WARNING: The following review contains spoilers from episodes one through four. It was difficult to not discuss certain plot points of episode four in this review, and still provide justification for some of the things said. With that being said, SPOILERS BEWARE, READER DISCRETION ADVISED.
It has been quite the journey so far in DONTNOD’s episodic adventure Life is Strange, and over the course of the first three episodes, the game has done so many great things, never shying away from difficult themes and ideas. I’ve admired that about the series from the start and episode four is just as fearless. A magnificent plot and a few plot twists help bring home episode four, despite Life is Strange’s biggest misstep with a cork board fumble.
Immediately, DONTNOD drops the player back into the world we left off within episode three, exploring the relationship dynamics between friends Chloe and Max, who apparently was away traveling on her own while Chloe recovered from an apparent car crash. As you saw at the end of episode three, Chloe is bedridden and bound to a wheelchair as her paralysis won’t allow her to walk any longer.
I enjoyed this section of the episode because it gave me an appreciation for the alternative reality Chloe may have wanted, with her dad, William, being alive. How profound the reality actually is though. I think of the sentiment, be careful what you wish for because as bad as things may seem, changing your life doesn’t mean it will make things better for you. So much of this alternate reality is done perfectly and explores the difficulties people might face in this situation, not just for Chloe and Max, but also for Chloe’s parents.
The dialogue between Chloe and Max early on is heart-wrenching to say the least. DONTNOD did a fine job of exploring the ideas a person in Chloe’s position might be struggling with, though I have zero personal experience, and the conflicted feelings they might be going through. It’s hard to come up with the right words in a situation like this and DONTNOD painted that picture precisely with the game’s dialogue.
I enjoyed certain dialogue nods the studio made toward how Chloe has changed since Max decided to rewind things in episode three. For example, Max uses the word “hella,” a word that Chloe profusely tosses around throughout the first three episodes, and Chloe asks her not to say that since it’s her least favorite word. Additionally, the topic of hair color comes up in a separate conversation between the two and Max mentions that the now blonde Chloe would look beautiful with blue hair, a nod back to the color of hair she has had since the beginning of the series. I really enjoyed these subtle references, though not everyone may share the same feeling.
Moving forward, one of the biggest choices of the episode puts the player in the position of having to choose between effectively assisting Chloe in suicide, so she doesn’t have to live in pain and agony any longer, or not, prolonging said agony and pain. Talk about an insane decision to force upon the player, but that is what I’ve loved about Life is Strange. Serious choices and hardships many people face in life aren’t shied away from simply because a vast, larger audience might not approve. Life is Strange embraces those choices and hardships with open arms.
Eventually, we are returned to the “present” in Life is Strange and are tossed back into the world as it was before we left it in episode three. Showing the contrast between the two realities was a nice touch since it gave greater insight into what the world would have been like had William still been alive. Not lingering in this reality was a good thing though, as there were many, many things to take care of back in the “present.”
I have to say the worst part of episode four and the reason why this didn’t receive a fourth consecutive perfect score is because of the cork board investigation scene. Players are tasked with matching up certain clues to progress to the next part of the story. I was not pleased with this because it was very unlike previous episodes. Sure, investigating has always been part of the game, but with Max’s rewind powers not being a part of this section, it was unneeded and intrusive.
There have been moments where Chloe and Max just figure things out or we are told they do and really, a few cutscenes with them matching up clues would have been far better than forcing the player to endure a frustrating clue matching section. This was the only time I felt like the immersion and flow of the story was broken up, so hopefully episode five will dodge something like this because episode four didn’t need it.
There are a slew of major choices the player will have to make throughout episode four, with some of them leading to a character’s death, or not, and some of them leading to truces with another character, or not. The Dark Room revelation is twisted, but the real tear-jerker is the scene when Chloe and Max finally discover where Rachel is. I won’t say anything else, but it’s intense.
I was expecting the episode to end here, but it continued, ultimately delivering the biggest shock of the series, which is saying a lot. One of the game’s central characters is killed by the least likely candidate and it was one hell of a way to end episode four. DONTNOD has topped themselves and left me on the edge of my seat once again.
Life is Strange Episode 4 Dark Room is terrific, once again delivering a magnificent blend of reality, authenticity, danger and twists. The uncalled for cork board investigation scene is not enough to derail Dark Room entirely, and the ending more than makes up for it. Life is Strange continues to be one of my favorite games of the entire year and I hope DONTNOD can finish off the story with the same impact in episode five, as they have delivered in the first four episodes.
- Shocking twists
- Monumental decisions
- Alternate reality
- Cork board investigation
A PlayStation 4 code of Life is Strange Episode 4 Dark Room was provided by Square Enix for the purposes of this review.