Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 3: Hell is Empty Review
After a solid but safe start, Life is Strange: Before the Storm delivered a strong follow up in Episode 2, giving us some major emotional moments and a pretty shocking narrative revelation. Unfortunately, the series’ third and final episode, Hell is Empty, doesn’t quite sustain that momentum – but nevertheless Before the Storm has been an enjoyable and worthwhile experience overall and I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Arcadia Bay (again).
If we are being fair to the developers of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, they were always at a decided disadvantage over their predecessors working on the original Life is Strange. As a prequel, there was a lot narratively that was already known even before the first episode released – we knew which characters would make it to the end, and where their relationships would stand after all was said and done. Deck Nine also had to play a delicate balancing act with their characters – stay true to the original essence of Arcadia Bay’s denizens while offering up new facets to make the second series feel like more than just a nostalgic second-helping.
And they did a damn good job overall – Before the Storm has given us a younger, more innocent Chloe who slowly matures over the series’ three episodes, becoming the blue-haired, pickup-driving rebel that we know and love by Episode 3. Hell is Empty, perhaps more that any of this season’s episodes, is like one big Easter Egg to players of the original, having you fix up that pickup at the junkyard, dye Chloe’s hair, and other iconic Life is Strange milestones. As I have said from the first installment, Deck Nine has nailed the atmosphere and feel of Life is Strange, and Hell is Empty continues that aspect right to the end.
“Deck Nine has nailed the atmosphere and feel of Life is Strange, and Hell is Empty continues that aspect right to the end.”
But on the negative side, Before the Storm has also been a little more aimless and unevenly-paced overall, and Episode 3 is probably the clearest example of that weakness. The season’s main storyline, involving Rachel Amber’s family secrets, loses steam after reaching an emotional peak in Episode 2, and the ultimate set-piece confrontation seems rushed and oddly anticlimactic. Even the final Big Moral Choice lacked the gravitas felt in the first season, and what follows (much like this season as a whole) feels unfinished, more like the set-up to a story rather than a complete story in itself.
And even as a set-up to Life is Strange, there are niggling narrative issues and loose threads that linger, especially for anyone who has played through the first story. For example, given the depth and passion that we now know Chloe felt for Rachel Amber, her later attitude towards Rachel’s disappearance in Life is Strange will seem curiously apathetic. We also are left with a host of smaller subplots that just end without much closure, such as Chloe’s “friend” Eliot. Deck Nine tried admirably, and with some success, to dovetail Life is Strange: Before the Storm with the original, but in the end maybe there were just too many moving parts to account for.
Also in the “E for Effort” category is the Back Talk mechanic. While it showed some promise early on as an equivalent to the time-rewind of the original series, Episode 2 and especially 3 reduce it to little more than a gimmicky mini-game without much narrative importance. In Hell is Empty, in fact, I might have missed it altogether had I not accidentally opened the wrong hospital door. Life is Strange‘s time-travel ability was an important mechanic that helped make the game original and engaging; without it, or some equivalent to it, Before the Storm has felt a bit too much like an interactive novel in which you spend much more time watching than playing.
Finally, the production values, which had been strong in Before the Storm thus far, seem to falter a little bit in Episode 3. Maybe because the developers had so many plot points to squeeze in, conversations seemed unfocused and overly wordy. It also didn’t help that everyone seemed to say. Their. Lines. Like. This. Although this has always been a more conversation-based adventure than Season 1, Hell is Empty was the first time in Before the Storm that I found myself wishing there was a Fast Forward option.
“Hell is Empty was the first time in Before the Storm that I found myself wishing there was a Fast Forward option.”
But make no mistake – despite a relatively weak finale, Life is Strange: Before the Storm has been a very successful prequel to Life is Strange, and I have had a lot of fun revisiting Arcadia Bay (for the very first time?). It has been fascinating to see Chloe Price’s “origin story,” and Deck Nine has done an excellent job of depicting her evolution throughout the season. And while the story felt less focused than the first season, I (almost) always felt engaged and eager to see it through to completion.
If you are a series veteran looking to relive the magic of Life is Strange, then there is no doubt Before the Storm will scratch the right itch. And if you have never played a Life is Strange game before, well first of all what the hell happened?! But also, you are in for a treat, and Before the Storm would make an excellent start to the franchise. Either way, pack your bags and get to Arcadia Bay hella quick because the storm is coming and it’s going to be awesome.
** A PS4 Code was provided by the publisher **
- Great characters and atmosphere
- Series has been solid overall
- Anticlimactic end to the story
- Voice acting weaker than past episodes