Two years ago, Dontnod Entertainment debuted its now renowned graphic adventure franchise, "Life is Strange," over the course of a five-part episodic series. Following the story of Max Caulfield, a high-school photography student who discovers her supernatural time-bending abilities, the game follows events that unfold surrounding a large-scale conspiracy in the town of Blackwell.
While the series' creator is busy working on a full-fledged sequel, Deck Nine Games has taken the reigns for their first endeavor into the universe. The new prequel mini-series, "Life is Strange: Before the Storm," will expand the events that unfolded in the original, while also laying the foundations for the franchise going forward. After a brief hands-on with an opening section of prior to its late-August release, our hopes are high for our next adventure in Arcadia Bay.
Disclaimer: Minor spoilers for the first series of Life is Strange are present in this preview.
Unlike the main line of episodes, centered around Max Caulfield, Life is Strange: Before the Storm jumps back three years prior the first game's supernatural events. Focusing on the upbringing of Chloe – Max's best friend and companion, Before the Storm dives deeper into the issues suffered as a teenager, that eventually led to her rebellious punk-rocker persona.
Taking place only a couple of years after the death of Chloe's father, the key events that led to her downward spiral are now much fresher in her mind. Without the comfort of her closest companion, a new step-dad in her life and the struggles of adolescence, the game heavily drives home her development as a crucial character – an aspect which the original excelled at portraying.
More of the same, but that's a good thing
Our session kicked off with the footage initially debuted at E3 2017, following Chloe to an indie punk band concert, set inside an abandoned mill. Although brief, the demo sets up both characters and events to pursued in later scenes and establishing Chloe's current position in the world.
Right off the bat, it should be noted that Before the Storm unquestionably feels like Life is Strange. One of my major concerns going into the session was the revisions made over its predecessor, with an entirely new studio taking lead. And while changes can be seen on a surface level, the defining mechanics of the series have been maintained.
From what's been shown so far, it's clear that developing the world and more importantly, the characters inhabiting it, is still at the core of Before the Storm. With interactable objects and characters densely spread across the world, the game continues pushing players to explore every corner of its environments.
Deck Nine has a huge challenge ahead to build on such a cherished franchise, but even this early on, it's clearly leveraging the strengths of the first game. The approach to environment design is even strongly reminiscent of Dontnod's previous work, taking players down a linear route, with some choices along the way. Each segment of an episode is contained within its own isolated sandbox, and those who explore it are rewarded with a deeper presence in the world.
Setting players back three years not only eliminates the mechanics surrounding Max's time-bending powers but also their existence to drive the narrative. Instead, Before the Storm is shaping up to be a much more grounded experience, with fewer supernatural components surrounding its events. While mysteries can still be expected, the prequel builds on pre-established characters with even more depth – rather than kickstarting its own standalone narrative.
The removal of time powers also feeds into how you'll approach situations in Before the Storm – removing somewhat of a safeguard present the first game. With the ability to rewind time, Max had opportunities to reverse her decisions, based on consequences that unfolded. Putting players in the shoes of Chloe presents a fresh approach, through her much more reckless and inconsiderate judgment of her actions. Although there are supposedly some mechanics in place to back out of certain choices, decisions overall will carry significantly more weight than before.
Uncovering the past
Before the Storm also looks to answer several pre-existing questions, uncovering the circumstances which led to the events of the first five episodes. The tension between Chloe's family, her expulsion from Blackwell Academy and her bond with Rachel Amber are all unanswered questions in theuniverse, which should be explored through this next chapter.
If there's anything to take away from Before the Storm, it's simply that this is more Life is Strange – and that's all fans asked for. Back in 2015 critics praised its writing, gameplay and overall player immersion, and each of these values are still at the heart of this prequel. Building such a distinct and powerful world does pose certain risks, but Deck Nine appear to be laying the foundation for a strong second entry.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm kicks off on August 31, 2017, with the first episode in the three-part series. If like the first game, episodes should be several months apart, with the series concluding this fall. The game will also be offering enhancements for Microsoft's upcoming Xbox One X later down the line, assumedly via a post-launch update. Are you planning to pick up the first episode this month? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
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