Being 16 is just as hard as you remember in ‘Life Is Strange: Before the Storm’

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Get ready to turn in your magic powers and dial up the angst. Choose wisely, because unlike the the original Life Is Strange, you have no rewind power. As a typical angsty teen, protagonist Chloe doesn’t have the power to go back and change her decisions. Should you give David, Chloe’s mom’s new boyfriend, a fist bump or leave him hanging? Steal $200 or play it safe? Insult or apologize to the obnoxious guy in the mosh pit? Sometimes, no matter what you do, the outcome is inevitable.

Over the course of three episodes, you’ll get to see some familiar faces and leave your mark on new locations, as well as some familiar spots. (Welcome back to Blackwell Academy). You can swipe a beer from the cooler, graffiti the walls, and try to buy weed from Frank, whom fans may remember from the first game. Without any magic powers, though, your choices have permanent consequences, including key decisions that affect the outcome of the game.

While the gameplay is similar to Life Is Strange in many ways, the world of Before the Storm may feel different to fans. While Life Is Strange focused on Max and Chloe’s relationship, Before the Storm explores the burgeoning friendship between Chloe and Rachel Amber, who had gone missing girl in the original story. Chloe is also different person: Two years before the events of LIS, she doesn’t have blue hair and is still coming to grips with the death of her father.

It’s also going to be a different game because there’s a new team behind it. Life is Strange developer Dontnod is working on a direct sequel, So Before the Storm comes from a new team, developer Deck Nine Games. Though you can’t rewind, you’ll find much of the original game’s spirit intact as you get a better understanding of characters when you see them through someone else’s eyes.

At San Diego Comic-Con 2017, we spoke to Zak Garriss, Before the Storm’s lead writer, to find out what sets this game apart from the original.

Digital Trends: What’s the dynamic like between Chloe and Rachel?

Zak Garriss: It’s probably one of the things I’m most excited about with Before the Storm. I think the core premise of the game is that we’re looking at this time in Chloe’s life, which is a very different time from the first season. It’s two years after her father died, two years after Max left. Chloe’s completely alone. Her mom, Joyce, is dating David. That’s really difficult for Chloe. She really feels abandoned.

“Like real relationships, that’s something that evolves.”

It’s this particular moment in her life when Rachel shows up. And Rachel, in a lot of ways, is the complete opposite of Chloe. She’s really popular. She’s successful at pretty much anything that she does. People like her. All these things aren’t true for Chloe.

What the game explores is the way that these two girls fundamentally need each other, and because of what Chloe’s gone through, there are things that she has for Rachel, a strength she has for Rachel. And Rachel, at this particular moment, seemingly perfect life, is about to just come crashing down. That’s sort of the foundation of what we’re exploring between the two of them. And then because as a player you’re having agency over that relationship, it’s dynamic. It’s going to change based on the choices that you’re making and the consequences that those choices bring about.

There’s no single point — we saw the key choice on the screen in the junkyard where Rachel’s like, ‘So, what is this?’ And Chloe can be like, ‘It’s friendship’ or ‘It’s something more.’ — that’s not the only time that question is being asked. That’s not the only time that the players can perform whatever kind of relationship they want to perform. Like real relationships, that’s something that evolves.”

David is in this. We saw him in a specific light at the beginning of the first game, and depending on your choices it changed. Are there characters like that in this game, where you see them in one way but based on your choices or just as the game goes on things change?

Absolutely. I think that’s one of the things that Dontnod really succeeded at with the first game is creating characters whose arcs were complex and whose arcs kind of responded to what you did in your choices. We’ve really taken that to heart. There are plenty of new characters you’re going to meet and have potentially, as one player versus another player, very different relationships and experiences with those characters based on the choices you make.

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm interview concert

Even David, we have an understanding of who he was to Chloe and who he was in that world at the time of the first game, but we’re years before that. Even within that relationship, players might be surprised at the kind of nuance that they can find in how to they choose to relate to him and what kind of a man he is at this stage in his life.

You mention (during the demo) the Chloe can choose to graffiti certain places with different tags, similar to how Max takes photos in Life is Strange. The photos are important to the plot as well. Is the graffiti something that gets called back the way the photos do?

Max’s photography was a really cool feature, but it was a passive feature. It fit Max as a character. It wasn’t actually changing the world. It was just her absorbing the world and collecting what she’s seeing. For Chloe, this is one of those spaces where we asked the question, ‘How will Before the Storm be different? What is different about stepping into Chloe’s shoes as opposed to Max?’

“We have Chloe actually writing letters to Max, because she still misses her. She hasn’t moved on.”

Instead of taking that kind of passive photography, we chose to have and felt like it was really good to have Chloe put stuff out in the world to affect it. You’ll have opportunities, if you find them, to make choices about what to graffiti and where, and then when you revisit spaces, you’ll see that mark on the world. You might even see people responding to it in various ways.

As another example, the diary that Max kept was, from a game-design standpoint, it fulfilled a need to kind of track what the player’s doing. You could walk away and come back and just read the diary and you’ll see Max said, ‘oh, this is what I did in the last scene. This is what I’m trying to do now.’ It’s functional in that sense. But even in that space we saw an opportunity to show some daylight between Max and Chloe. So, Chloe’s diary, it didn’t feel right that Chloe’s tracking everything that she’d do. We actually have Chloe actually writing letters to Max, because she still misses her. She hasn’t moved on. She hasn’t let go. She hasn’t met anyone new yet. She’s still kind of hung up on the past in that way. Every day she’s writing letters that just sort of describe her day. These are letters she never sends, because Max stopped responding at a certain point. Chloe just hasn’t been able to let go.

They have very different taste in music, too.

Music is such a huge part of the first game in such a beautiful way. It was really important to us to get the right musical setting for the story but to create a little bit of difference in what we have between Max as a character and who Chloe is. Even in the middle you can see there’s a kind of metal edge to what we’re exploring there. Max would never go to that space. Max would probably not listen to that band. But it feels simultaneously right for Chloe but still like it belongs in Arcadia Bay, there is an aspect of it that belongs in that space. We’re really excited about the music over all for the game.

Are there going to be multiple endings based on those key decisions and how do they fit into the first game?

One of the biggest challenges we faced with the prequel is creating a story that supports multiple branches based on player choice that still fits seamlessly into the cannon about what happens in Chloe’s life and in Arcadia Bay leading up to the first game. I think if it weren’t true that in the first game, even with Max, Chloe doesn’t speak about Rachel in specifics. Even with Max, she’s really vague about exactly what happened. We can just tell from the emotional intensity and some of the language she uses — ‘She’s my guardian angel,’ is what Chloe says — that their relationship is incredibly strong and profound, so strong that that’s still private, even with Max.

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm interview landscape

If that weren’t the case, I think we probably would’ve a harder time doing it. But by situating the story within the creation of that relationship and because Chloe was so vague about the details, we’ve kind of carved out a space where we can have discursive branches and your ending of the story might be different from Adam’s and both will fit within the cannon that we have from the first game. And players who loved that experience to begin with, they’re still going to have choices where they don’t know what’s going to happen, and you’re going to have to deal with that and make those difficult decisions — all without rewind.

In the first game, you learn everything about Rachel almost third-hand. But you always see Chloe through Max’s eye. In this game, you’re getting Chloe’s version of Rachel. Can you talk a little about that, and does that open up the possibility of seeing Rachel’s version of Arcadia?

I think the best part about getting to play through Chloe’s eyes and getting to meet Rachel is we’re kind of intersecting player agency and how you want to approach her, talk to her, deal with her and a kind of ambiguity from season one around Rachel being good or not for Chloe.

Rachel’s not totally honest and maybe not the best person.

There is stuff you can find in the story in the first game that kind of suggests Rachel’s not totally honest and maybe not the best person. And when you see Chloe talk about her in the beginning, how much she cares, putting the flyers up, it’s like, OK, clearly Chloe loves this person. And then when Chloe learns things like, apparently Rachel had a relationship with Frank, that hurts her really deeply, a secret that Rachel kept. We were really enchanted with this idea of Rachel as powerful, and charismatic, and charming, but not necessarily good.

I think you, as a player, you’re going to have to trust her and how to be there for her and now to help her navigate what she’s going through and you’ll see, I think by the end of it, with different paths based on the choices you’ve made, you’ll see how the story kind of goes from there to season one, to the first game.

In the bonus edition game with Max, does she also lose the ability to rewind?  
We really respect the sacredness of the first season in the timeline that it covers. I think every player’s choice at the end should be that player’s choice about what happened. Creating cannon around that doesn’t feel right. We’re going back in time, and we’re exploring Chloe and Max’s relationship, through Max’s eyes, as a sort of opportunity to kind of say goodbye in a sense to what that is, to those characters, to this time and place. We’re really excited about that.

The first episode of Life Is Strange: Before the Storm launches August 31 on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Make sure you didn’t miss any news from San Diego Comic-Con 2017.