E3 2017: Why Life is Strange: Before the Storm's decisions feel more consequential
Life is Strange: Before the Storm may be missing key mechanics from the original game, but that doesn't mean the overall story will be diminished. Walking out of the E3 2017 demo, it feels like the decisions will be far more challenging this time around.
The original Life is Strange from Dontnod Entertainment was a tale about growing up and the various dangers that can surface over the course of school life. It was a tale of rediscovering friendship, coping with loss, and dealt with heavy, mature themes. It was a pleasant surprise and a sublime storytelling experience (mostly, anyway), but it's hard to lie. There was something about the idea of a prequel that didn't sound right.
The original Life is Strange featured a unique rewind mechanic, crazy time powers, and the looming threat of disaster from unknown causes. The idea of setting a tale in this universe before any of that was established doesn't sound particularly appealing on paper. But after sitting in on a video demo at E3 2017, Shacknews quickly learned that new developers Deck Nine come into this project as full fans of the series and seek to add a tale that capably supplements Dontnod's 2015 effort.
Before the Storm sees players step into the shoes of a 16-year-old Chloe Price. If the original game introduced players to a broken character, Before the Storm shows this character in the process of unraveling. Chloe is fresh off her father's death and fresh off losing best friend Max Caulfield, who moved away.
Chloe seeks to find solace through partying and ditching school. The demo opened up with Chloe attending an underground concert at a local Arcadia Bay sawmill, adding to Deck Nine's desire to play up on the series' penchant for using indie music. The studio notes that they sought out fresh faces to help provide the soundtrack for the game's three episodes.
The interface for interacting with objects looks refreshingly familiar, as do the consequential choices. Chloe's first such moment comes when she meets a shirt vendor selling out of the trunk of his car. The guy attempts to gouge her for a shirt, so she starts pondering how to steal one, instead. An option pops up to release the parking brake on his car, so Chloe clandestinely releases it and sends the car plunging down a shallow ditch. Chloe can then take a shirt, but she also finds a loose $200. The option arises to steal it or leave it. While the rewind mechanic is gone, the spectre of heavy consequences from making certain decisions remains. Chloe decides to steal the money and move along.
Next up, it's time to meet a familiar face: Frank the drug dealer. As Chloe looks to a joint, Frank demands the money she owes him first. A new dialogue option pops up in which Chloe can use the money she just stole to pay Frank. Again, this action will have consequences later in the episode and the game makes sure to communicate that. There will also be key choices, accompanied by the familiar slow-motion music stinger, laid throughout each episode. One example sees Chloe cornered by a drunk concertgoer that gets in her face over a spilled beer. She opts to attack him, but it leads to her getting punched in the face by his friend before she can escape with Rachel Amber, who had just arrived on the scene.
Speaking of Rachel, she's the other main draw of this prequel. Before the Storm promises to get into Chloe and Rachel's friendship and explore how the two were so close, a key plot point of the original game. Rachel comes with her own baggage, as it's established that she's a popular girl in school, but needs her own escape from reality. Discovering why Rachel is in the state that she's in will become one of the major running storylines of the game's three episodes.
While Before the Storm feels like more Life is Strange, Deck Nine has enough interesting ideas to help their prequel stand out from Dontnod's original. The loss of the rewind mechanic hurts, but at the same time, it's the same level of consequence-based decision making. Only this time, the stakes feel higher and more permanent. I walked out of this presentation relieved of any skepticism and came out intrigued as to where this story is headed.
Players can return to Arcadia Bay when Life is Strange: Before the Storm hits PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 on August 31.