Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a third-person episodic adventure available from retail stores and for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4. The episodic narrative of Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a prequel developed by Deck Nine to Dontnod Entertainment’s five episode award-winning season. Life is Strange was critically acclaimed from the outset; winning such awards as New Game IP on consoles or PC and Use of Narrative at Develop Industry Excellence Awards; Best Adventure and Best Original Game at Global Game Awards; and Games for Impact at The Game Awards 2015. Can Deck Nine retain the powerful and dependant nature of Dontnod Entertainment’s female characters and their growth throughout the duration of the season, while simultaneously keeping the gameplay interesting without Max Caulfield’s powers?
Given that Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a prequel to Life is Strange; Before the Storm focuses on Chloe Price’s relationship with Rachel Amber who was the character that was frequently mentioned but never seen or interacted with throughout Life is Strange, therefore immediately creating a hook to the story that is intriguing, despite not having Max’s powers to fall back on.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s main story is two episodes shorter than that of the original season with three main episodes in which the player controls a rebellious Chloe Price. However, there is also a separate bonus episode titled Farewell were the player guides a young Max Caulfield through the decision of how she will break the news to her best friend Chloe that Max will be moving away from Arcadia Bay with her parents to Seattle and that they may never see each other at least for the foreseeable future. Farewell is exclusive to the Deluxe Edition at retail or digitally that also features a mixtape zen mode allowing the player to choose their preference of songs in order to create a playlist from within the soundtrack to be played during cinematic scenes, alongside three outfits to further customise Chloe’s look. The digital deluxe edition is priced at £19.99, although if you had previously purchased the season, then a deluxe edition upgrade can be purchased digitally for £7.99. Meanwhile, the retail release of the deluxe edition has a recommended price of around £29.99 in which it features everything contained within the digital deluxe edition, alongside a soundtrack CD and an artbook including artwork from Life is Strange: Before the Storm; complimented by the first episode of the original season of Life is Strange as a preview of that season for players who have not had the opportunity to experience it.
Every chosen line of dialogue and approach to a situation or character reflects in moral choices made by the player that is capable of guiding Chloe’s journey towards multiple endings; much in the same style as the original season’s unfolding narrative and progressive behavioural patterns of each character’s path throughout the story.
Before the Storm’s character design shows younger versions of characters from Life is Strange such as Chloe Price, Victoria Chase, Nathan Prescott, Principal Ray Wells and more besides. Character dialogue plays an even more important role in the storytelling of Before the Storm as it does not possess Max’s abilities to punctuate the dialogue; therefore it is refreshing to see such gameplay elements as backtalk in which Chloe has to tiptoe around or argue her way to overcoming a negative scenario over the course of multiple dialogue interactions by using their words against them to help win the argument such as when confronting bullies. Meanwhile, a real standout dialogue sequence is contained within the first episode in which the player can choose for Chloe to participate in a tabletop board game with a couple of her friends when Chloe meets them outside Blackwell Academy to pick up a copy of Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut; as choosing to participate with her friends is accompanied by hilarious reactions to how the game gradually unfolds depending upon the choices that are made for each move.
Before the Storm’s environment design is varied in its own right, although it has a lot of the environments situated around Arcadia Bay seen throughout the original season such as the train tracks, Chloe’s house, the exterior and interior of Blackwell Academy, the nature reserve park and junkyard. However, there is also the introduction of Rachel Amber’s house, while some environments that were rundown in Life is Strange are actually quite different including the mill showcasing a rock concert.
Whereas each episode of Life is Strange had 10 optional photo locations for Max to hone her photography skills as a similar approach to that of collectibles; there are 10 graffiti locations situated throughout Arcadia Bay per episode for Chloe to practice her much more rebellious art form in comparison to Max’s photography of wonderful squirrels. The optional graffiti locations are a positive design choice as it encourages a greater amount of exploration, but it is made even better by how you can return to any area of the episode in search of the optional graffiti location you may have missed without it interfering with your previously chosen decisions by playing in the unlockable collector mode after completing the episode.
Given the amount of interest upon the announcement of Life is Strange for a Vita port; it is disappointing to not see a Vita port for either the original season or Before the Storm, especially when considering that Life is Strange has already been ported to iOS and Android, although remote play is a consolation. Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s remote play performance is excellent as the graphics, audio and general performance are all at the same level of quality as the PS4 version. However, other than Chloe’s journal being naturally re-mapped from the DualShock 4 controller’s touch pad to the Vita’s touch screen; none of the controls have been re-mapped accordingly as the remote play control scheme involves holding the top left of the rear touch pad to view your current objective, holding the top right of the rear touch pad to move faster and tapping the bottom right of the rear touch pad to re-centre the camera. However, viewing your current objective and moving faster would have been better suited to L and R respectively that actually have nothing mapped to either of them; although the remote play control scheme does not detract from Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s very engaging remote play experience.
The controls are well mapped to the DualShock 4 controller with the control scheme consisting of pressing triangle, O, X or square to respond during conversations or perform contextual actions; holding L2 to view your current objective; holding R2 to move faster; pressing R3 to re-centre the positioning of the camera; changing the direction of the left analogue stick to move Chloe; changing the direction of the right analogue stick to move the camera; pressing the share button takes you to the share feature menu; and pressing the options button to display the pause menu. Tapping the touch pad displays Chloe’s journal, while the light bar implementation remains a bright shade of yellow throughout gameplay and menus, alongside vibration that is scattered throughout the game for sudden unexpected instances such as loud noises.
Graphically, Before the Storm does not have the same stylistically striking special effects of rewinding time, overlapping screen particles, double exposure and post-processing; however the cel-shaded visuals, character models, environments and performance is as good as ever. A post-launch update introduced PS4 Pro support; offering upscaled 4K output via a high resolution mode, although there is no HDR support which could have made the skies, foliage and lighting even better.
The presentation of the game is mostly solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the main menu, episodes menu, settings menus, extras menu and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad. Menu backgrounds showcase beautiful, picturesque scenery as the foliage sways gently in the breeze, while a flock of birds fly in the sky and the sun shines upon the trees, although the menu background changes for each episode.
Every character in the original season of Life is Strange has been re-cast within the three main episodes in favour of fresher actors and actresses due to each character needing to sound a younger version of their former selves. Rhianna DeVries delivers an amazing performance in replacing Ashly Burch as the voice of Chloe Price, although Ashly Burch has put some of her spare time outside of voicing Horizon: Zero Dawn’s lead character Alloy and numerous other characters in 2017 into helping to retain the feeling of Chloe’s dialogue and mannerisms by rather positively assisting the writing team that lends further authenticity to the younger Chloe Price. Meanwhile, Kylie Brown produces an equally immense performance as Rachel Amber and the entire cast voice each character with such accuracy and precision as though they had the beginnings of their behaviour and mannerisms on the road towards their later selves from the original season of Life is Strange. Hannah Telle and Ashly Burch reprise their roles as Max Caulfield and Chloe Price respectively in the Farewell bonus episode.
Sound effects include Chloe as well as other characters walking, running and generally interacting with their surroundings and nearby people complimented by ambience such as birds tweeting, a gentle breeze and the reaction of people around Chloe as they go about their everyday lives. An amazing soundtrack consists of hand picked indie music from rock to melodic acoustic ballads which perfectly set the tone and atmosphere of the scenes they accompany from artists such as Daughter, Mike Reagan, Wolf Alice and more besides which can be heard during scenes through the player’s playlist constructed from the extensive soundtrack. There is no DualShock 4 speaker implementation which is surprising as it could have produced voice-overs, sound effects, ambience or music to provide a further layer of audio.
The trophy list includes 35 trophies with 15 bronze trophies, 15 silver trophies, 4 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. The vast majority of the trophies involve attempting to find and spray the optional graffiti locations with 5 bronze trophies and 5 silver trophies obtainable for each of the three main episodes, while further trophies are earned for naturally playing each of the three main episodes until completion of the direct prequel story with no trophies separately available for the Farewell bonus episode. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 10 to 15 hours to platinum the trophy list.
There are no difficulty levels, but there is a rather fitting difficulty curve as there are plenty of puzzles to solve such as finding the required tool to prise open a view finder to get Rachel’s quarter back in order to use the working viewfinder. There will most probably be a few puzzles that may not be initially obvious in regards to what is needed in order to solve them, but with some experimentation; you will work out the requirements of the puzzles within a few minutes.
There are no online leaderboards and no local or online multiplayer, although you would not really expect a multiplayer component in something that is as story and character driven as Life is Strange: Before the Storm. However, despite there being no online leaderboards; there is a statistical analysis of the decisions that you have made throughout the duration of each episode in comparison to the decisions that have been made on a global scale and by your friends who have played that particular episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm which is a positive design choice in the sense that it provides you with an in depth look at if you have made the correct or incorrect decision in comparison to other players. Every decision within the each episode is clearly defined in the statistical analysis and it is incredibly interesting to see which percentage of players made the same decisions as you and to also see the percentage of players that chose to go in an opposite direction.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s replayability stems from being able to guide the story through Chloe’s approach and reactions to characters and scenarios that occur through her dialogue that paves the way for alternative endings, while the collector mode allows the player to return to any scene within each episode in an attempt to find the graffiti locations and in doing so, encouraging further exploration of Arcadia Bay without affecting your previously made decisions, alongside the bonus episode titled Farewell that is a rather fitting nod to the fans of Max’s and Chloe’s relationship in the original season of Life is Strange.
- Title: Life is Strange: Before the Storm
- Developer: Deck Nine (Contributions in character and environment design from Dontnod Entertainment’s original Life is Strange season)
- Publisher: Square Enix
- System: PS4
- Format: Retail/PSN Download
- Cross-Buy: No
- Cross-Play: No
- Players: 1 (Online Moral Choice Comparisons)
- Hard Drive Space Required: 24.63GB (Version 1.05)