Life is Strange: Before the Storm - Episode One
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Developer: Deck Nine
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Prequels are often dismissed as pointless, because ultimately they are. For many that's enough to discredit them entirely, but all stories can be of worth no matter what. Just because Star Wars: Rogue One told a story that didn't need to be told, doesn't mean it wasn't a fun film.
Dontnod Entertainment told such a complete story with the first season of Life is Strange that continuing the story of Max and Chloe seems unnecessary, but delving into the history of one of those characters needn't be.
Developed by Deck Nine, Before the Storm does exactly this, taking players back three years before the events of season one to tell a new story about rebellious teen Chloe Price and the relationship that changed her life.
Chloe is a very different protagonist to Max. Where the latter was something of a blank slate allowing players to shape her personality through the choices they made, the former is more set in stone as this angry, defiant and grieving teenager.
Where Max's decisions informed a broad sense of who she was, Chloe's are defined by a push and pull between the deep sadness she feels for her dead father, which is fuelling her hostility, and the decent, dorky person her act belies.
A supernatural element was fundamental to the last season, allowing players to rewind time and see how Max's decisions would immediately pan out before deciding which to choose. That gameplay hook couldn't return in Before the Storm, so Deck Nine has conjured a new dialogue system specifically for Chloe.
The Backtalk system becomes available at set times, allowing Chloe to use her sense of humour and quick wit to argue and insult her way to getting what she wants. Early on this means blagging her way into a secretive gig, later it's while arguing with her mum's boyfriend.
It's a perfect fit for a character who goes out of her way to make herself unlikeable and lashes out at near-enough everyone. It might be why some people on our side of the screen don't like Chloe much, but this first episode gives her ample opportunities to open up, or at least let her guard down.
This mostly happens with Rachel Amber, and it's the pair's relationship that will be at the heart of this new series. They have chemistry straight away, and their early meetings are charming with a hint of awkwardness and tentativeness as these two young people form their bond.
Rachel was important to season one but as a figure rather than a character. Her disappearance sets into motion the events of that story, but this story won't deal directly with any of that. Instead it'll give Rachel depth and in turn offer a better understanding of Chloe as she becomes the person we know her to be.
The episode is anchored by two great lead performances in these roles. Kylie Brown plays Rachel, the most popular girl in school who may not want to be, with mystique and charisma, but she's just as guarded as Chloe, whose role has been inherited by Rhianna DeVries.
Ashly Burch made the character with her performance, but couldn't return due to a strike. In her place DeVries does well, giving an instantly familiar performance. She plays Chloe with less of the confidence fans are accustomed to however, which is both appropriate for her younger age and helps the actor define her own take on the character.
If you didn't know Chloe was being portrayed by a different actor, you'd be hard pressed to tell however. Likewise, Deck Nine does such a good job of capturing the feel of Life is Strange that, without prior knowledge, fans would be forgiven for thinking this was a Dontnod joint.
The developer faithfully recreates the visual aesthetic and tone of the first season, and that's the right move. Before the Storm needs to fit with what came before and not trample what it was for sake of a developer marking its territory. Where Deck Nine must leave an impression however, is in terms of the story it tells.
This rests on the depiction of Chloe and Rachel, and episode one gives this three-episode series a great start. The shorter arc means the premiere is in a bit of a rush to establish Chloe and Rachel, but by the time the credits roll the relationship and understanding between them works.
Zak Garriss' script suffers from the same corny teen-speak as the original at times, but when the characters are portrayed as real people rather than a 30-something's idea of a teenager, the script shines. There are laughs to be had elsewhere, but when characters open up we see Before the Storm at its very best.
Dontnod's first season of Life is Strange is a wonderful work, and one of the finest episodic adventure games of its kind. That's a lot to live up to, but Deck Nine does a top job recreating what fans love about the series while setting up a new story to be told about a pair of young women bound by new, exciting feelings and a shared distrust of the world around them.