Article first published as PlayStation 4 Review: ‘Life is Strange: Episode 4 – Dark Room’ on Blogcritics.
If you were shocked by the ending of the last episode, just wait until you get into the second half of “Life is Strange: Episode 4 – Dark Room.” While Dontnod’s episodic adventure game has been setting up a fairly dark reality, “Episode 3” revealed that an alternate timeline isn’t necessarily better. While “Life is Strange” has dealt with a number of adult issues, the point of view of the main protagonists held back some of the story’s maturity. With “Dark Room,” “Life is Strange” leaves behind all of its youthfulness, and becomes a dark, gritty, adult experience.
“Episoide 3: Chaos Theory” ended with Max’s time manipulation forcing her childhood friend, Chloe into a wheel chair as a quadriplegic, with no sensation below her neck. In the two months between episodes, I pondered which reality was actually the better reality. This same dilemma, is played out in Max’s head throughout the beginning of “Episode 4.” Dontnod actually does a good job of filling out the world in this alternate reality. From the changes at Chloe’s home to text messages on Max’s phone, this new world feels complete, and adequately prepares the player to choose between the two possibilities. That choice never comes.
While you could possibly argue that maybe Chloe is happier with her whole family, despite her paralysis, luckily, “Life is Strange” doesn’t burden the player with that decision. Just because we don’t have to make that decision, doesn’t mean that Dontnod makes it easy. The whole alternate reality bit is wrapped up in the first third of the episode, but not before offering an equally hard choice for Max to make. While the choice offers significant weight, it’s unclear what the long term consequences are. Chloe’s suffering and the weight of it all overwhelms Max to the point that despite her good intentions, she has to return to the original timeline’s reality.
“Episode 4: Dark Room” starts off kicking you in the gut and doesn’t let up at all for the next few hours. As a matter of fact the pace quickens throughout, setting up another shocking ending. Any previous complaints about the game’s subject matter being juvenile, don’t apply to this episode. Surprisingly, at this point of the story, everyone involved has grown up quite a bit. Even those only tangentially involved in the tale, have had to face the consequences of the new reality in Arcadia Bay. It’s this growth and evolution of the characters that really speaks to Dontnod’s ability to tell a story.
Dontnod might not be a pioneer of the episodic adventure game genre, but they seem to be doing everything right. While the narrative is its strongest selling point, “Life is Strange” has a lot going for it. Its 3D gameplay and well executed soundtrack, along with the publisher’s ability to stay on schedule, help the game stand out. There are some minor technical glitches, but nothing fatal and much less noticeable than its main competition. Speaking of that competition, while those games might be easier to start playing, “Life is Strange” offers an unprecedented level of depth and immersion for an adventure game.