Time travel is for posers. Hear me out. In the original Life is Strange, you played as Max, a sensitive photography student with the power to travel back in time. With her powers, she unraveled a mystery around a missing person case while trying to please everyone in the process. The result was like taking a Telltale adventure game and shoving it into a VCR. With a magic rewind button you could replay conversations over and over until everyone was as happy as possible—a tall, often impossible order.
In Before the Storm, an episodic prequel series to Life is Strange starting August 31, you play as Max’s rebellious childhood friend Chloe—and she can’t alter time. While the system is what initially made Life is Strange stand out from similar episodic story-focused adventures (think Telltale’s games), tumbling through Chloe’s unstable life drunk, high, and angry, without looking back feels appropriate to a teen who is very often drunk, high, and angry. It may be a surprising omission, but I didn’t miss it much. Chloe’s the type to make decisions she’ll regret and roll with (or hand out) the punches anyway.
Max is on the left, a pensive, insecure art student. Chloe's pictured right, a brash punk looking for purpose. They make a good duo.
I’d know, because during a 10-minute hands-on preview, I managed to steal money, smoke a ‘J’ (that’s weed, dad), drink beer, mosh, and get into a fight. While Max appeals to teens with a pastel collection, Chloe will please the teens-with-tats-and-shitty-stepfathers demographic. With the same stilted writing and offbeat interpretation of Pacific Northwest youth culture, Life is Strange’s quirks will be harder to ignore this time around. (“Can't wait to get in there and thrash!”, says Chloe out loud to no one) But for people like me, Before the Storm has potential to cut closer to our experiences of growing up and become the story we were more interested in from the start.
My demo opens with Chloe out on the town—the town being a remote, repurposed barn somewhere in the iconic Pacific Northwest pines. The shack is host to a rock show, crowded with unsavory, severe people wearing black band tees and sporting an assortment of piercings and spiked accessories. It’s like looking at the Nirvana merch section at a modern Hot Topic through dirty stained glass—an uncanny reflection of modern youth as depicted by a relatively Big Game Studio. Men with bad haircuts and fixed grimaces knock back beers and mime conversation. Laughable graffiti and stickers plaster the walls and countertops, one reads—brace yourself—”HARD F**K CORE”, asterisks and all. But I get the intent: poor, disaffected youth and their loud outlets.
I direct Chloe over to a sawblade hanging from a far wall, which we deface with a big swirling eye as a listless gesture of solidarity. It’s the kind of doodle Max would’ve kept on a trapper keeper, away from scrutiny. Why she’s there isn’t exactly clear, but I enjoy playing as Chloe. Despite Life is Strange’s tendency to be on-the-nose with characterization, she’s easy to identify with, a reminder of my Modest Mouse (the early stuff, obviously) and mullet years. I’m still sorry, dad.
So I lean into the role. A man tries to sell Chloe a band t-shirt we can’t afford from the back of his car, parked on a steep embankment. While the fool isn’t looking, we release his parking brake, watch his car crash into another, and with the merchant distracted we take a shirt. But his earnings for the evening are sitting right there too, and coming by cash as a teen isn’t easy, so, given the option, we steal that too. ‘This action will have consequences’, fades in at the top of the screen, but who cares? We bring the money to Frank, a drug dealer you might recognize from the original game, and he gives us that good-good, the power salad, yes, I’m talking about weed. Chloe lights up and Frank, like the other men in the room, returns to hardening his face and swigging a cheap beer.
With Chloe 'lit af', it’s time to mosh. I direct her to the next room where the band is playing, but in navigating the thick crowd, we bump into some grumpy men drinking beer, spilling it onto one’s shirt. It’s a damn shame, really, but a forgivable party foul on the fringes of mosh territory. Still, the guy isn’t happy and doesn’t let Chloe by. I choose the rudest responses possible, but we’re forced back into the bar area anyway. No worries though: I notice some stairs in the back of the room and take Chloe up them to a loft with a clear view of the band and pit below. It’s a perfect place for her to unwind, above it all and away from angry beer men, so she thrashes.
But, as angry beer men do, the angry beer men show up, angry about beer. Chloe’s freedom is interrupted, and I get the option to de-escalate or insult the boys. I don’t get the impression Chloe would back down now, so we insult them further, and without the ability to rewind time, I want to see how much trouble Before the Storm allows you to get into. “Limpdick asshole” she calls him, which prompts one beer man to bust his empty bottle open and hold it menacingly. Well, damn.
Suddenly, from behind them, Rachel shows up and confronts the beer men. Yes, that Rachel, the missing woman from the original game who Chloe is completely busted up about. This is how they meet, men waving around broken bottles between them. I get the option to run or fight, so I choose the Chloe option and attack. A short scuffle ensues, Rachel weans the beer men off their beer agenda by hitting one in the face with a beer bottle, and they scramble downstairs to the crowd below and dance. I get the impression losing her will be hard, and knowing what happens to her, I’m already a bit broken up. Before the Storm may not be a necessary story, but has potential to be a good one. But if they drop the ball with Rachel’s characterization, explaining Chloe’s blue-hair origins, or retcon events from the first game with reckless abandon, Before the Storm could very well diminish the original Life is Strange.
In a short video showing how events from the following morning could pan out, I watch a hungover Chloe wake to No Below by Speedy Ortiz and pick out a t-shirt for the day, the one stolen from the night prior an option among them. She trundles downstairs and talks to her mom, who lightly chastises her about being nicer to David, the soon-to-be stepfather and questionable school security guard from the original series.
In a short conversation with the man himself, Chloe has the choice—surprise—to be rude or just less than rude, their conversation climaxing in one of the greatest moral choices I’ve seen in a game: whether or not to leave David’s proposed fistbump hanging. It’s a scene that colors between the hard lines, detailing what was already heavily implied in the first game. So far, none of it feels revelatory and none of it plays or feels different from the first game, but if Before the Storm avoids feeling like a total parody of teenage fury, getting to know Chloe better can’t hurt.