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Life Is Strange, a review- Episode 4: Dark Room

Warning: The following review contains spoilers about Life is Strange Episodes 1, 2, 3 and 4. If you have not played this game or seen a Let’s Play, it is recommended you do so beforehand.

Life Is Strange, a review

Episode 4: Dark Room

With over a million units sold, there seems to be no stopping Life is Strange (well, other than the fear of a bad ending or some of the worst translated dialogue to date). A new IP starring a female protagonist with an interesting mechanic is giving the journalist press something to chew on. Can they continue this streak or will this episode suffer the same set up problems as Telltale’s Game of Thrones did? Let’s find out!

When we last left Max Caulfield, she kept investigating clues that would lead to Rachel Amber’s mysterious disappearance. However, she couldn’t help but get sidetracked by Chloe’s highly dysfunctional life  and have it blow up in her face. Feeling guilty, she unlocks a new ability to travel back in the past and alter history and saves Chloe’s father. Now, Max wakes up in an alternate reality in which she is part of the popular clique, the Vector Club, Warren is dating Stella and Chloe is paralyzed in a wheelchair. What will Max do?

As Max explores her new universe, she sees the pain she has inadvertently caused Chloe as well as her family. So much so, she decides the best choice is to go back to Universe A and let William die. (Which… honestly feels like a railroaded moment since Max could have resolved this in 100 other ways that doesn’t result in Chloe needing constant medical attention or becoming a juvenile delinquent, but whatever).

I guess my biggest disappointment with this episode is that we’re never really allowed to explore this alternate universe outside of Chloe’s house. I get the idea: obviously Chloe’s paralyzed state is so shocking to Max that she doesn’t want to leave her, but after seeing all these other set ups ( Warren dating Stella, Max in the Vortex Club), it feels weird just to leave it like that and reduce it to text messages.

I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to see the life of someone who is paralyzed what with the physical difficulties and the mounting debts, but it feels like this was only here just as a sort of ‘too shocking to believe’ moment instead of something that pushes the plot along (other than Max’s stating the obvious that playing with Time Travel could have consequences).

But when Max gets back, she beings some hardcore investigating with Chloe with lots of choices and very interesting scenarios. For example, there’s a confrontation that Chloe has with Frank, the drug-dealer, that can end in several different ways depending on the dialogue choices Max makes as well as previous choices beforehand. That’s impressive in my book.

But even better is the way the game reveals information through an organic way. I’m not the biggest fan of mysteries or puzzles, but Life is Strange delivers it in an organic and really impressive way that made me want to continue playing instead of throwing my controller down in frustration. (It also helps that the game gives some alternate solutions in case you can’t figure out that pesky passwords). This is what I wanted out of The Wolf Among Us, but sadly that series was much more interested in quick time events.

Best of all, the villains and antagonists are written in a way that feels organic. Victoria really shows there’s some humanity over her ice queen routine, and even David, a character who’ve I’ve constantly complained on being depicted badly is showing signs of empathy. The best depiction is Nathan Prescott. A boy obviously in over his head, he’s resorted to drugs and despicable means of getting his way, but also manages to show a really disturbed youth. He’d be Dexter Morgan but without any of the skill or craft of pulling any of this off.

Then the final reveal comes which will either break or make this game for a lot of people. For the record, I’m on board with the final reveal and want to see how it plays out. (Or if it’s an unfortunate decision Dontnod had to make because their game got leaked).

The best way I could describe this episode is… complete. It ends on a cliffhanger but it’s a satisfying cliffhanger that doesn’t jerk you around with mysteries and allows you to come to the conclusion. This episode could’ve have easily ended on a musical number and a shocking discovery, but the game goes on and gives you more. That’s more than I can say for some episodic game franchises.

I’m really excited to see how the series ends. Despite the hipsterism or the hokey dialogue, there’s a solid foundation here that I’m really enjoying. Here’s hoping Dontnod doesn’t blow it by the final episode.

Ending Spoilers After this Point

Crazy Fan Prediction: Chloe’s not dead

So, at the end of this episode, the real perpetrator (who I won’t reveal) stabs Max with a needle, paralyzing just enough for Chloe to get turned around and get shot in the head. It’s a pretty graphic death scene and feels really terrible… until you realize Max has a specific power to prevent this unwelcome scenario. Remember her power in Episode 3? She’ll use that, go back in time and prevent Chloe’s death.

End of Spoilers