Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 3: “Hell is Empty” (PS4) Review: Lies in the Eye

Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 3: "Hell is Empty" (PS4) Review: Lies in the Eye

It seems appropriate that the end of Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s story culminates in the opportunity to lie, as lies seem to be the foundation of everything the miniseries is. Rachel’s father lied to her all her life about her mother, Chloe has the opportunity to lie once more as part of the final decision, and ultimately, regardless of the decision, Before the Storm ends with a sunny disposition that feels dishonest to the story Life is Strange tells.

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Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 3: “Hell is Empty” (PS4) – image provided by Square Enix.

As a prequel to the tragic love story that is Life is Strange proper, Before the Storm does its utmost to ignore the inevitable, leaving more questions than answers about Chloe, her relationship with Rachel, and how the young woman who is no longer able to speak for herself went down the road that led to her untimely death. Rachel Amber is the central figure in Life is Strange’s overarching story, but I feel like Before the Storm does her a disservice by ignoring the in-between that led to her demise in favour of something desirable in the moment: a happy ending. The same can be said of Chloe, who ends Before the Storm in such a positive place that her angst and hatred of basically everything in the original Life is Strange seems almost out of place in retrospect.

Before the Storm does so much to end its isolated story on a high note that it dismisses its connection to Chloe and Rachel’s future, and in doing so undermines why it seemed to originally exist: context for Chloe’s divisive nature in the original game.

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Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 3: “Hell is Empty” (PS4) – image provided by Square Enix.

Chloe and Rachel’s stories aren’t the only ones done a disservice here, as several other characters seem to exist as plot devices, lacking real closure or purpose. Damon Merrick, whose appearance as a villain in episode two acted as a prelude to a larger role in Hell is Empty, does his job in preventing progress, but is quickly cast aside off-screen once he’s surpassed his usefulness. Frank, who is a known quantity in Rachel’s life just before her passing, takes on a hero role, which makes everything that happens to him between Before the Storm and the original Life is Strange just as questionable as what happens to Rachel and Chloe.

For what it’s worth, episode three: Hell is Empty does plant the seeds for later conflict as it neglects other story beats. Nathan Prescott, an antagonist in Life is Strange, and his mental illness is addressed, and how his father’s toxic view on his son’s mental state likely led to some of the darker turns the original game took. Hints of the Dark Room, a place where several girls at Blackwell Academy were captured and taken to, are accounted for as well.

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Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 3: “Hell is Empty” (PS4) – image provided by Square Enix.

But even outside of Before the Storm’s lack of tangible connection to the grander narrative at work here, Hell is Empty has more to overcome than a lack of narrative cohesion, primarily in the performances that keep the episode going. Chloe’s voice actress is different in Before the Storm, as development began during the recent SAG voice actor strike, which prevented Ashley Burch from reprising the role for the prequel. However, her replacement’s performance seems especially stiff, awkward, and robotic in Hell is Empty. Chloe’s not the only one either, as cast-wide dialogue comes off wooden. A few standout performances help things along, but Chloe’s delivery is so weak it makes playing as her difficult, and has me eagerly waiting for the bonus episode that will bring Burch back.

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Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 3: “Hell is Empty” (PS4) – image provided by Square Enix.

Overall, Before the Storm feels like a series of untapped potential. Perhaps there is strength in the ambiguity of what happened between the prequel and the first game, but I spent all of the series hoping to get to know Rachel and how her relationship with Chloe spiraled into the tragedy it eventually became. But instead I feel like I met a superficial and idealized version of her, and saw the same of her and Chloe’s bond. When Before the Storm is at its best, it is an honest and heart wrenching look at the pains of adolescence and isolation that comes with the uncertain times in a person’s life. I just wish it had been that brave all the way through and had the courage to show me the truth behind these two young women’s relationship, rather than hiding the worst of it all in the dead space between games.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 3: "Hell is Empty" (PS4) Review: Lies in the Eye 8


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Kenneth Shepard’s reviews, such as Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2, and find out why Kenneth thinks Danganronpa V3’s ending makes a polarizing case for letting the series go!

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Life is Strange: Before the Storm Bonus Episode Brings Back Original Voice Actors

Life is Strange:  Before the Storm - Episode 2: "Brave New World" (PS4) Review: Time in Standstill

Life is Strange: Before the Storm has created a schism in the fan community and for fans of voice acting in general. After the voice actor’s strike of 2016, the original voices of Max and Chloe, Hannah Telle and Ashly Burch respectively, didn’t reprise their roles from the first game. This upset many, both because many people associated the voice acting with an iconic character, and because new voice actors would be performing as SCABs, delegitimizing the strike. Thankfully for all involved, the strike is over, and the original voices of Max and Chloe are returning to their roles.

Specifically, the two will reprise their roles for a special bonus episode called “Farewell“. Before the Storm is a prequel, starring Chloe before the events of Life is Strange. A new actor, Rhianna DeVrie, was cast to play young Chloe, and she will be performing both voice and motion capture for the final episode of the series, “Hell is Empty“. Ashly Burch will be performing voice for Chloe in “Farewell“, but Rhianna DeVrie will still be performing the motion capture.

According to Square Enix, “Farewell” is a special bonus for fans of the games, and may be the last time Max and Chloe interact in Life is Strange. No specifics on plot have been confirmed for this episode, save for that you’ll play as Max one last time, but Square Enix is assuring they will reveal information after they’re done with “Hell is Empty“.

Farewell” is poised to release sometime in early 2018, with episode three of the main release, “Hell is Empty“, set sometime before the end of the year. “Farewell” can be purchased in Life is Strange: Before the Storm‘s Deluxe Edition. For a more detailed look at the process of creating “Farewell“, Square Enix has also released a behind the scenes video.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more of Kenneth Shepard’s reviews, such as Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2, and find out why Kenneth thinks Danganronpa V3’s ending makes a polarizing case for letting the series go!

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Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 2: “Brave New World” (PS4) Review: Time in Standstill

Life is Strange:  Before the Storm - Episode 2: "Brave New World" (PS4) Review: Time in Standstill

Being a relatively short, three-episode mini-series, I didn’t think Life is Strange: Before the Storm would have the time to meander like episode two, Brave New World does. The episode is a whole third of the story Before the Storm has to tell, and yet remarkably little of substance happens during it.

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Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 2: “Brave New World” (PS4) – gameplay images via Deck Nine and Square-Enix

In the pilot, Chloe Price, at odds with her mother and stepfather-to-be, decides to run away from her home in Arcadia Bay with her new friend Rachel Amber, who is similarly unhappy with her family life. This plan is essentially the focal point of the two’s relationship and Before the Storm as a whole, and yet, it takes a backseat to a fair amount of benign fodder in Brave New World. This isn’t helped by the fact that much of it separates Chloe and Rachel, preventing their relationship and the actual A-plot of Before the Storm from progressing up until the last ten minutes.

Brave New World begins with Chloe and Rachel facing the fallout of skipping class in the first episode, but ultimately Chloe is the one for whom the punishment comes down harder, as in my playthrough she was suspended from Blackwell Academy. The two split up, with Rachel finishing the school day and Chloe getting into it with her mother and David. Knowing the relationship between Chloe and other characters makes roleplaying and making certain decisions difficult as events in Before the Storm are starting to feel a sense of inevitability. As references to the future of Chloe’s life in the original Life is Strange become more prominent, it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m operating within very specific lines.

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Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 2: “Brave New World” (PS4) – gameplay images via Deck Nine and Square-Enix

Across the board, I felt like I was using the Back Talk mechanic—an inclusion I found questionable when playing through the pilot—significantly less this time around. Both because it was less prominent and because I found the opportunities to use it even less appropriate than the previous episode. Dinner with Rachel’s parents? I don’t have much of a desire to cause a scene. In the midst of being disciplined by Blackwell’s principal? It’s easier to just lie low. I understand this is a way to differentiate Chloe from the time-traveling Max of Life is Strange proper, but along with its problematic framing of Chloe’s arguments as “back talk,” I’m finding myself at odds with the use of it in general when other options just seem more sensible, especially when in very few instances does it feel like there’s enough at stake to merit making use of it.

The bulk of Brave New World takes place in Blackwell after Chloe has been suspended. The first half is for her drug dealer Frank, who asks Chloe to steal money from one of his clients in exchange for wiping away her debt. After I had acquired the money, the situation escalated as a separate dealer attacked the kid I was stealing from, putting Chloe’s situation into perspective. This was followed by an extended segment dedicated to Rachel’s stage play, which while funny, and featured some sweet moments between her and Chloe, took up much of Brave New World’s time, which Before the Storm doesn’t really have enough of to piddle about as it does.

With only one episode remaining, I’m left wondering just what new things Life is Strange: Before the Storm has to tell me. So far it’s done a good job at contextualizing Chloe’s angst in the original Life is Strange, but this is our first chance to really get to know Rachel, and she’s absent for a large chunk of Brave New World. Based on what I know is left to explore of this relationship, there’s a lot Before the Storm has to cover within one episode when the finale drops later this year, but it’s hard for me to picture a finale that is able to wrap up everything specific to  Before the Storm and really elaborate on what we already know.

Life is Strange:  Before the Storm - Episode 2: "Brave New World" (PS4) Review: Time in Standstill 3
Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 2: “Brave New World” (PS4) – gameplay images via Deck Nine and Square-Enix

I was really optimistic about Before the Storm after the pilot, but right now I feel like it wasted an episode on things that don’t matter when its time was already limited from the outset.

A retail version of the game reviewed was provided by the publisher. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out more reviews by Kenneth Shepard, such as The Guardians of the Galaxy: Episode 3 and Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 1!

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SAG Strike Comes To Tentative Close, New Agreement Met

SAG Strike Comes To Tentative Close, New Agreement Met

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) strike has come to an end.

After almost a year, a dispute between the voice actors who partook in the SAG strike finally reached a tentative agreement over new work guidelines.

The nearly 300-day strike was, in part, due to the poor working conditions for voice actors which included four-hour-long acting sessions, which in some instances, lead to permanently damaged vocal cords directly caused by the prolonged sessions.

Exact details are scarce at the moment, however, according to a press-release issued from SAG-AFTRA, a new agreement has been made that will entitle voice actors a bonus payment upon completion of a game. The new bonus payment will look at the number of sessions an actor has been commissioned for, instead of being based on the number of units sold, which was the standard prior to the new agreement.

The big question left to answer is why the SAG strike lasted as long as it did and who was affected by its duration. In an interview with Polygon, a voice actor stated that:

“Compensation for gaming is not nearly the same as traditional media. You know that residuals are non-existent — and that was a massive point in the recent negotiations.”

One of the more significant titles to be hit by the effects of the strike was the recently released prequel to Life is Strange, Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Ashly Burch, the lead voice for the character Chloe in the original game, was unable to reprise her role in the prequel (although she did consult on the character during the development of Before the Storm).

Hopefully, the new agreement will lead to fairer working conditions and better assurance of quality for all parties involved.


Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out  Kenneth Sheppard’s review of Life is Strange Before the Storm and see which games the title beat in our E3 2017 Awards Show

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CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!