“Don’t you remember what it’s like to be a teenager?” asks Chloe Price, an archetypal bratty teen with an omnipresent snark that anyone out of college may turn their nose at.
The night club’s bouncer remains unfazed, refusing to let the underage girl sneak past. Chloe continues her shallow attempts at passing by him even so, because in Life is Strange: Before the Storm, being belligerent is a gameplay mechanic, and an integral one.
This is how the game opens, reintroducing us immediately to prickly 16-year-old Chloe. While the smash hit Life is Strange, was at times criticized for its cheesy dialogue, its upcoming prequel embraces teenage melodrama wholeheartedly. There are "backtalk challenges," where players must use context clues to give appropriate, sassy responses to people — always adults, naturally — until Chloe wears them down and gets what she wants. Responses are timed, and a gauge indicates Chloe’s success rate.
Chloe’s barbs sometimes came across as wooden and unnatural in a presentation I saw at Gamescom. Perhaps that’s because they’re emblematic of the performative nature of being a teen. At the same time, these moments are archetypal of what can be polarizing about Life is Strange. It may be easy for players of both Life is Strange games to mock their melodramatic tone, especially since both are narrative-driven and dialogue-heavy.
For Before the Storm's lead writer Zak Garris, though, it's important not to be both authentic and nonjudgmental — hard that may be.
"If you’re cringing a little bit at the angst on that level, that is something we’re striving to do, because Chloe is a teenager and we’re trying to tell her story," Garris told me during Gamescom, where we spoke about how the game embraces teen drama conventions with even more open arms than the original Life is Strange.
I told Garris I cringed more than a little. Just as in the earlier game, I found the new in-game footage I saw of Chloe almost unbearable. Following her father’s death, she’s a tortured soul — which is totally fair! — but she can't help but remind everyone of it as obnoxiously as possible. Like all stereotypically angsty teens, her interests are limited to smoking weed, stealing cash and blaring punk rock. Before the Storm doesn't give players the relief of switching to another character's less sardonic perspective, either. It's all Chloe, all the time.
But maybe I'm just too close to and resentful of my teen years to sympathize. Garris is far more removed, but he argued that maybe it's better not to dismiss that confusing, conflicted period altogether.
"I think it’s healthy to be in a space to remember how hard that really was," he said. "I think it’s helpful to remember how hard it is not to control certain parts of your life."
Keeping this in mind is crucial for appreciating Life is Strange: Before the Storm. This snarky attitude is, in fact, a large part of both games’ charm, and the new backtalk challenges highlight that. As socially responsible adults, we'd never dare trade barbs with people in power. Teens reject that completely, as they do most conventional ideas of respect.
Chloe won't be a brat for the entirety of Before the Storm, Garris promised. Expect a narrative arc that finds her tapping into more reflective moods throughout the game's three episodes, showing us a different side of the caustic character. I look forward to letting Chloe convince me that that's the case when episode one of Before the Storm launches Aug. 31.