Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s last episode ended on something of a cliffhanger. After confronting Rachel Amber’s parents about the apparent infidelity they witnessed between her dad and mystery woman Sera Gearheart, the girls learn the shocking truth — Sera is Rachel’s birth mother. The finale, Hell is Empty, picks up right at this moment as James Amber confesses to keeping this secret hidden for so long in an effort to protect Rachel from her real mother, who James perceives as dangerous to his daughter for reasons that are explored as the episode goes on. Determined to help her friend get closure, Chloe takes matters into her own hands and goes looking for Sera, setting off a chain of events that gets real heavy real fast. Despite still being the central character and player avatar, Chloe’s own story takes a backseat this time to Rachel’s, which carries the episode pretty much all the way through to its conclusion. We see a couple of subplots such as Chloe’s relationship with her mum’s creep boyfriend David very loosely wrapped up, but most of it ends up inconsequential in building the pivotal relationship between the two girls.
When UberEats is five minutes away but starvation is four minutes away
If the last episode helped us better understand some of the secondary players such as Chloe’s mother and her peers at school, Hell is Empty does the same for Rachel’s parents, David and her friend and admirer, Elliot. A few of the threads in the episode are rushed through as focus is put on the primary conflict but it’s great to see a continued commitment to three dimensional characters. A common thread that stands out particularly this time is Chloe’s troubled relationships with the men in her life, all of whom seem to feel they’re entitled to her attention and resent her for not conforming to their expectations of her as a teenage girl. The writing in Life is Strange has always been a little hit or miss, and the franchise for the most part falls directly into the category of ‘trashy teen drama’, but Deck Nine have shown a marked improvement as Before the Storm has progressed. This episode in particular shows a massive uplift in the quality of the writing, especially in the dialogue, which is far less awkward than it has been previously in the franchise.
What did I say about flicking cigarettes out the window?
Hell is Empty moves through all of this at a cracking pace, only occasionally to the detriment of minor arcs, but mostly through reducing player involvement. While there are still the same small moments of exploration and dialogue choices that are the series’ staple, they’re fewer and further between here and overall have less impact on proceedings. Even Before the Storm’s new gameplay gimmick, the Backtalk system, only crops up once toward the end. While that may sound like a negative, the episode is near perfectly paced and so gripping that it really doesn’t matter. I’ve said it previously but it still stands that between the beautifully shot scenes and Daughter’s fantastic soundtrack, developers Deck Nine prove consistently that they’re industry leaders in gripping, choice-driven episodic narrative gaming. Before the Storm’s final moments and last big decision wind up coming off a little rushed, but it’s been a long time since a story (especially in a video game) has left me so affected and so distraught that it was over.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s finale is not quite the strongest of the three but it shows a huge improvement in writing and pacing and closes out the series wonderfully. If this is the last we see of the franchise it’ll have ended on a high, but I sincerely hope we see more from Arcadia Bay’s troubled teens soon.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro