In a quiet conference room, adjacent to the main hall of San Diego Comic Con, I settled in to play one of the very first hands-on demos of Life is Strange: Before the Storm. This was the same demo I saw at E3, but this time the controller was in my hands, and all of the choices, good and bad, were mine to make.
Together, Chloe and I stepped into an old mill which has been converted into a dive bar, intent on checking out Chloe’s favorite band, Firewalker. Drawn to trouble like a month to a flame, Chloe’s inner dialogue, a seamless continuation of the original game, informs me that she’s eager to get her hands on a band shirt, and she’s not going to let a little detail like not having any money hold her back. A man sits on the back of his car, the trunk filled with Firewalker band shirts for sale, as he jabbers endlessly on his phone. When the direct approach, simply trying to grab a tee, doesn’t work, it becomes clear that it’s time for Chloe to get creative.
I send Chloe wandering around the mill, checking out drunk girls, grabbing a beer, leaving her mark in the form of graffiti on a rusty circular saw blade, and eventually circling back around to the car and catching sight of the perfect distraction: The car’s open passenger door, and the unattended parking brake. Pulling the parking brake will set the car rolling, possibly damaging both it and the structure of the old dive bar, but it’s Chloe we’re talking about, so of course, I decided to start a little chaos.
As expected, the car rolls away, the rather rude shirt monger has to scramble to get his vehicle back under control, and the trunk is left gloriously unattended, allowing Chloe to claim her prize. “Maybe you shouldn’t overcharge next time,” she thinks with a smirk, tucking the shirt into the back of her pants, grabbing an additional wad of cash out of the trunk, and heading to the other room to check out the band.
Before the Storm feels incredibly familiar, but also distinctly different. It’s still Arcadia Bay, it’s still the distinct style of Life is Strange, but this is Oregon through the eyes of Chloe Price, not Max Caulfield. It’s impressive how much you can feel that shift of perspective. While the mechanics are by and large the same, with one notable exception: the ability to rewind time. Chloe endlessly charges forward, creating and dealing with the chaos she causes, smashing through both obstacles and people to get what she wants, or simply to get away. This is a darker, rougher view of the world, and it not only feels different, it sounds different. The music reminds me of what I listened to as an angry sixteen-year-old, still grungy, but newer and more contemporary. The soundtrack alone brought me back to those familiar feelings of anger and unrest, and did a great deal to put me in the right mindset to control a character like Chloe.
My demo ended as Rachel Amber made her appearance, pulling Chloe out of a bad situation and onto the dance floor, but my time with Before the Storm continued. I was treated to a video of gameplay from later in Before the Storm, the same video embedded at the top of this article. This is a scene that anyone who has played through chapter three in Life is Strange will be familiar with, though it has been extended for this game.
Chloe finds herself trying to live out another day, still lost in grief over the death of her father, angry and resentful at her mother, and her new boyfriend, David, as she begins the process of moving on. The scene is mundane, and could have been dull if not for Chloe’s unique, jaded commentary on literally everything in her world. She picks out a shirt to wear for the day, (including the Firewalk shirt stolen during the demo, which makes me wonder what would be in its place, should you choose not to pilfer the garment) observes the photos around the house, then heads out to hand the car keys over to her mom’s boyfriend in order to get a ride to school.
Chloe’s bitterness and pain are obvious, but presented in such a way that it doesn’t feel entirely baseless. She’s been wounded, and you can understand the source of that pain without it being explicitly stated over and over again. She sneers at the man she views as trying to replace her father, interrupts his mansplaining, and is fiercely protective over her father’s possessions. David makes a real effort to connect with and help Chloe, encouraging her to pursue her talents and improve her attitude, but even as an observer, you can feel that it’s both unwelcome and the wrong approach. “My attitude is what makes me special,” Chloe rebuffs him with a sneer, and she couldn’t be more right.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm will be launching August 31st, when the first of three new episodes will release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC. You can find out more about the game at their Steam Page, or check out the development video at the top of this article.