Prequels are strange things. It’s like buying a book, reading the last page first and then ploughing through the book knowing what the ending is going to be. Yes there are interesting ways to tell a story from a different angle, and yes there are some good examples of it, like the new Planet Of The Apes movies for example. But the main problem is you know that the lead characters are not going to die.
So what happens if you change the lead, to instead see things focus on the best friend, filling in some of the gaps of that story at the same time? Well my friend, that’s what the new Life is Strange has done. But is it successful?
In this first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm you play the role of Max’s (from the original series) best friend, Chloe Price. Her father died two years earlier and her world has been turned upside down. She is failing at school, rebelling against everything, including her new potential stepfather, and at the start of the game is found trying to get into a gig of her favourite band, Firewalk. You see, there are no time travelling skills or mad storms from the previous series; it’s more a game about the drama and teenage anxieties than an apocalyptic event. Well so I gathered until right at the end of this episode at least, where something strange is shown. But I won’t say anything more about that as I don’t want to spoil anything else.
The gameplay is much the same as the last game in the franchise. You can explore the areas you find yourself in, just like a normal point and click. There are dialogue trees galore to be had with the characters you meet, and the decisions you make will have a lasting effect on the outcome of the game. Judging by the last game, and a few decisions in this episode, this really does have an effect on the game narrative choices. There is a new device that happens in the dialogue tree where Chloe can out sass another person to get through an area, or get something she wants. It plays like a sort of tug of war system where you get points for each successful sarcastic insult. It is all about you picking the best put down to that person, while riffing on what has just been said to you. It’s very simple but works extremely well and there is great fun to be had picking the perfect insult.
Throughout the first episode of Before the Storm there are other little delights to be had. In the old game you could find secrets by taking photographs of special things with Max. That’s gone now and instead Chloe will find special areas to hit with some witty graffiti tags. There’s a bit of the story that gives you the option of taking part in a D&D game at the school. I implore you don’t pass that up. The game is packed full of little innovative ideas and thoughts that divert from the main story or give you a nice little distraction.
The main story itself takes a while to get going though; it has a lovely exciting beginning at the rock concert, some good dream sequences and a fantastic ending to the episode. But there are moments and scenes that can be dull and full of not-so-interesting conversations. Now this is to do with the pacing issues, rather then the content, because the writing is still top notch. It just needs to move a lot faster then it’s doing, because it’s going to lose some of its audience.
The visuals of Life is Strange are still as sharp and pretty as last time. Arcadia bay looks superb, which makes me laugh because everyone keeps talking about how they can’t wait to leave. I think the looks department has moved up a grade from the last series, especially in terms of quality of the character animations. The design of the areas is neatly done with no frame issues or stuttering, which is so unusual for story episodic game nowadays.
With respect to the sound, well, it has always been something of excellence from the Life is Strange team. There’s a mix of indie songs and rock tracks that are masterfully selected and mix perfectly within the gameplay. Then you have the original score that is placed under the action and of course the skilled acting that dominates throughout. Like I said, there are pacing issues but I think that’s to do with the edit more then anything else.
Overall though and I have very much enjoyed journeying back to Arcadia Bay for another jaunt. Yes it has some serious pacing issues and the long conversations where you don’t seem to be doing much can grate. But the gameplay is solid, with some interesting extras and it still looks very pretty indeed. After the end of this episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, it made me excited about what is to come, and exactly where the season will go next.