Life is Strange: Hell is Empty review


To commemorate the release of Before the Storm’s ‘Farewell’ DLC, I decided to review both the game’s final episode, ‘Hell is Empty,’ and the game as a whole. I’ve also decided to experimentally ignore the original Life is Strange for the purposes of this final review. Before the Storm was my first experience playing an episodic game as it was released. For the first time, I theorised along with other players about the roles characters would ultimately have as the story reached its finale. The character of Eliot takes arguably the most expected route, whereas the enigmatic Sara’s role in the story is problematised, misrepresented, and reshaped in unexpected ways as the episode progresses.

As for our protagonist, it’s easy to think of Chloe as a “good bad influence” on star pupil Rachel, but as the former takes increasingly drastic steps to reassure the latter the player must ask themselves which of these girls is having a worse influence on the other. One scene in particular in a certain office railroads the player into making decisions so wildly cruel and illegal, they just don’t ring true for the Chloe we’ve come to know.

In fact the true emotional centre of the game appears to not be the relationship between Chloe and Rachel, but the relationship between Chloe and her late father. The surreal dream sequences they share are both frightening and darkly comic, but their final interaction is simple and honest.

A montage cutscene near the end handily dispels concerns that this game’s ending is based on a simple binary choice, but there is still one decision that is presented as being weightier than the others. One option seemed obvious to me, which is probably why the characters so strongly advocate for the alternative: to polarise the players in the final tally, for that ‘controversial’ sweet spot.

Failing a Backtalk minigame or choosing a thoughtless dialogue option can have adverse effects on your Chloe, but neither delay the story’s progression to a relatively uniform ending. The result is a game low on challenge, risking passive engagement from the less invested player. It’s not necessarily a thinkie, is what I’m saying.

The absence of the nostalgic warmth expected from a coming of age narrative makes Life is Strange: Before the Storm quite a prosaic, down-to-Earth crime melodrama. This is due in part to the low-key lighting and aesthetic verisimilitude. The game prioritises intellectual over emotional engagement, but neither are particularly exemplary. It does excel, however, in using its fidelitous but stylish environments and funny, relatable dialogue to immerse the player in a humbly realistic world. Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a cool but thoughtful adventure game that’s more Breaking Bad than Lady Bird.

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