The third and final episode to Deck Nine’s Life is Strange prequel, Before the Storm, is a journey marked by ups and downs. Despite the inevitability inherent in making a prequel, Deck Nine have successfully managed to make their three-arc story feel fresh and exciting despite not offering much by way of surprises. “Episode 3: Hell is Empty” is no exception. Those who have played Life is Strange will know what to expect from the episode in terms of character arcs. Yet, by avoiding any direct connections, the story comes off relatively self-contained, allowing Rachel and Chloe’s friendship to flourish without feeling like it’s re-treading old ground.
Picking up straight after the Episode 2 cliffhanger, Episode 3 delves deeper into Rachel’s backstory after the bombshell dinner-table revelation at the Amber household. The episode focuses on the fallout of the night, exploring Rachel’s subsequent identity crisis and her mixed emotions surrounding the developments. As a result Chloe serves as an ancillary to Rachel’s internal struggle, but she never feels less than important to the central story. As you explore and learn more about Rachel’s predicament, the decisions that arise impose interesting moral dilemmas that test Chloe and her friendship with Rachel. It’s hard to go into much more detail without dipping into spoiler-territory but the episode culminates with a major decision that nails the emotionally affecting finale it is striving to be.
Unfortunately, the limited player agency means there’s little choice as to how things unfold. By leaving the major decision until the end, it does not have much bearing on the story aside from changing a few final cut scenes. While it makes sense that the need to connect with the original game (and the lack of rewind abilities) would limit creating alternative timelines, it would have been good to see a little bit more flexibility in the story particularly with the impressive but underutilised back-talk feature. As it stands, the story is largely linear but luckily it is strong enough to make up for the lack of agency.
The power of Life is Strange lay in its ability to explore heady themes within the context of a teen narrative. Despite doing away with the time-travelling abilities, Deck Nine have retained what the series has really stood out for in its prequel.
The bond Rachel and Chloe’s share is marked by genuine humanity. They are imperfect beings navigating the choppy waters of life at an age where every molehill feels like a mountain. The conflict they go through feels real, and their resolve to stick together through thick and thin is the major reason Before the Storm works. Episode 3 succeeds as it honours their relationship with an emotionally affecting finale that ties up loose ends while at the same time providing enough new insight to offer a fresh perspective on the original game.