EPISODE 3 IS TITLED “HELL IS EMPTY”
Before the Storm has struggled over its entire journey to recapture the magic, mood, and power that the original Life is Strange used to propel itself forward to telling a classic, emotion drenched tale. Its third and final episode, Hell is Empty showcases this more than any other episode.
Bringing things to a close is hard. It is not a feat easily accomplished or achieved, indeed the original Life is Strange featured a complicated, messy, up and down finale that was easily one of the most uneven of the series, yet also one with an astonishing final act.
That is not the case with Hell is Empty which jettisons many of the storylines and themes present in the miniseries up to this point and instead largely settles on a single large theme. The truth and it’s importance, whether it should be sacrificed for the greater good and to protect those you love and treasure most is the larger question that Before the Storm is interested in here. It’s a fascinating idea that Before the Storm handles largely well, yet it is one that is plagued by Before the Storm’s many prior flaws.
It still feels like this game was made by someone who hadn’t ever played the original, by someone who was only given a ten second elevator pitch on it. All of the characters aren’t as richly realized and textured as before, Chloe is still a problematic and difficult young hero, there is still not enough of her and Rachel Amber together. Perhaps most disconcerting the final scenes and repercussions from your big series defining choice seems tonally off and the game ends on a moment of beauty that then cuts to a moment of stunning darkness and slack-jawed horror. We all know how Rachel Ambers story ends, it is the fuse that largely ignites the first game, yet being presented with it as the final lingering image and sounds of Before the Storm is a decision of either immense bravery and dedication to storytelling or a grotesque and disturbing attempt to capitalize off it, I’m still not sure which one it is a day later.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s final episode is thus much like the entire series before it, capable of moments that come close to hitting the same highs as its predecessor but also one that far more often falls short and introduces more lows then the series previously saw. Prequels are hard, making us care about this world and characters after we already know their fate is a tricky thing and one that Before the Storm handles rather unevenly. When the credits rolled for Hell is Empty I was still left with the feeling that I had at the end of the first episode of Before the Storm, I don’t know what the point of this series was. What the driving force and story really was. Why go back? Why tell this tale? Why make Before the Storm at all? I don’t really have any answers for that. It was an interesting, at times clever and heartwarming story, but one that misses the heart, soul, and raw emotional intensity of Life is Strange. I said in my first Before the Storm review that the legacy and shadow of Max Caulfield hangs heavy over this miniseries and by the completion of this story that still rings true. It just never quite feels right. It always seems like Before the Storm is just missing that one thing. Max’s absence is always felt.
This should have been a story centered on Chloe and Rachels journey together. One about the bond and affection they feel for each other. This should have been a story that helped to establish and introduce us to the world of Arcadia Bay in a new fashion and light, an Arcadia Bay that was very familiar to all the main cast of Life is Strange. This should have been a story and an episode that wrapped up Chloe and Rachel’s story-crossed beginnings and allowed us to understand where they went from here. Get rid of the bizarre and off-putting larger conspiracy around it. Make it about love, youth, growing up, and a relationship for the ages, that’s what Life is Strange delivered so beautifully and it’s what Hell is Empty and Before the Storm in general largely misses.