Life is Strange: Before The Storm – Episode Three: Hell is Empty PS4 Review
Life is Strange. A series of small successes, giving hope to all involved, tinged with an oppressive air of foreboding misery. Over the course of its three episode run Before the Storm has continued in this mindset; making it a torturous joy to play. Just like the 2015 quintilogy that laid foundations for the series Before the Storm has been another incredible journey to play a part in.
Perhaps the most engaging part of Hell is Empty, like the episodes that came before, is that it remains continually prudent in highlighting player choice; thus making decisions feel more impactful. Everyone that dabbles in this genre knows their trip will end the same as other players, but Deck Nine’s actions over this trio of episodes suggests they’ve quickly become experts at making everyone’s road notably different. None of the changes each choice offers is game-changing, but the ripples are numerous. Adding a small extra quip here, and a seemingly throwaway line there, all adds up to making everyone’s journey unique. What Chloe decided to do with stolen money in Episode One, or if she decided to spray paint a tool box, are both given a few seconds of screen time. The later results in Chloe being unable to understand what a certain part of a car engine is called; instead choosing to label it a ”somefuckingthinger”. I should find a way to use that word in life.
Speaking of Chloe, Backtalk Challenges – her pseudo-superpower sans time travel – comes into its own this episode. They occur much less often than previously, but when they appear they are more meaningful. One encounter, about half way through the game has a humorous tinge, and may result in a few chuckles from players. However, the final encounter is a legitimately tense moment that manages to feel threatening and claustrophobic. Been forced to nail the correct answer when the stakes are so high made me appreciate the mechanic more than in early episodes, and proves it is much more than a simple time filler minigame.
Life is Strange has always been careful with its narrative but Hell is Empty is also careful with it’s words. It continually asks the player to be aware of theirs too. It is a theme that permeates throughout the episode, and plays a compelling part in it’s conclusion. The final decision asks a lot of the player, their mentality, and current outlook on life. Or in other words it’s ‘hella’ deep
It’s also an episode that shows a lot more is going on in Arcadia Bay – highlighting events that do not directly tie into the lives and times of Rachel and Chloe. Although they are growing up and their life is changing fast those close to them have lives to live too; and they will evolve with or without their input. Previously introduced side characters like Steph Gingrich, Mikey and Drew North, and Samantha Myers are all shown to be moving forward without input from the main characters. This is vital in making the world of Arcadia Bay feel realstic and lived in.
Ahead of Before The Storm‘s release I felt the choice to delve into the life of Rachel Amber would diminish the mysterious aura fans imbued her with over the course of the original. We knew Chloe loved her, but learning precise details as to why seemed unnecessary, and perhaps damaging to the mythos of the series. I am happy to admit I was very wrong with that assumption. Fleshing the character out, highlighting her flaws, and showing Chloe could grow to love her having knowledge of her deep-seated secrets, makes their relationship even more special. The same can be said for Joyce, Chloe’s Mother, and David Madsen, Chloe’s soon to be stepfather (aka step douche). Everyone in the cast now has shades of grey that make them more human. No one is perfect. There’s no caricature of good or evil on show in this version of Arcadia Bay.
Deck Nine have promised there will be one final Farewell episode released early in 2017 featuring both Max Caulfield, the protagonist from the original, and Chloe Price. I’m very interested to see if they continue their efforts and choose to add an extra layer to Max’s character – as it’s worked wonderfully for everyone else.
Totalling just three episodes, Before the Storm is a shorter, more compact journey then the original series. Nevertheless it was a journey filled with excitement for players and characters alike. These moments are not as visually prominent as the foreboding storm that’s previously menaced Arcadia Bay; but that does not make them any less impactful. Not all destruction leaves debris in its wake, and damage with no scars to show is arguably much more insidious.
Before the Storm redefines what a Life is Strange game can be. Going into this mini-story I believed the series needed the backing of supernatural mythology to carry the narrative, but Before The Storm proves that to be false. Life is Strange simply needs great well written characters, and when you place them in a compelling situation they will blossom. Where Life is Strange goes from here will be very interesting, but as long as the creators continue to treat the characters with the respect they have evolved to deserve I for sure will follow.