Life is Strange: Before the Storm is shaping up to be everything you liked about the original Life is Strange, except there are no superpowers, it takes place three years earlier, and the game's protagonist, Chloe Price, has a new voice actor. That last bit actually threw me during my hands-off demo of the coming-of-age prequel.
Ashly Burch voiced Chloe Price in the original Life is Strange, and while some of the dialogue was mocked on the internet for its too-hipster colloquialism (hella much?), Burch brought an affecting take on the role which I came to admire over the course of five episodes. So I have to admit that hearing someone else in the role felt weird.
As a result of the SAG-AFTRA strike, new voice over projects cannot progress unless the company either hires a non-union actor, or offer a one-off contract to union actors like Burch. Some companies like Activision, Disney, EA, Take-Two, and WB are negotiating collectively, but Square Enix is not, leaving a door open for Burch to reprise her role. Ultimately, it seems as if Square Enix decided to go the other route and hired a different voice over actor for the role.
Which brings me back to one of the biggest impressions I got from the demo, which was how strongly I reacted to not hearing Burch in the role. According to the voice over actor, she's still helping develop the character with the game's developers, but the whole performance just never clicked with me.
The demo Square Enix showed was a 30 minute preview of Episode One focusing on Chloe three years before she reunites with her childhood friend-and heroine of the first game-Max Caulfield. She doesn't have her blue hair yet, or tattoos, though she still has an affinity for recreational drugs. The players can choose to have her be either passive-aggressive or straight up aggressive, including moments where players can choose to make Chloe steal some cash (we chose to), antagonize someone at the bar (again, yes), or hit said person after they come looking for a fight (yup).
While the overall art style of the game hasn't changed much between the first Life is Strange and Before the Storm, I did notice the game ran smoother than when I played Life is Strange on consoles. There were many instances of framerate issues that appear to be smoothed over in Before the Storm, though I can't say for certain whether or not they'll be absent in the final product.
The direction of the game also seemed a bit more cinematic. Life is Strange constantly borrowed from the language of indie cinema, so that's not a huge surprise to see that carry over in the prequel. However, the climactic moment of the first half of our demo felt as big and alive as any of the big moments that happened in the later episodes of the first season, set to just the right soundtrack and edited in a way that felt even more movie-like.
One of the more interesting things in Before the Storm, and a decision I hope pays off in a big way, is that there won't be any surprise super powers in the game-at all. Just good old fashioned, narrative storytelling.
"This game does not have a rewind power. In fact, we have deliberately chosen not to have a power at all. Instead we wanted to concentrate on what fans loved most about the original game which was: relatable characters and real-world, difficult situations," said Square Enix producer Web Picksergill.
I agree with this move. I know Chloe didn't have any powers in the first season, but the Life is Strange universe is confirmed to feature supernatural elements which could open the door to other characters having powers or whatnot. By not having any kind of power, rewind or otherwise, it could make for more interesting storytelling and more dramatic narrative choices since they can't be reset with the hold of a button.
It took about three episodes for me to get fully invested in the first Life is Strange. Coincidentally, Before the Storm is exactly three episodes. Here's hoping the new Chloe Price adventure can hook me in from the get-go.