Note: This Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 3 review contains light spoilers.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm has been one of the most pleasant surprises of 2017. Despite loving the original game, I wasn’t expecting much out of the Deck Nine Games developed adventure game. My fears of a new developer handling such beloved characters was ultimately misguided. Having now played the final episode, Hell is Empty, I can say that it’s one of my favorite games of the year even if it wound up hitting different notes than the original.
The biggest question I had going into the episode was how they’d handle the shocking revelation that Rachel’s biological mother was actually Sera. They wind up painting her as someone who struggled with drug addiction in the past, and that she exited Rachel’s life when she was just a baby. Addiction is an issue that isn’t regularly explored in games, and Before the Storm largely does a good job tackling it. As someone who has had a parent die due to drug addiction, I found myself pausing the episode semi-regularly to just take some time to reflect.
Rachel is understandably shocked by this revelation, and is clearly hurt by the fact that her family had been keeping such a thing a secret for her entire life. She also wants to meet her mother despite her father’s protests. This causes Rachel and Chloe to come up with a plan to track her down, and non-surprisingly it doesn’t quite go as planned.
Plenty of the decisions seen in Before the Storm aren’t logical, but they come from a very real place. In fact, in such moments of despair, it’s more likely that a person will act purely on emotion than on thought. This theme is seen throughout the episode, as players discover the long-term consequences for what seemed like small actions at the time.
In typical Life is Strange fashion, there aren’t any characters that wind up being untarnished by the end of Hell is Empty. Everyone has their flaws, some much bigger than others, and it makes the world feel all the more real. Discovering the truth behind some of the characters is heart-wrenching in spots, and while things never quite escalate to the drama of the original game, I was still equally as invested in the characters and their stories.
If there are a few disappointments to be had with the final episode, it’d be how little Rachel is actually in it. She gets written out (albeit not in a Telltale way) of the action rather early on, and it was disappointing to see so little of her and Chloe interacting. Their friendship, and blossoming relationship, had been my favorite part of Before the Storm, so to see it disappear was definitely a bummer. The episode also ends sort-of abruptly, with a montage taking place after the big final decision. Most of the plot threads were neatly tied up, but I still had several questions that weren’t answered.
As I previously expected, Before the Storm ends well before the first events of Life is Strange take place. While some might be disappointed by it not being so tightly tied together, I thought it was the right call. After all, there was never going to be a long-term happy ending for Chloe and Rachel. Their destinies are known, and it ends in tragedy. I thought it was a very mature decision to avoid Rachel’s final moments. Well, at least I did until I finished watching the scene that plays after the credits for Hell is Empty. It winds up being a devilishly clever scene that mostly leaves things to the imagination, but it also seemed like an unnecessary kick to the gut.
That said, Before the Storm does do some fantastic work of setting the brickwork for the original game. I’ve previously criticized how the game tried to get players to feel bad for Nathan Prescott, and while I still think that he’s trash, there is a very powerful (and entirely missable) scene that can be overheard at one point. I also loved getting to see the beginning steps of Chloe’s transformation into the blue-haired punk that I had come to loved in Life is Strange. There are plenty of great nods to long-time fans, even though the story can largely stand on its own.
While I’m not sure if Before the Storm will hold the same place in my heart as the original, I’m certainly glad that Deck Nine Games got to tell their own story in Arcadia Bay. It’s a very different tale, one on a completely smaller scale both in terms of narrative and length, but one that still manages to make an impact. It’s a more personal story, and it wound up being quite bittersweet having to say goodbye to the duo of Chloe and Rachel.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 3 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.03 reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.