If anything can be said about Deck Nine’s prequel series, it’s that it certainly lives up to the quality set by Dontnod. Seeing as this mini-series ties in directly to the original material, there were only so many things that Deck Nine could do without compromising one of the most outstanding stories of 2015. Still, Before the Storm has been one hell of a ride despite the slight shift in tone. With that in mind I must point out that if you haven’t yet finished episode one and episode two in this series, there are some unavoidable spoilers waiting for you further down. If you want to enjoy the first two episodes unspoiled, you should avert your eyes now. Still with me? Great, let’s get stuck in.
First and foremost this episode is possibly the shortest episode in the series yet. However it manages to achieve so much with that small space of time, making it hard to scoff at. Obviously your choices wont alter what transpires in the original series, but the journey in which this game ties to that will alter in various ways. It’s no secret that Rachel made such a dominant mark in the first series, which is exactly what Deck Nine set out to emphasize in Before the Storm. The conclusion of episode two taught us that Sera is in actual fact Rachel’s mother, rather than Rose. This plot twist alone serves as the backbone for this final installation, and it’s handled magnificently well.
Understandably with Sera being associated with drug addiction, Rachel’s father is totally against the idea of a mother and daughter reunion. Rachel on the other hand is hurt, confused, and determined to see her wish through. This leads to a plan formed by both Rachel and Chloe, but as you can expect it doesn’t exactly play out as smoothly as the duo had hoped. Episode 3 is full of story threads and loose ends that Deck Nine tie up quite neatly, despite a few shortcomings, but it’s hard to say even a little without inadvertently saying too much. What I will say is that the overarching story is concluded via an encounter that packs one hell of a powerful punch, one that will have a lump in the throat of anyone who has connected with these colorful characters.
Chloe’s story takes somewhat of a backseat in this episode to fittingly allow the spotlight to shine on Rachel. That decision to shift the concept of this episode from one character to another is spot on, and feels fluid as far as the story delivery is concerned. Sadly Chloe’s backchat mechanic is less dominant in episode three, which is something I was personally hoping to see more of in light of it being the finale. In fact there were several moments in the episode that I felt it would have suited insertion, but beggars cannot be choosers, right? Your choices in the previous episodes will have determined whether or not Chloe and Rachel are best friends or girlfriends, but either choice suits the outcome nevertheless. On the flip-side, there are several choices from previous episodes that don’t come across as fully concluded as I had hoped.
Perhaps it was overly ambitious for Deck Nine to cram so many character connections into just three episodes, because specific story branches do feel as though they could have had more time to bake. Regardless as to that, Deck Nine have achieved here what Telltale haven’t managed to achieve in the majority of their stories for a long while now. Meaningful choices with meaningful outcomes. Before the Storm is a game that actually makes you feel as though you have not only been thrown into the role of the protagonist, but are given the reigns too. Once I had reached the end I sat back and wondered whether I had put any thought into my decisions, or whether I had responded with my emotions. That’s the beauty of Deck Nine’s work here, they aren’t feeding you a story, they’re giving it to you to feed it to yourself.
That being said the conclusion for many of the characters is not quite as heavy-hitting as the original series, but Before the Storm still manages to astound on its own merit. I say that because the ending is over before you can blink, but it gets the job done all the same. That final decision is a tough one and there doesn’t appear to be a right or wrong answer depending on where you lean, which is an excellent moment to be involved with. Much like episode one and episode two, the visuals and design are top notch. This is held together once again by some solid voice acting across the board. The gameplay isn’t overly taxing but there’s a huge improvement over episode 2 as far as the puzzles are concerned. Needless to say that irrespective of this not being a scratch on Dontnod’s series, Deck Nine have dished up three episodes that compliment and expand on this much loved franchise.
Deck Nine made a bold decision to tell a prequel story, throwing away the supernatural for something more grounded. Hell Is Empty doesn’t quite live up to the original series, but it still manages to deliver an emotional and meaningful experience. Learning more about Chloe and Rachel has been intriguing, insightful, and shocking.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.