Deck Nine’s prequel miniseries has consistently been a compelling and poignant emotional mosaic with some good writing, gritty themes and enjoyable fan-service to back it up (you can read our reviews for Episode 1 and Episode 2 here). I’m happy to report that Life Is Strange: Before The Storm — Episode 3: Hell Is Empty is a fitting conclusion to the teen-drama escapades of lovable rogues Chloe and Rachel, while paving the way to the grander, and greater, adventures found in the first season of 2015’s Life Is Strange.
Thematically, at the centre of this finale is the back-and-forth conflict between truth and lies, and whether or not it’s right to lie to someone in order to protect them. Conversely, is it right to tell someone the truth, if it will only bring their whole world crashing down upon them? This prickly theme lies at the heart of Hell Is Empty, and is explored in a myriad of ways before culminating in one of the toughest decisions I’ve had to make in a video game in a long while.
Yep, it’s a “put your controller down” moment of reflection, and is definitely a heart-rending, soul-searching juncture that is very much a testament to the top-notch writing chops at Deck Nine. Though there have been a few points in this miniseries that has made me think deeply, this is by far the most memorable and painstaking choice I’ve had to make so far. The US-based developer should be very much applauded for this.
Noticeably, this episode refocuses much of its attention on a character arc we haven’t seen too much of leading up to this final chapter. Don’t get me wrong, it’s undoubtedly the most high-stakes instalment in this prequel miniseries and both the drama and overall gravitas of the story’s outcomes feel a lot more captivating as a result. However, some story threads didn’t feel like they had had an ample enough payoff because of this episode’s tunnel vision-like focus on the aforementioned character.
Some developments that had been built up prior to this key moment ring a little hollow when the game’s spotlight, and the true dramatic weight of the series, hones in on the interactions solely between Chloe and one particular character (I really don’t want to go into too much detail as that would very much fall into spoiler territory). No doubt, it’s an integral event in the overarching narrative, but it also serves to highlight how some of the adventures in the past episodes have been pretty inconsequential, borderline busywork, in the grand scheme of things.
It’s a shame to see such a lack of payoff in many of the choices that have been made in prior episodes. Apart from a short, cursory cutscene that bookends the events of the series, very little of meaningful consequence occurs due to your important decisions in past episodes. Which is a bit of a bummer.
Nevertheless, despite retroactively blemishing some of the buildup in prior episodes with the unwelcome feeling of triviality, the overall narrative holds up really well and fits together nicely, especially with such a weighty closer that segues smoothly into the beginnings of Max and Chloe’s pivotal adventures. Make no mistake, you’ll find satisfying answers, but you’ll also leave with unanswered questions, too, especially if you’re like me and want to know a little more about the supernatural elements that Rachel demonstrated in the opening episode of this miniseries.
Gameplay-wise, I’m glad to see Backtalk challenges make a return, though on the whole, these are kept to a minimum. It would’ve been nice to see this mechanic developed and implemented a little more. Clearly, narrative was the sole focus of Life Is Strange: Before The Storm – which is totally understandable – though, it would’ve been great to see some kind of improvement to this promising mechanic. Instead, Backtalk challenges ultimately feel like a slightly undercooked and underused idea which is a bit of a missed opportunity.
As a complete package, it sure has been a hella fun ride that’s helped flesh out both the oddball and the ordinary characters found at the heart of Arcadia Bay’s enigmatic mythos. Life Is Strange: Before The Storm — Episode 3: Hell Is Empty is a fitting finale to this prequel miniseries that lays the foundations to Max and Chloe’s future escapades, and while it doesn’t quite hit the heady heights of the mainline series, it holds its own as a unique, self-contained teen-drama, with a gritty bite of realism thrown in for good measure.
This review is based on the PlayStation version of the game, which was provided to us by Square Enix.