An emotional rollercoaster from the second the screen lights up, Life is Strange episode 4 has really cranked the drama up to 11.
By far the best episode of the series yet, The Dark Room drags you down, lifts you high and shakes you around until you really have no idea what is going to happen next. With twists, turns and shocks at every corner, I couldn’t pull myself away from start to finish.
Life is Strange episode 4 picks up exactly where we left off. For us, we’ve had two months of waiting to process the shock we were left with at the end of episode 3, but for Max, she’s still reeling and coming to terms with her new reality. The sequence was executed well and the sensitive subject at hand was dealt with in a realistic and careful way, but for me this was the weakest part of the episode. Whilst it was inevitable that Max’s time-turning skills were going to “fix what needed to be fixed”, I felt that obvious choices and actions were omitted. The player wasn’t given much control – and aside from an obligatory fetch quest [groan] and a few optional conversations, it was more a case of merely going through the motions. Ultimately, we were given a big decision, but it made little difference to the outcome as no matter what choice was made, we knew from the outset that Max would use her powers to alter the course of history anyway.
Without revealing much of the story, I saw one very obvious solution that could have solved Max’s dilemma, but it was not even thought of in the game, which left me feeling a little deflated and frustrated. By now, I’m invested in Max and Chloe, and so the emotions expressed by the characters feel even more real and raw. So far this has been the only time in the entirety of the game where I was left feeling powerless, and all I could do was watch, helpless and disappointed, as Max did what I wished she wouldn’t.
After this opening act played out, we were back in familiar territory, with Max and Chloe once again on the case of missing Rachel Amber. The rest of the episode massively made up for the lack of choice given in the beginning, as for perhaps the first time, it felt like the game wasn’t holding your hand and putting hints right under your nose. The episode revolved around finding clues linked to Rachel’s disappearance, and once all the clues had been obtained, it was up to you, CSI-detective style, to piece together the information. Whilst it wasn’t overly difficult, it offered a welcome challenge and made a change from the usual walk-around-and-interact-with-stuff pattern.
Life is Strange episode 4 really shines in its storytelling. By now, Chloe and Max – and other familiar faces of Arcadia Bay – are well established, and we have long since connected with them. The path that this episode takes us on is both exhilarating and devastating and you’ll want to laugh, cry and gasp in horror for the entire ride. The tone is stark in contrast to the colourful and chirpy art style that we’ve grown accustomed to, with this episode taking us to visit some very dark locations and ideas. Finally the game feels very adult – the game is self-aware of this fact too, as several references are made to Max acting more grown-up and looking older. This is no longer a teenage high school drama; it’s much darker and more sinister – and we can’t help but love it all the more for it.
Dontnod have had me hooked since episode one, but no other episode has kept me on the edge of my seat like The Dark Room has. Truly harrowing at times, the very real and raw emotions at work come through in every line of dialogue and every action Max and Chloe take. Whilst your choices might not seem as valuable or as game-changing as in previous episodes, you’ll be too hooked in the story to really care or notice.