“We’re not playing with the space time continuum, we’re playing with feelings and a mystery.”
Life is Strange: Before the Storm looks to deliver a more intimate character-driven story about the power of teenage girls without the need of nuclear supernatural powers. The three-part prequel to the first season of Dontnod Entertainment’s narrative adventure strips the player of Max and her time travelling powers, having you take on the role of her blue-haired troubled best friend, Chloe. Stevivor had the chance to preview a fifteen minute presentation of the game and speak with lead writer Zak Garris from Deck Nine Games.
Despite being made by a different studio, Before the Storm aims to prioritise a story and characters familiar to fans of the first game. Set three years before the beginning of Life is Strange, you play as sixteen year old Chloe, visiting some of Arcadia Bay’s iconic locations and individuals through new eyes.
“We want to explore Arcadia Bay through Chloe’s eyes, which she sees very differently from Max’s,” Garris told Stevivor. “The tone of the game will reflect some of those core differences. Max was a little more passive and careful in how she approached decision making [whereas] Chloe is more aggressive and doesn’t think so much; she just kind of pulls her way through.”
“One thing I love about Chloe is she is just a sixteen year old girl,” he continued. “What we’re exploring is how sixteen year old girls can be powerful, they can be fearless when they need to be, or they can be terrified and still act if they have to. There’s a real heroism inside Chloe, and that’s right alongside all of her vulnerability, frailty and her fear. She’s all of those things wrapped up into one character because that’s what people are.”
Some of these differences were further demonstrated in an E3 demo: sneaking into adult-only venues, stealing and vandalising. Unlike when playing as Max, you can’t rewind time to choose the more appropriate outcome and are forced to live with the consequences. The choices available to you as a player in each of these situations reflect her identity as a confused normal teenage girl, and according to Garris, are few of many examples of the difference between the two protagonists.
“With Max, you could take pictures of things,” he said. “Fundamentally it’s a very passive thing to do, Max is hiding behind the camera and looking at a static object that’s interesting. For Chloe, our version of that is graffiti. She gets to go around the world and where Max is documenting stuff she sees visually, Chloe is putting her attitude out on the walls or other objects – it might surprise you what it is she can draw on and what it is she can say in that process.”
Much like Max’s journey with Chloe, Deck Nine Games is telling a tale about what it’s like to meet someone who changes your world. The mini-season follows the years prior to Max returning to Arcadia Bay, when Chloe meets Rachel Abrams, a popular and privileged girl very unlike her.
“Joyce is moving on by dating someone new, Max has left and leaving Chloe all alone. She’s alienated, she’s trapped in a prison of grief and loneliness. She’s not doing well at Blackwell. She’s not doing well at life and she doesn’t know who she is or what her future is going to look like.”
“Rachel Ambers is pretty much the opposite of that in every possible way,” he continued. “Her family is whole [and] tact, Chloe’s isn’t. Rachel is privileged in ways that Chloe isn’t. What we’re exploring when these two girls meet each other is the ways in which for all of Rachel’s seeming perfection, she’s actually really close to breaking.”
“The facade of what her life looks like from the outside doesn’t actually map onto the reality of her real interior world. This girl who seems that she’s on top of everything is actually really hurting, and Chloe, who very publicly is the bottom of the social ladder and very obviously broken actually possesses this extraordinary strength in that these two girls in the time and place that they meet, provide something for each other that they need.”
The original was praised for prioritising a same-sex relationship in its main story, and Before the Storm is no different. During the demo, we noticed a moment where the player could imply to her that their relationship was “something more” than just friends.
“A big part of what Life is Strange is about is finding stories from maybe traditionally marginalised spaces and not being afraid to explore complicated personal issues about identity, about sexuality and about coming of age,” said Garris, “and how all of that gets wrapped up in this time period of a teenager’s life, and how loud everything is and uncertain and changing. We’ve really tried to embrace that.”
“[Chloe] cared so much about her and withheld so many details even from Max,” he continued. “What we know is that there was an intense love between the two of them, we can just see that from how Chloe reacts from what happens to Rachel. What we want to explore in Before the Storm is giving the players a chance to develop that relationship in whatever way that they want to.”
“It won’t be just that singular moment you saw in the demo, it won’t be one discrete choice. Like any good relationship, it is not a static thing you decide in some point in time, it’s constantly evolving and constantly changing based on the choices you make as the player. Rachel might develop her intentions to you in ways that can vibrate throughout the whole episode.”
The final moments in the first season were cataclysmically intense and emotional, but Garris stressed that even without time travelling super powers, you’ll experience similarly themed moments.
“I think there are different shapes to what cataclysm can look like,” he said. “Our story is deliberately more intimate than what the first season does. We’re not playing with the space time continuum, we’re playing with feelings and a mystery: a mystery about Rachel’s family and about the criminal underworld of Arcadia Bay and all sorts of characters and dangerous circumstances the girls are going to experience in Before the Storm.”
“We’re not setting off nuclear weapons, we’re deliberately telling a story that is an intimate smaller story,” he continued.” “We really believe that the tensions, the drama, stakes and challenges that Chloe, the player, will have in navigating our narrative even with the absence of nuclear warheads will feel incredibly compelling and potentially world ending at times – ideally as things can be at sixteen.”
Fans of the original’s protagonist, Max, will be pleased to hear that a standalone episode farewelling her character is on the way, too. When asked about whether this will be the last installment of Max’s story, Garris said, “‘Farewell’ is the last chance to play Max in the foreseen future.”
“It’s smaller in scale than the first three episodes of Before the Storm and its detached narratively from the story of Before the Storm,” he continued. “Before the Storm really is a three episode arc and six to nine hours of gameplay. ‘Farewell’ is a chance to go back and play as Max basically one last time, and look at a moment in her life with Chloe before the events of the first game.”
The first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm heads to Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4 on 31 August. According to Garris, Episode Two and Episode Three will release on an eight to ten week cycle.