There is no need to produce a prequel to Life is Strange. That goes double when the original developer, Dontnod, isn’t involved. That goes triple when voice actress Ashly Burch isn’t returning to play the lead character, Chloe, who remains the best part of the original. It turns out Burch isn’t lending her considerable vocal talent because of the SAG-AFTRA strike, but that’s an issue for another day. Today, we’re going to talk about the first gameplay footage for Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and how bad it looks.
Let’s get one thing straight: there is no replacing Ashly Burch. She’s a phenomenal voice actress, and while she is involved with the writing, her literal voice is nowhere to be heard here. That’s already a big issue considering how great she was, and how great a character Chloe is. The bigger issue is who is replacing her.
This is a complicated issue. The SAG-AFTRA strike is affecting a lot of different, hardworking actors. The long and short of it is, SAG-AFTRA – the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Arts – is striking against several video game publishers, refusing to lend their talents to their games for better working conditions. Square Enix is one of the companies SAG is boycotting, the company who publishes Life is Strange. If you’re curious, Sony is not, which is why Burch was able to voice Horizon: Zero Dawn and its upcoming DLC.
Burch’s replacement isn’t with SAG-AFTRA; she’s crossed the picket line which is already drawing the ire of actors, including Felicia Day and Steve Blum. This new actress is Rhianna DeVries, a new player on the scene with three works attributed to her IMDB page, none of which are out yet.
Why it Matters
Life is Strange: Before the Storm lacks the time travel mechanic of the first game, as well as the mystery element. Without anything to replace those, the gameplay is essentially walking from on conversation to the next. That’s not necessarily a problem, it’s all TellTale’s ever done. It just means that those conversations need to be beyond great, they have to be some of the best in gaming. It requires fantastic writing, fantastic acting, and interesting or complicated choices the player must make.
Even though the game isn’t out yet, and we’ve only seen this one short gameplay video, it’s already clear Before the Storm is lacking in all three of those areas. The writing is decent in some areas, you really feel like you’re watching two teenagers interact at times, but it swings seemingly at random. One minute Chloe is stealing money to buy pot, the next she’s spilling her guts out to her friend. This could be due to the way the video was edited. But it’s more likely that the writers were trying to fit several emotional story beats into the game’s short three episode structure.
More worrying is the voice acting, which is consistently sub-par. Let’s not beat around the bush, it’s terrible. It doesn’t matter how good the writing is if it’s delivered by someone who isn’t a very good actor. A lot of the writing hiccups we’re seeing so far are only being amplified by the bad voice acting. Leading the pack is Chloe, who sounds more wooden and stilted than Jaden Smith, less confident than Scott Eastwood, and more bland and uninspiring than Chris Pine.
Strike Three! Haha, Do You Get It?
This wasn’t meant to be an article dog-piling on poor Ms. DeVries. The internet is a mean place, especially when your job is as forward-facing as an actor. It’s especially difficult when you’re replacing such a great actress. But the sad truth is, a big reason why this gameplay footage looks so bad is because of her bad acting. Before the Storm is a story-driven game, and like with vehicles, it doesn’t matter how good the car is if the person driving gets you into a wreck.
Rhianna DeVries has been put in a position where it’s damn near impossible for anyone to succeed. She’s a young actress with virtually no experience, taking the reins from a beloved voice actress of an equally beloved character – crossing a picket line to do so – to the prequel story nobody asked for or needs, to an even more beloved game. Meanwhile, well-known and respected actors are livid. While they may not (or may be) mad at her specifically, that’s not helping anybody.
Nothing about Life is Strange: Before the Storm looks or sounds good. There’s a big chance its failure can detract from the original. Maybe, it’d be better if Square Enix canceled the game, but then a lot of people will be out of a job. This is a no-win situation, and given Square’s recent history, we should be blaming them for this mess before anyone else.