review purposes on PS4.