At E3 we had the chance to take a closer look at Square Enix’s upcoming narrative-driven game, Life is Strange: Before the Storm.
The 30-minute demo was presented by Chris Floyd, co-game director at developer Deck Nine Games, and Toby Palm, community manager for the Life is Strange IP.
The announcement of Life is Strange: Before the Storm came as something of a surprise. A sequel to the first game was already known to be in development by original developer Dontnod Entertainment, so news of a prequel from another studio understandably gave some fans cause for concern.
According to Deck Nine the project has been given the blessing of the first game’s producer, Luc Baghadoust, and its writer, Christian Devine.
Where Life is Strange 2 is tipped to focus on an entirely new cast of characters, Before the Storm explores the back story of Chloe Price. The three episode adventure is set three years before the original game and according to Floyd, was developed in direct response to fans keen to know more about the past of its characters.
Before the Storm finds Chloe Price – now played by now played by Rihanna DeVries and not original actress Ashly Burch, due to the SAG AFTRA strikes – abandoned and alone in the town of Arcadia Bay. Still recovering after the death her father two years prior, and with best friend Max Caulfield away, the story begins with Chloe at a crossroads in her life, with bridges burned both at home and in school.
The prequel eschews the supernatural and time travel elements of the the first game, and instead focusses on the friendship between Chloe and Rachel Amber. Rachel, says Floyd, is the opposite of Chloe; the most popular girl at school, successful, beloved by all. And she will, of course, go on to play a pivotal role in Life is Strange.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm brings back the familiar, choice-led gameplay, and in our E3 demo Floyd and Palm crowd-sourced decisions from the small group of press attendees. This is an ad-hoc version of Telltale’s Crowd Play mechanic, but as Tom and his wife will attest, playing these narrative adventure games by committee – as a form of Heath Robinson local co-op – is absolutely the best way to enjoy them.
The first scene of our demo sees Chloe at an illegal underground concert, held in an abandoned lumber mill outside of Arcadia Bay. The mill is one of several brand new settings for game, but Floyd also promises the return of more familiar locations.
It’s a early – and seemingly inconsequential – scene, but a good example demonstrating how the various decision points can play out. The options range from the small – should you pet that mangy-looking dog – to the significant, like wrecking the car of a local t-shirt dealer and stealing his takings to buy drugs. This is a video game, after all, so it’s best to cater to sociopathic tendencies.
At major decision points the game helpfully displays a dialog box indicating that it’s a moment of consequence – similar to the timer-free decisions in Telltale’s games – to let you know that something tectonic is happening, even if the ramifications don’t seem apparent at the time.
Before the Storm mixes up the series’ gameplay mechanics. The first game’s emphasis on photography has been replaced by something more in keeping with Chloe’s troubled emotional state: graffiti tagging. At various locations Chloe can tag the environment with a variety of symbols and phrases. It wasn’t obvious from the demo if these would play a larger role within the game, over and above adding a little personalisation to the world.
As with the first game there are plenty of incidental details that add colour and scope to the world, be it a headline on a paper, a brief interaction with another NPC, or the beautiful magic hour lighting we saw in one outdoor scene.
In a latter part of our the demo Chloe faces off against a grouchy ne’er-do-well. Faced with the choice of attacking or running from the antagonist, our E3 crew shouts “Attack! Attack!” in unison (there are no Paragons in this room, evidently). The ensuing scene is at once clumsy and awkward, yet exciting. Saved in the nick of time by Rachel, the two escape as the concert’s music swells in volume, and the camera focuses on the disgruntled man. It’s an example of a subtle directional touch that succeeds in making a small encounter feel meaningful, and reassures us that the series is in safe hands.
With the supernatural and time travel elements removed, Life is Strange Before the Storm will almost certainly become even more of a character piece. The choices and decision might not be quite so ‘epic’, but in this short demo they feel just as important. Hopefully the final game will shape the characters of Chloe and Rachel in a way that complements rather distracts from the original game.
That’s certainly what the team at Deck Nine intend, with Floyd promising that the game will see Chloe complete a journey that will result in her becoming the beanie wearing character loved by so many. And yes, we may even learn how she gets her get blue hair.
Life is Strange Before the Storm Episode one will be released on August 31 Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.