'Life is Strange: Before the Storm' is all about being a wiseass teen

It doesn't have time travel, but it does have plenty of sass.

Before she was the absurdly cool burnout who stole our hearts in Life is Strange, Chloe Price was just a normal, melodramatic teenage loner trying to cope without her best friend. Chloe doesn't have the ability to rewind time, like the original game's lead Max Caulfield. But, in the prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm, she does have an impeccable wit and the courage to tell anyone off. As you'd expect, those are traits that can both help her and get her into more trouble.

Chloe's snarky nature is front and center in Before the Storm, thanks to a new feature called Backtalk. Basically, it's a way of countering your conversational opponents at key moments, often by using information they've revealed against them. In a demo at Gamescom today, Chloe managed to squirrel out of a confrontation with her high school principal about her drug use. The key to her success? She mentioned that revealing the full extent of drugs being taken at the school could severely hurt its reputation and insurance premiums.

"It's not a replacement for rewind, that's not how we're looking at it and treating it," producer David Hein told Engadget. "It's a dialog system crafted specifically for Chloe Price, that adds another level to the complexity of choices and consequences. It's not about winning or losing, it's just about setting you down a different branch or path."

Sure, it doesn't sound as fun as time travel, but it's a smart way of portraying Chloe as the ultimate rebellious teen. Just imagine how sick your burns would have been at her age if you had the time to think and carefully articulate your responses. (The game also displays a small overlay that tracks just how well you're sassing during an important chat.) While developer Deck Nine hints that we might see some supernatural aspects to the story, the big difference between Before the Storm and the original title is that the prequel is rooted in very simple and human problems.

Chloe is effectively alone at the start of the game. Max left for a fancy art school away from Arcadia Bay; her mom is dating a guy she can't stand; and she has little regard for almost everyone around her. Everyone, that is, except Rachel Amber, the mysterious girl who ends up becoming her close friend (and whose disappearance kicks off the events of the first game).

Beyond the Backtalk feature, the prequel series will also offer more branching pathways for its story, as well as more ways for small decisions to have a big impact. In the first scene of the demo, Chloe confronted a bouncer in front of a grungy club. She could get in with a successful Backtalk attempt, but if she failed, she would have had to find another way to sneak inside the club. Once she made her way in, she could choose to steal an expensive band t-shirt from a particularly disrespectful vendor. Going further, she could steal his money as well, and later use it to either pay off her drug dealer or surreptitiously help her cash-strapped mom.

It's clear that Deck Nine is trying to make a big impression with the game. For one, they have to prove that they can handle the series as well as the original developers, Dontnod (who are working on a full-fledged Life is Strange sequel). But Deck Nine, which has been behind games like Ratchet: Deadlocked when they were previously known as Idol Minds, is also eager to establish themselves as specialists in narrative-driven titles.

They've developed two custom tools that lets them script and stage those sorts of games, which is one reason Square Enix tapped them for Before the Storm. Instead of the Unreal Engine, they've also transitioned the game's engine to Unity, which might be why it looks a bit different than the first title. And while the trailer above looks a bit rough, rest assured that the game looks significantly better in action.

Based on what I've seen so far, it looks like Deck Nine has managed to capture the teenage spirit of Life is Strange. But it remains to be seen if that's enough to carry the prequel series. You can snag the first episode of Before the Storm on August 31 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC.

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