Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode Three
Deck Nine Games
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
December 20, 2017
Sidequest was provided with a copy of Life is Strange: Before the Storm in exchange for a fair and honest review.
There are so many narratives that want me to forgive the people that have hurt me. I thought about this a lot as I played through Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s third episode, “Hell is Empty,” as Chloe struggles to reconcile her idealistic vision of her father, as she holds too much important knowledge in her for one teenage girl, as she struggles to decide whether she’ll protect or destroy the person she cares about.
Going into Before the Storm, I thought it was Chloe who I’d identify with. She’s nothing like me, really, but she has a charisma and a righteous anger that captivated me in the first game. And for most of this new series, it was Chloe who I resonated with. In my playthrough, she wants to fix things. She scrambles to care for those she loves while also exploring her independence, sometimes drastically, sometimes destructively. She fucks up, a lot.
Rachel, by contrast, is the picture-perfect teenage girl. Beautiful, an academic achiever, mysterious in all the right ways. You get the sense that she has her shit together, that she’s going to go far, that life opens doors for her.
Except if you’ve played the first game, you know that that’s not how things end and Before the Storm wants to show that her life isn’t all it appears. Her mother isn’t her mother. Her father isn’t the upstanding district attorney. And she, the angel of Blackwell, is a torrent of chaos, much like the titular storm.
Episode three picks up just after her father drops the bombshell that the woman Rachel and Chloe saw him kissing in the park was her real mother, Sera. In a sort of dreamlike scene, the two girls peer through a set of binoculars at a series of vignettes: Rachel’s father and mother’s courtship, marriage, and, ultimately, her addiction. James leaves her because he believes she’s a danger to their daughter and bars Sera from contacting her by paying her off.
If Rachel is a tornado, here’s where the wind begins to stir. Everything she knows about herself is shaken, and her relationship with her parents, rocky as any teen’s is, is based on a lie.
My family was never picture perfect. Imagine a derogatory term for poor kids and I’ve been called it. I’m the daughter of an emotionally abusive addict, but I didn’t realize that for years. I thought my life was normal because I had no basis for comparison. It wasn’t until later that I realized so much of it was built on a fundamental lie: that fathers always do what’s right for their children.
At its core, Before the Storm is a question of protection and shelter versus fear and truth. Rachel gets stabbed early in the episode and spends much of her time in the hospital while Chloe plays girl detective and hunts for the truth. Like the first game, the emotional weight is carried on mostly one choice—do you tell the truth, or do you protect Rachel from harm?
I knew before the end what my ultimate choice would be. Multiple characters ask Chloe before the decision is final. Will you share what you know with Rachel, or will you let her live in ignorance to allow her happiness for just a bit longer? Will you be complicit in deception but protective, or will you tell the truth and destroy her relationship with her father?
Somewhere in the first few scenes, something changed for me. Throughout Before the Storm, I’ve been actively gearing toward a happy ending for Chloe and Rachel, two characters who I know are narratively doomed. Knowing this has only made me more determined that the moments they have together are good ones; they support one another, they share earbuds, they gloriously fuck up their lives because they’re young and reckless and seemingly invincible.
But knowing about Rachel’s father changed the way I played. It was no longer just about protecting Chloe and Rachel, the couple, for me. There was no question about whether or not I’d tell her the truth; there was only finding each lie so I could relay it to her, not to sabotage her relationships, but to give her the information she needed to protect herself. It’s the difference between Chloe protecting Rachel with a shield and Chloe handing that shield off so Rachel can wield it herself.
Once you’ve uncovered the story, you find Sera in a desperate situation. It goes poorly, or at least it did for me, playing Chloe like a protective, adolescent puppy that just hasn’t outgrown its biting stage yet. Chloe talks with Sera, who explains that she, too, is trying to protect her daughter. That her father was doing the right thing by lying, that Chloe should do the same.
I said fuck that. I told Rachel everything. I was playing Chloe, absolutely. But I was seeing myself in Rachel, and I wanted to give her the shield before it was too late.
It’s possible that this choice was reckless or selfish. It’s possible that, as in the first game, I chose my happiness as a player over the proper and expected narrative, because I’m sick of stories that demonize young women for wanting. Maybe it would be better for Rachel to live with less pain because she dies young.
But I think back to myself as a teenager, about the combined effects of knowing something is wrong but not knowing what, about how I could have gotten out earlier if I’d only known, if only somebody had told me, and once again, I say fuck that.
I can say with confidence that Before the Storm is a better, more fulfilling narrative than its predecessor. Its emotional core is stronger, its themes clearer, its beats still packed with melodrama but with the writing and heart to back it up. I don’t feel like I love Before the Storm despite its flaws, as I do with the original; I don’t feel that I have to couch my statements in warnings. It’s not a perfect game, by any stretch—in episode three, the Backtalk system is woefully underused (though its main use is an excellent scene), the puzzles feel too easy, and the voice acting is still not up to the standards of the original due to the (now ended) voice actor strike. But damn it, despite knowing that nothing works out for these two, I still can’t help but come away from the game feeling hopeful.
Life is Strange is a rare series. For all its melodrama and weird supernatural twists, it is, at its heart, a story of queer teen girls trying to make it through life. And in Before the Storm, they don’t just make it, they thrive.
I’ll take that, for now.