Life is Strange didn’t need a prequel. Dontnod Entertainment’s time-traveling teen drama was a breakout hit when it launched in 2015, but the developer has been clear that it did not want to return to the story of Max Caulfield and Chloe Price. And so, Life is Strange: Before the Storm — a three-episode arc focusing on a younger Chloe — felt unnecessary.
But Colorado-based developer Deck Nine’s take on Dontnod’s world is anything but disingenuous. It’s not a return to form for the series, either. Instead, it’s a celebration of the fandom Life is Strange has inspired.
Before the Storm is set three years prior to the events of Life is Strange. Max Caulfield — the time-rewinding heroine of the first game — is an absent figure in Chloe’s life. She appears only in texts and unsent letters. Chloe, still grieving the death of her father, is as uncouth and rebellious as ever. She sneaks into concerts and mouths off to authority figures, eventually befriending a popular classmate by the name of Rachel Amber. Episode 1 of Before the Storm, “Awake,” treats burgeoning relationship between these two as its focal point. It lays the tracks for the foundational mystery that drives Life is Strange — a story in which Rachel has gone missing with no clues to her whereabouts.
The first episode is slow to start. Its heavy-handed spotlight on Chloe’s relationship with her mom, Joyce, and Joyce’s new boyfriend, feels like a redundant recap of the first season. It’s an introduction to their dynamic for new players and a reminder for those returning, but nothing about Chloe’s home life feels especially novel for a teenager. The series’s rewinding powers have been replaced with a far more appropriate option for Chloe, a “Backtalk” conversation mode that feels more authentic to her character. Players can choose to verbally spar by rapidly selecting comebacks. This mode appears just enough to not overstay its welcome, and adds a small challenge for players trying to get their way in sticky situations.
Deck Nine effectively captures the spirit of Life is Strange with some notable improvements. The dialogue can still be awkward at times, but it feels more in-line with the clunky nature of teenagers themselves. (Even Chloe’s signature “hella” is explained in a way that makes it credible as a catchphrase.) And one-off lines to pop culture staples like Blade Runner or Lord of the Rings add a distinctly teenage flavor that the first season sometimes lacked. There’s even an entire D&D sequence players can participate in, if they so choose.
Like its source material, Before the Storm is strongest when it explores the relationships between its young heroines. Chloe and Rachel have instant chemistry. The game doesn’t dance around potential romance, leaving fans to guess, like Life is Strange did. It’s direct. It makes Chloe and Rachel’s immediate trust and affection for one another not just convincing, but exciting. Rachel is a perfect complement to Chloe’s headstrong and crass nature: charming but unpredictable, collected but with a wild streak. Players may have control of Chloe, but Rachel is the real star of this story. The impulsive nature that makes her fun and engaging also makes her seem destined for tragedy, a step that foreshadows her eventual disappearance.
Deck Nine understands what made Dontnod’s story so exciting, and it delivers on that experience with an eye on the series’s biggest supporters. Life is Strange emphasized choice and consequence, but its real strength was its focus on the relationship between Max and Chloe, and the dreamy, nostalgia-drenched world it introduced. Life is Strange: Before the Storm hits those same notes in exactly the right ways. The way Deck Nine celebrates the budding romance between Chloe and Rachel is so clear-cut that it feels revelatory. It’s an excessive game at times, but it’s done in a way that feels affectionate. It’s fan art in motion.
The first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.