Life Is Strange: Episode 4 – The Dark Room – Review

Title   Life Is Strange: Episode 4 – The Dark Room
Developer  DONTNOD Entertainment
Publisher  Square Enix
Platform  Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Genre  Adventure
Release Date  July 28, 2015

This review contains heavy spoilers for episodes one, two, and three so stop right now if you haven’t finished them yet. You can read my reviews of the previous episodes here, here, and here.

I’ve criticised Life Is Strange for a few things in my previous reviews, but one of the things that I can’t really fault it for is the relationship that developed between Max and Chloe, which made playing the first twenty minutes of The Dark Room really quite uncomfortable for me. As we discovered at the end of episode three, Max doing a Timeslides and saving Chloe’s dad from his fatal car accident had some unwanted side-effects, most notably that Chloe ended up in a car accident herself a few years later, and is now paralysed from the neck down. Also a bunch of whales washed up on the beach and were promptly forgotten about by almost everyone.

The first part of episode four is very much centred around Max getting to know the “new” Chloe, and trying to make up for all the time she was away in Seattle, all while feeling massively guilty that her screwing with time has left her best friend in a wheelchair. At one point Max says “hella” and wheelchair Chloe complains about how she hates the word, which is possibly a little too clever for its own good. The opening section culminates in a choice that I was not expecting to have to make, really struggled with, and refused to rewind to try the other path because I felt it would have cheapened the decision somehow. The fact that (minor spoilers for the rest of this sentence) they essentially hand-wave it all away with timey-wimey stuff did detract from its impact a little but, still, fair play to Dontnod for actually going there in the first place.

The core of the episode is very much business as usual; Max and Chloe are still trying to work out what happened to Kate and Rachel, and what the “Dark Room” referenced in Nathan’s scribblings is before the Vortex Club’s End of The World party. To this end they basically revisit all the key players and attempt to steal stuff from them in order to gather evidence, and in doing so showcase something of a problem with this episode’s writing. Now, I understand that sometimes in order to advance the plot, characters have to be dumb and do things that no sane human would actually do, but there are a couple of occasions in The Dark Room where Max and/or Chloe actually lampshade how dumb it would be to do the thing they’re about to do and then do it anyway, leaving you powerless to do anything other than try to clean up the consequences of their actions.

Some people have complained about the vagueness of the conversation options in general, making it difficult to navigate some parts of the game successfully without requiring multiple rewinds but, to be honest, while I can see where they’re coming from, it’s not something that really bothers me too much – that said, I enjoyed Alpha Protocol, which was arguably even worse at it and lacked a rewind power, so you may want to ignore my opinion on the matter.

However, there are a couple of the big conversations this month that are basically set up for you to fail first time around even though there’s no good reason for it; when it’s been done previously it’s because there’s information that the characters simply can’t know or items they can’t acquire without the knowledge gained from rewinding previous conversations, but here they just don’t give you the conversation options that would let you avoid the bad outcomes even though they’re perfectly logical things for the Max or Chloe to say in the situation.

As the preview at the end of Chaos Theory implied, episode four eventually finds itself in the End of The World party but not before some fairly harrowing discoveries, as well as very stupid decisions, are made. I have to say that at this point I started to suspect that the game was setting me up for a big twist ending, but I wasn’t really prepared for quite how dark it got. I can’t go into any details without spoiling things but The Dark Room really isn’t afraid to deal with some deeply unsettling topics and leaves you on a cliff-hanger which, frankly, outdoes all the previous episodes. With only one instalment left the writers are hurtling headlong towards wrapping things up, at least in terms of the missing girls plotline, but I still have no idea where they’re going with the apocalyptic visions and time travelling powers side of things. I guess maybe they’re connected, but right now I’m struggling to think of a way to link them all together that wouldn’t seem like an ass-pull – perhaps I’ll be proven wrong.

  • Not afraid to tackle difficult topics
  • Really starts paying out on the Max/Chloe relationship
  • No stealth section
  • Another crazy cliffhanger
  • Several conversations with seemingly unnecessary restrictions pre-rewind
  • Characters make some really stupid decisions that you have no control over
  • Voice acting for incidental characters is still pretty iffy

The Dark Room had a genuine emotional impact on me, which is a rarity for a game, and delves into some dark and fairly disturbing places as the story approaches a conclusion. The "forced failure" problem, or at least locking off certain conversation outcomes on your first try is particularly egregious in this episode but if you can overlook them then this is a solid addition to the story with some excellent plot twists and some really stupid decisions.

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