Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s tempest of teenage angst and romance is coming to a close with Episode 3, Hell is Empty. It’s developer Deck Nine Games’ and publisher Square Enix’s prequel to Dontnod Entertainment’s hit title 2015 Life is Strange. It explores the backstory of blue-haired Chloe Price from the first game and how her story intersects with the mysterious Rachel Amber, who goes missing sometime between Before the Storm and the original. It’s coming of age on December 20 for PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
In the previous two episodes, Chloe’s relationships with everyone around her have become strained and nebulous, with as-of-yet unforeseen consequences. When I played a demo of Hell is Empty, it started with a quiet moment of reprieve from the tension: Alone with Rachel in her room, my first task was simply to cheer her up after her parents dropped a massive truth bomb on her. Unlike other scenes, such as an intense confrontation between the main antagonist Damon Merrick and another character, the choices you make here aren’t as extreme. This conversation is restrained, and your goal remains to comfort Rachel.
“With Rachel, we take a more nuanced approach … because you spend so much time with her. We have lot of little opportunities for how you talk to her,” said Deck Nine game director Chris Floyd in an interview with GamesBeat. “We actually track whether you make comments that are maybe a little more intimate, a little more sometimes flirtatious, whatever—we take note of that, and that can then change the tone of later moments with her.”
After a moment of calm, Chloe experiences a surreal dream sequence set on the stage of last episode’s William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. A small audience of people, including her mother, Joyce, and school principal Raymond Wells, watch Chloe enact a short improvisational scene with her father. It’s another instance of Rachel’s influence creeping into her subconscious.
“That’s really trying to show that influence of Rachel, starting to tug Chloe out of this grief she’s encased in like a cocoon. Trying to pull her out of it,” said Floyd. “That continues to be a motif in the dreams. We also show Rachel’s influence on Chloe in some other ways, like for instance her outfits. In episode one, we start her with fairly basic outfits — T-shirt and jeans basically. But we use Rachel’s influence, both actively giving her some clothes in episode two, and just showing Chloe starting to think about who she is and how she wants to present herself thanks to Rachel.”
At its core, Before the Storm is about Chloe’s evolution as a character. She’s not always the easiest person to play as. Sometimes you’ll choose a dialogue option thinking that it will de-escalate the situation, but Chloe will still come out the gates with her fists swinging. This is showcased especially when she “backtalks” another character — a kind of mini-game puzzle where you use dialogue to do “combat” and try to get what you want. In certain cases, it doesn’t make Chloe the most likable character, which Floyd says is by design.
“It’s a thing with Chloe that made her a really interesting character, and we knew a little bit challenging to play,” said Floyd. “Max, from the first game, she’s very quiet and timid. I think that makes it easier for players to drop into her persona. Chloe is a much stronger personality, and that’s what we loved about her, and that’s also where we said—it’s going to be exciting for players, but we’ll have to be careful about how we let you into that experience. We wanted to have some of those moments, though, where you think, ‘Whoa, did Chloe just go a little too far?'”
However, it’s crucial to remember that Chloe isn’t necessarily just a teen acting out. She’s someone who is mourning the loss of a loved one, and her father’s death continues to haunt her throughout all three episodes.
“What was important to us with her and her father was, we wanted to set her on this trajectory to being the blue-haired beanie-wearing Chloe you know from the first game. Because of Rachel, no longer imprisoned by her grief,” said Floyd. “At the same time, our writers did a lot of research into real people facing grief, memoirs by people, psychology, papers and books about it. One thing about grief is that it’s not something you get over or get past or set aside. You just learn how to carry it with you and not let it debilitate you. I think that’s what you’re going to see, hopefully, reflected in that aspect of the story in episode three.”