Episode 1: Awake
By Richard Jewell
Reviewed on Xbox One
Released on August 31st, 2017 on Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4
Developer: Deck Nine Publisher: Square Enix
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is the prequel of the BAFTA Award-winning episodic adventure Life is Strange by developer Dontnod. This time around, however, the focal point is on Max Caulfield’s punk-rock pal Chloe Price. This means no more time rewinding abilities: players must rely on Chloe’s razor-sharp wit and barbed tongue to help her through various situations. The prequel is made up of three episodes and a special “Farewell” bonus episode where you get to play as Max one final time.
Since Dontnod is busy working on a proper sequel to the first season of Life is Strange, development of Before the Storm was put in the hands of Colorado-based studio Deck Nine. Now, this was a major point of concern for me going in, as putting a highly acclaimed IP into the hands of a relatively unknown developer could be disastrous. Luckily, Deck Nine absolutely nailed it. You wouldn’t think it was from a completely different developer just by playing through it, but they understand what makes Life is Strange special, what makes it tick. Much like the original, Before the Storm tackles mature, true to life social themes such as infidelity, questioning one’s own sexuality, and the effects that losing a parent can have on a teen.
Taking place three years before the original, episode 1: Awake puts you in the shoes of a 16-year-old Chloe. Her best friend Max has left Arcadia Bay and has stopped returning her messages. It has been some time after the death of Chloe’s father in a tragic car crash and her mother is getting on with her life and beginning a new relationship with David (If you haven’t played the first game, David is an ex-military man working security at Blackwell Academy and Chloe’s arch nemesis haha). Things aren’t going well for her, so naturally, she rebels. Truancy, pot-smoking, and illicit middle of nowhere punk rock parties are all par for the course. Through a twist of fate, she meets up with the ill-fated Rachel Amber: the missing girl that is the catalyst for the events of the first season of Life is Strange. Much like Laura Palmer from Twin Peaks, she is often talked about but never seen, so it’s pretty cool to get to know the girl behind the mystery. The game opens up with Chloe arriving at a clandestine party going down in an abandoned sawmill in the middle of the woods to see a popular rock band. After trying to go through the front door, Chloe is stopped by a bouncer.
This is where the special ‘Backtalk’ ability comes into play. Once Backtalk mode is entered, players have a limited amount of time to respond with one of Chloe’s caustic remarks. You need to pay close attention to what the character is saying to get hints on how you should respond to them. Failure can have different consequences, depending on the situation. Like its predecessor, Before the Storm is a narrative-driven game that is all about choice and consequence. Thanks to the huge success of Telltale Studio’s line of episodic games, I’m sure we’re all familiar with the concept by now. Even seemingly small choices the player makes can have unforeseen consequences. The effects could be immediate, or maybe you won’t even see the consequence until a later episode. But the important thing about these types of games is that players must feel that their choices have actual impact and meaning. Insofar as this episode, I’d say that they do a good job of this, though it may not be apparent until you do a few playthroughs to see how different choices affect the course of the episode.
There are also collectibles to be found in each chapter, this time in the form of graffiti. There are certain locations to be found that allow Chloe to tag up the spot with a choice of graffiti unique to each place. The journal system from season 1 makes a return, so you can check it out to get clever hints on where each piece is found. Each one is worth an achievement, not to mention the funny dialogue whenever she does her thing, so it is worthwhile to seek them out. And don’t fret about it too much, because once you finish the episode you unlock Completion Mode, which conveniently lists the chapters and how many graffiti are left to find in them. It allows you to play through the episode without messing up your save data and choices and allows you to skip dialogue, so hurray for that.
The sweet indie tunes were a big part of capturing all the feels in Life is Strange, so once again the soundtrack is made up of licensed and original tracks by various indie artists. This time around, however, the musical score was composed by a British indie folk band that goes by the name Daughter. They do a great job of syncing Chloe’s emotions and the soundtrack together, helping to express how Chloe is feeling through the use of music. Owners of the deluxe edition also get an exclusive ‘Mixtape Mode’ that allows them to put together a playlist of tracks from the game and listen to it while watching Chloe chill out on the bed, smoking it up.
Despite being developed by a whole new team of people, the first episode of Before the Storm is an excellent entry to the series and lives up to the high watermark left by the first season. Now that my fears have been assuaged I eagerly look forward to the rest of the episodes and the teenage misadventures of Chloe Price and Rachel Amber.
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review
Final Score: 9/10
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