While most people know San Diego Comic Con to be a haven of television and movie-related entertainment fandom, first-tier video games also have grown in presence at the convention. While hordes of fans crammed into the convention center waiting in line for panels, autographs or exclusive merchandise, we spent one morning a few blocks up the road at a private hotel room. There, members of the Square Enix PR team and Zak Garriss and David Hein from Deck Nine Games guided us through several exclusive sequences from the upcoming title, Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Garriss, the prequel’s lead writer, served as narrator and guided us on our choices and how they would impact the game, while Hein, one of the game’s producers, served as pilot navigating the various sequences.
As many fans likely already know, this episodic interactive narrative serves as a prequel to the events of the original Life is Strange game, and will not feature that title’s main character Max Caulfield. It all still takes place in the fictional Oregon town of Arcadia Bay and Max will be referenced, but the protagonist here will be another troubled high school student, Max’s best friend from early childhood, Chloe Price. The story takes place two years after Chloe’s father died. She’s feeling alienated from the world around her and is ready to start trouble for nearly any reason. This story follows her meeting and friendship with Rachel Amber, who fans of the first game will know was a major part of the storyline.
The first sequence we’re shown is at a neighborhood, unlicensed concert venue referred to as “The Mill.” Chloe is determined to see a band she loves Firewalk perform at the venue. This game does not include the rewind time mechanism that the first title did, instead Chloe is given numerous dialog choices at every step of the interactions. She talks her way into the venue quickly. As you control around the room, she has an encounter with a merch seller. Chloe isn’t wild about his demeanor and so we directed her to sabotage his car dropping it down the onramp parked on. As the merch dealer scrambles to find out what went wrong, she notices several hundred dollars of cash in his trunk. We decide to be nice and elect to leave the money instead of stealing it. She then comes in contact with local pot dealer Frank. He criticizes her apparel saying, “You’re trying too hard.” She tries to score off of him, but he quickly points out how she owes him a large sum of money after purchasing pot from him for over a year. (if we had stolen the merch dealer’s money we could’ve paid our debt to Frank here).
After running into a couple of punks on her way into the main venue space, she finally makes her way up to a balcony where she can enjoy the show without competing for floor space. The band’s song is actually surprisingly good. The developers on hand tell us the song used in this sequence is by a band called Pretty Vicious and is called, “Are You Ready?” As with the first Life is Strange, there will be a fleet of licensed songs and an original score, but for now, the team is keeping silent as to what other songs might be included. While on the balcony the punks return, and Chloe’s options for communicating with them vary. The branching dialog choices (a la Oxenfree or any Telltale title) vary between apologetic or confrontational. We try to be nice and apologetic but when things start to edge towards violent, we have Chloe let loose and let the two losers have it. They almost edge her off the balcony but it’s Rachel Amber who comes to her rescue. From there, they flee the concert together. Garriss points out how most decisions will have an impact on the relationship with the character throughout the game, but major decisions will provide a silver-y flash, slowing time to a crawl. This is to indicate the decision is pivotal and will greatly impact how things will play out in the game.
The next two sequences we are shown are without us being able to guide Chloe’s choices. They’re pre-rendered with decisions made already. The first features Chloe and Rachel cutting school, goofing off on a hilltop park. They start to play a game where they look through a coin-operated set of binoculars looking down on the park and try to imagine what the people they’re viewing are saying to each other. It’s all fun and games until they spy a couple with a developing romance (the couple eventually passionately makes out) and suddenly Rachel starts to behave strangely. Chloe senses the change, but can’t puzzle out what’s happened. Rachel taunts Chloe how since they’re cutting school they should be getting drunk.
The next scene we were shown features Chloe and Rachel drinking together walking a long a set of train tracks through a forest. They keep going until they arrive at an abandoned junkyard. It’s not long before their amicable conversation turns weird. Chloe at first tries to give Rachel some space, but then tries to implore her to open up about what’s on her mind. The further she pushes, the more withdrawn and angry Rachel becomes. One of the dialog choices shown, but not chosen, even allows for the possibility for Chloe to indicate romantic feelings for Rachel. In the end, Rachel storms off and nothing Chloe says can bring her back. She violently starts smashing things at the junkyard.
It was but a small taste of the many episodes to come, but like the first title, Life is Strange: Before the Storm looks to be a wonderful new addition to the franchise. Thankfully, it’s a nice take on a story and style of game that far too often sees little to no attention in the world of video games. It’s a credible story and a game that doesn’t center on running and/or gunning. It’s an honest, thoughtful tale centered on a teenage girl. It’s not pandering and it’s also not aiming to be exploitive, it’s just a nice take on a segment of the market woefully underrepresented.
Just now, Square Enix revealed new gameplay video you can watch below entitled “Chloe and David”, which features music from American indie rock band Speedy Ortiz.