Review: Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 3: Hell is Empty

The original Life is Strange blended reality with quite a bit of fantasy, while the first two episodes of Before the Storm showcased some of the most grounded storytelling in gaming. Episode 1 told a tale of people becoming fast friends, lifelong allies and showed that you can build a strong bond in little time if it’s truly meant to be. It focused on Chloe and Rachel while bringing you insight into Chloe’s world after losing her father and showed how Rachel gave her a sense of purpose that she’d lacked since that day. It closed with a flame that showcased Rachel’s anger towards her father and his string of lies, while Episode 2 revealed just how far those lies had spread. Rachel’s entire life up until the end of the episode was shaken with news of her birth mother, and now, she has to cope with this newfound reality.

Chloe is placed in a tough spot quite a few times here, but is able to help her partner simply by being there for her as much as she can. Episode three dovetales the prior two episodes together perfectly, with the ever-present junkyard and truck from episode two paying off here as Chloe finally makes a junker driveable. An angry attack allows the truck to save Rachel’s life thanks to Chloe’s swift action, but Chloe winds up blaming herself for everything much like she did with her father. She’s a character haunted by the past figuratively and literally, as her dreams are consumed by visions of her father interspersed with her present life. Rachel winds up with father’s own past taking her life over and has to live with the consequences of it and the guilt of wondering what might have been if her father had been more honest with her.

Rachel is more of an island in episode three than the prior two and winds up being more isolated as a result. While recovering in a hospital, she has Chloe to keep her sane while her father and stepmother surround her with love — but she can’t be too sure of what’s genuine and what isn’t with them. Chloe is thankfully able to see them when their guard is down and it allows her to see things from a different perspective than ever before. The first two episodes were more Chloe versus the world and her having to prove that she’s in the right, but with the third entry, she sees that things aren’t as black and white as she assumed. There are many shades of grey to both Mr. Amber and Rachel and she wind up putting herself in a great deal of danger to not only find out the truth for Rachel — but also protect her whenever she can as a way to make amends for her attack.

Chloe grows more here than before because of what she experiences in both good and bad ways. While her view of Rachel’s parents changes for the better as she sees the lengths her father is willing to go for her, she still struggles to get used to the idea of David moving into her house. They remain at odds just as before until Chloe finally sees things differently — David tries to cook for her mother and she can see that not only does David care about Joyce, but he makes her truly happy. It’s a level of happiness that the audience hasn’t seen before and Chloe seemingly hasn’t either. One of the great questions throughout the first two episodes was whether or not Chloe’s hatred of David was deserved. He seemed to care about her as much as he could from a distance — but wasn’t sure how far he should go.

Joyce as Chloe’s mother was put in a tough spot of having to play peacemaker and Chloe always viewed David as inferior to her father as opposed to just being his own person. Before the Storm’s finale shows David open up to Chloe about his own experience with loss during his military days and how he too is haunted by his past. He does tell her how thankful he is to have Joyce and you can choose to either be empathetic to him showing his vulnerability or continue to be combative — albeit in a far less harsh way than ever before. Chloe may not really like David now, but she can at least respect that he is making Joyce happy and is trying to relate to her — even if losing a brother in arms is different than losing a parent.

As a player, exploring Chloe’s options is tougher here than ever before since the stakes are so much higher. Episode one featured brief physical stakes early on, while episode two raised them — but with side characters. Now, the violence escalates in ways that can’t be seen in advance — so your snap decisions require you to make smarter choices during the talkback sequences. You’ll have to pay more attention to contextual clues to win battles and may find yourself on the losing side of the battle for the first time in the series. It’s crushing to feel defeat, but also rewarding to play through the scenario again and see how things might have been different.

Like the other entries in the series, Episode 3 suffers from some visual jankiness and glitches. Checkpoints can be marred by skipped frames of animations and you may wind up with characters in a shot that shouldn’t be because they’re in another part of the room. Fortunately, issues like this are rare and only take up a few seconds of game time. The overarching beauty of the game remains — with scenic shots of Arcadia Bay showcasing just how small the story we’re a part of is in the grand scheme of the overall game world. It’s a filmic experience, with impressive depth of field effects making the environments seem vast while finding creative ways to shoot scenes in small spaces to make them feel as large as they can be.

The acting and soundtrack in episode three continues the top-tier trend set forth by the prior episodes and Life is Strange as a whole. The cast has incredible chemistry together and the soundtrack is more varied here than ever before — with a great blend of folk, rock and country to show off the somber moments, more dramatic moments and heartbreaking dream sequences. The third episode is the most emotionally draining of them yet and the sound design helps punctuate that by playing a song at the perfect moment while also having sound effects work to either tip you off on an in-game choice or add to the tension level as voices grow ever-louder nearby.

Closing Comments:

Hell is Empty perfectly pays off what was built up in the first two episodes while also providing a bridge to the original series. Acting as a prequel series put Before the Storm in a tough spot, but the third episode shows that you can pull of a lofty goal like that near-perfectly. It’s a fantastic conclusion to the prequel series and a must-play for anyone who enjoyed the first two episodes. You’ll see proper payoffs to many things here, while the main game serves as a payoff for other storylines and characters introduced in this series — allowing this self-contained part of the tale to do its own thing without having to wrap up every part of the narrative.