Before the next chapter begins and the Diaz brothers embark on their odyssey to Mexico we look back Before The Storm began. Gather the kindle, prepare the stones and take your place, around the bonfire as we review the art of Life Is Strange: Before The Storm
With the reveal of the first episode in the next chapter of the seminal title Life is Strange, and the release of the free to play prequel episode The Awesome Adventure of Captain Spirit we decided it was a good time to go back and explore the artwork of its prequel series Before The Storm developed by Deck Nine. Released two years after its namesake precursor, Before The Storm looked to explore the inspiration and genesis of the character of Chloe Price, her relationship to Rachel Amber and the trials leading to the arrival of Max Caulfield. Developed on the Unity game engine bringing to life a slightly enhanced look to its precursor title the game shared the inspiration of using bright almost pastille colour shading and design to bring the world to life. A world immediately recognisable to those familiar to the world of Arcadia Bay, but a step up from the origin title.
Like the first Life is Strange title, Before The Storm was released as a special edition collector’s edition with the conclusion and release of all the chapters including the bonus episode featuring the returning original character voice artists following the artists strike and subsequent absence in the prequel series. Containing an identical collectors package of the complete title on disc, a music soundtrack featuring a selection of tracks and of course an ‘art of’ book containing a variety of sketches and development shots of the game. Clearly a bonus feature as opposed to the larger art books for main stream titles, regardless there were an interesting array of shots and sketches from the title, predominantly looking at the character models introduced in the prequel series. The limitation of using the more basic art design is a limitation in their design and depth, the shots used in the art book coming across as a student fashion show at Blackwater Academy. The characters selected, the students, the adults, the variations of design show depth, to a degree but ultimately and due on part to the nature of the character they succeed in being somewhat forgettable.
The art style of the Life is Strange style, whilst a limitation of the studio is equally its defining nature and forces the user to focus more upon the story and thematic messages over the push for graphical mastery where given the size of the studio was never going to succeed against the larger franchises. To compare and analyse the character models here to its console contemporaries serves as an injustice as the visualization and presentation evoke certain feelings and emotions absent in its larger peers. One of the key themes throughout the game as the narrative progresses is the conflicting nature of grief and loss, growth and acceptance. By utilising a pastille colour styling, the developers were able to capture and evoke a certain emotive flare, the innocence of youth before becoming overwhelmed with grief and despair captured eloquently with bright, vibrant warm tones. Certainly contrasting to the more darker tones and shading used effectively towards the end of the game as the character of Chloe forms to the complex individual encountered in the first game.
If the first Life is Strange was focused on the photographic artistry of Max so equally does its predecessor on this occasion look at the sketch and design work of Chloe as her experiences in the game are shaped by the tragedy and grief experienced, taking on a more darker and sinister tone after the loss suffered and the impact upon her. Again, whilst this may be released following the conclusion of the series you do see the potential for a further exploration on the work that went into this game. The impression to the gamer based on what limited knowledge we have on game development would suggest a wealth of work, of design behind these titles. I’ve certainly enjoyed looking at the design work behind larger titles, the nuances and alterations made before the final portrayal on screen. Certainly for a title focusing on the creative efforts of its main protagonist characters there’s a resigned feeling of acceptance if this is the sum of the released material from the games development. As a bonus supplement and judged on these merits alone the imagery of the environments were a pleasing inclusion, the game being set in Oregon certainly is a contrast to the more traditional urban open world environments that tend to use stock building assets in city environments. By capturing these rustic settings so effectively adds to the emotional message delivered to the user.
Objectively the title strikes a similar tone thematically to its predecessor, the innocence of youth portrayed here through artistry and design compared to the photographic nature of its original protagonist, and how growth framed against grief and loss is shaped in the narrative. Is there emotional resonance felt between the user and the character? no more or less perhaps than other titles. The two special editions and sketch books included have always captured the idle musings of a teenage mindset, un relatable to a significant proportion of the gaming community but there’s a refreshing honesty and courage in framing your narrative around a set character design. The recent, universal nature and trend so prevalent in open world titles of shaping your own central character and projecting your personality upon that said, persona works in those contexts. But I appreciated in the first title the emotional resonance felt with Max and that carries over to Chloe in Before the Storm. I have every faith as we move to the new release in September that will carry forward once again.