I’m afraid of the impending last episode of Life is Strange because I love the series, but don’t want to be disappointed by the ending. Echoes of Mass Effect 3 and its controversial “what’s your favorite color?” ending ring in my head as I think about the attachment I’ve grown to feel for Max, Chloe, Warren, and the rest of the cast of Life is Strange, Square-Enix’s five-part series, and on full display in its penultimate episode Dark Room. Yes, I want to believe the ultimate episode will deliver. Yes, I want it to come out tomorrow. Yes, I think you should play all the episodes of Life is Strange.
But for now I’m still being cautious.
Though the pun is both easy and corny, Dark Room, the fourth episode of Max and Chloe’s journey to find Rachel Amber, is exceptionally dark. At this point in the series, the girls know their mission: find Rachel, destroy the Prescott family, save Arcadia Bay from the freak paranormal storm that threatens to destroy the town. Though the pacing in this episode feels more focused, it also seems more scattered; particularly in the middle of the episode I kept feeling like I was just moving to the next scene without really understanding the girls’ logic for why they were going to that location for their investigation.
Even low points in the story were still fairly high overall, with great voice acting and visuals still marred by crappy lip synching. But the highs of this episode are tremendous, laying more stakes than anywhere else in the series.
Episode 4 begins in a world where Chloe’s father, William, never gets into the car wreck that ends up taking his life. Max finds that altering timelines can come with unexpected consequences: in this case, helping William miss his accident lands Chloe in one of her own later in life, paralyzing her from the waist down. Max becomes a self-absorbed member of the Vortex Club, and upon finding herself in this timeline, instantly drops everything and rushes to be with Chloe. DONTNOD Entertainment’s attention to dialog make the conversations they share some of the most touching gaming has yet to offer.
Even after events transpire there, Dark Room doesn’t fail to stop bringing up tough issues. Bullying and its consequences remain as strong a theme as ever, but this episode even brings up assisted suicide and date rape, topics I wouldn’t have seen coming from the first episode. Choices are difficult to make as always, and many feel like they have an impact on the game’s ending; it’s just still unfortunate that so many of the game’s mini-decisions feel like they have such a minor impact on gameplay. I can still see pretty easily where the story converges regardless of choice, but more often than not I feel like my choices matter and change how things play out.
Dark Room’s biggest flaw is that it tries so hard to pull multiple plot threads together to push us towards the climax, but many of those threads felt weak. Chloe and Max end up determining that they need to talk to Chloe’s former drug dealer to get info on Nathan, a choice which leads the player to a painful puzzle where a single wrong decision forces a complete restart of that conversation. Again, sometimes when Life is Strange spends too much time trying to be an actual game it flubs; I honestly felt twinges of disappointment every time I had to pick up a controller during Max’s time with Chloe in the hospital.
Life is Strange: Episode 4: Dark Room pulls a plot twist at its conclusion that, though I could see it coming, I didn’t see coming. If there’s light at the end of the tunnel in the concluding episode Polarized, I’m hard-pressed to find where it’s coming from; the wrap-up of this series should be fairly intense indeed. If it’s anything like Dark Room, though, you can count me in for the ride.