Life Is Strange: Before the Storm
Developer: Deck Nine
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One
MonsterVine was supplied with an Xbox One code for review
Below is a summary of my choices in Episode 2:
The end has come and the devils are all here in Episode 3, “Hell is Empty,” of Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Episode 3 doesn’t waste any time and picks up right where Episode 2 leaves off as players try to uncover the mystery behind Sera, Rachel’s biological mother, whose existence has remained a secret from Rachel for the past 15 years. The mistakes and heartbreak of the Ambers’ seemingly perfect family are the focus of the episode, and Chloe again finds herself at the center of all the chaos, fighting to ensure Rachel’s well-being as she tracks Sera down for a long-overdue mother-daughter reunion.
Episode 3 sets itself apart in the risks it takes to depart from the standard format of the previous episodes. From the opening sequence, environments and interactions become more abstract: the past and present eerily intertwining to intensify and darken already pressing moments. The Viewfinder is a focal point for reinforcing one of Before the Storm’s central themes—navigating relationships in a dazed state and finding meaning in things we can’t quite understand—and I believe its return is tastefully done. Additionally, as I mentioned in my interview with Deck Nine’s team director Chris Floyd, the increasingly real interactions between Chloe and her dad add a sense of poignancy to her character development as the lines between fiction and reality, and the past and present, are blurred.
Episode 3 also does a great job of interacting with past episodes to make them feel more connected and the decisions more consequential. Players can experience moments of relief from the Amber family drama through the reintroduction of smaller characters, like Skip after he leaves Blackwell or the bouncer who lets Chloe into the old mill. Even my beloved, the DnD-inspired tabletop game, sneaks its way back into the action for one last adventure. It’s through little asides like these that the Before the Storm universe is fully fleshed out and beautifully crafted for the player to explore and invest in.
Although Chloe and Rachel’s relationship seems somewhat static (stable?) in development in “Hell is Empty,” the episode maintains a certain ambiguity about other relationships in the story. As someone who only entered the Life is Strange fandom through the prequel, I find myself still curious about the Price family and Amber family relationships: specifically, Chloe/Joyce and Rachel/James. I feel like more time could’ve been dedicated to the child/parent dynamic. In a way, Chloe and Rachel do grow to become each other’s family, so I understand the focus on this relationship as opposed to their family issues, especially because they lean on each other for support when that facet of their life isn’t working out.
I’m also curious about how Rose (Rachel’s stepmother) enters the picture. She seems extremely dedicated to the Amber family despite James’s lies and has been present since Episode 1, but she feels like a shockingly fixed, uncharted character that’s out of place in such a detailed, ever-changing world. Maybe her stability is another form of relief.
In terms of gameplay and difficulty, I must say that, with elevated emotional stakes, I spent a lot longer contemplating certain decisions. However, I don’t think there’s a ‘right’ choice in the end. This revelation comes after me staring at the screen for a solid ten minutes, contemplating the consequences of both choices, and still feeling like I need to restart the episode in order to feel fully satisfied with my choice. But the uneasiness is just the result of masterful writing on Deck Nine’s part; I feel a strong connection to the characters and just want them to be happy, dammit! (Except for Eliot, but that’s a different story.)
Chris gave props to Daughter in the interview for writing and composing all-new music for Before the Storm, and their performance in the final sequence of the episode made me extremely emotional. I’m sure the nods to the original Life is Strange will make OG fans even more so. Don’t forget to check out Mixtape mode to purge all the sadness from your system.
If you want to get your heart ripped out, stomped on, and feel as empty as Hell, I highly recommend playing Before the Storm.
The Final Word
Episode 3, “Hell is Empty,” offers a heart-wrenching yet satisfying conclusion to Before the Storm that makes players immediately want to return to the original Life is Strange. The reintroduction of characters and experiences from previous episodes unifies the series and offers a sense of relief from the Amber family drama, although the yearn for more family dynamic exploration is still there. Minor hiccups in cutscene animation do little to deter from the beauty of the story and gameplay.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 – Great