HELL IS EMPTY, AND ALL THE DEVILS ARE HERE
I feel so euphoric right now! Life is Strange: Before the storm may very well go down as one of my favourite games of 2017 and it feels like a bit of a shocker that it made it there in the first place. My love for this series as a whole has brought a new light to ways video games can present some dark and pretty out there topics some of which you rarely see get touched upon in this medium and in this case is so refreshing and hard hitting to see it done. After the first two episodes of Before the Storm were said and done I was foaming at the mouth, running different scenarios through my head on how this soul searcher of a story was going to be wrapped up and how Deck Nine and Square Enix were going to tackle Rachel’s inevitable fate, and though it may not have been what I expected episode 3 ‘Hell is Empty’ still delivers a full on expressive knock out and sure as hell didn’t disappoint.
Hell is Empty picks up where episode 2 ‘Brave New World’ left off, and the reveal that Sera (the woman Chloe and Rachel saw kissing her dad) is in fact Rachel’s biological mother. Rachel’s father goes into detail on how they met in high school and fell madly in love and eventually gave birth to Rachel. But Sera’s longing for an escape eventually led to a destructive heroine addiction, leading James to leave her despite his ongoing support and taking their baby with him. After an emotionally charged scene under the stars (inside Rachel’s bedroom) Chloe vows to help her find her estranged mother. What follows is a rollercoaster of love and tragedy that only this series can deliver, as Chloe goes on to say ‘this is a tragedy that even Willie (Shakespeare) couldn’t think of writing’ I mean sure, he probably could, he’s William Shakespeare for crying out loud, but this analogy alone does a great job of epitomising the gravity of the heartache that this game implies.
This to me was something special. Drug addiction is something rarely brought up in video games and was handled in a way that was both subtle but held such a powerful slap to the face that it would make anyone who has or hasn’t been affected addiction take a brief moment of reflection on the consequences of something that tears so many families apart. As far as momentum is concerned, the opening parts of Hell is Empty takes what the previous two episodes has set up for it and keeps running with it fantastically, although it may slow down every now again to kill a plant with soda and take part in another optional yet exhilarating tabletop game, but besides that it keeps being the heart wrenching, melodrama that we all know and love albeit in a more sombre pace, with the odd touch of catastrophe and calamity. The recurring themes of Before the Storm also keep coming, with the dream sequences between Chloe and her deceased father continuing in more surreal and haunting ways but as these come to a close, reality hits like a truck (pun not intended, honestly) bringing Chloe out of it more empowered yet shaken.
Hell is Empty also continues to let us know that the worst is yet to come in the original Life is Strange game and the metaphorical implications and foreshadowing are still there for us all to interpret in our way. The blue streak that Chloe puts in her hair begins to set the stage for the riot girl with a heart of gold we meet in the first Life is Strange and the giant forest fire that Rachel started in the first episode finally dwindles out, leaving a mass of ash and destruction in its wake, a perfect allegory for the way each character comes out of the story in the end, nobody, and I mean NOBODY, finishes this final episode unscathed, be it physically or emotionally. Sadly, the prospering relationship between Chloe and Rachel takes a back seat in this episode and is rarely touched upon, with Rachel being written out of the equation about halfway through the episode, a shame because this is one of the main reasons I became so invested in this game in the first place, a love between two women that are desperately trying to find themselves and develop a relationship that is so pure in the hardest of circumstances. And the ending comes rather abruptly and comes in a way that I didn’t really expect, with a montage of Chole and Rachel’s happy relationship after the events of the last big decision that you must make, which in hindsight felt heavier on my shoulders than deciding whether to let Chloe live or die in the original Life is Strange. But believe it or not I felt that the ending worked, because the fans of this series already know Rachel’s fate anyways so why not let us know that when all is said and done that these two lived happily ever after (even for a short while). The circumstances of Rachel’s disappearance are touched upon very briefly and in those few short seconds you are given a heartbreakingly real and disturbing insight of what happened to her.
Hell is Empty thankfully does away with the tedious fetch quests in the most part and allows the last part of the story to unfold the way it should. The backtalk minigame also makes a comeback, but in this case is used in one of the most heart pounding and tense way as you must use your words carefully to avoid letting someone know that you have the police on your hidden phone with one mistake meaning failure, a brilliant execution on a mechanic I felt was becoming overtired already. I was also seeing the story branch I took still having consequences from the first two episodes, the best part of this particular genre is living vicariously through someone else’s choices, making you feel the guilt and relief of the decisions you must make for Chloe,and as always it would be a Life is Strange review without me applauding the soundtrack would it? Daughter continue to bring the atmosphere radiantly to perfectly put an exclamation point in any situation and the addition of Brody Dalle’s ‘Don’t Mess with Me’ does a brilliant job in personifying or protagonist.