Please Note: Many reviewers out there seem to think it is appropriate to discuss the events of previous episodes of Life is Strange as if everyone who would read it damn well should have already played the previous episodes. It has been my experience that if you have held out this long and haven’t already played this episode then you are most likely wondering how the game progresses throughout the season and will decide whether or not to buy when all episodes are out. This is why each episodic review is spoiler free for the entire season, not just this episode.
Episode 4: Dark Room
We have arrived at episode 4, nearing the end of the season and who knows, perhaps this episode contains the major climax for the arc. I say this without assurance because episode 3 had such an unexpected cliffhanger that I didn’t think it was possible to get me again. I was wrong. That being said I need to come right out and say I was a little unimpressed overall with episode 4, proving that the warning I gave in the first episode’s review may have actually come to fruition. Whereas episodes 2 and especially three can begin to fork based off of your choices and possibly even suggest that two playthroughs is more of a recommendation rather than an option, episode 4 is forcing you down a corridor. Granted, it’s a well calculated corridor that presents itself with the illusion of choice, but I’ve seen this trick before in The Walking Dead series from Telltale and without sounding catty, I thought Dontnod was above that. There’s a decent amount of substance here still, with the story having easily its highest moment yet as the episode closes and again there are some strong emotional scenes that make up a very heavy episode. One thing I do find a bit troubling is the fact that as certain plots unfold, others are left almost unmentioned, which nets a lot of catch up, wrap up, and resolution required for the fifth and final episode. I’m just hoping that it remains as interactive as the others have been and doesn’t become the 90 minute ending of Metal Gear Solid 4. Dontnod has yet to convince me they don’t know how to craft a story and without a doubt they know how to catch my interest, here’s hoping the ending stands as strongly as the jaw-dropping cliffhangers of previous episodes.
Gameplay in this episode changes up a bit, which comes as a mixed bag. I loved the investigation board, where you are finally able to look over items and craft together the building blocks of your story. In many cases for previous episodes sequences like this would be guess-and-check as you try to figure out what netted the appropriate result and rewind time if you were wrong. When the game got really crafty you would have to assemble entire scenarios to make the most of a scene, which I always found intriguing. In this puzzle you are given large amounts of items to examine and assemble into your timeline and it really felt like I was Max trying to put the pieces together, which I only regret had to appear for the first time in episode 4. There is a puzzle much like the Principal Office puzzle in episode three that had me scratching my head for quite some time, only to roll my eyes with absolute annoyance at the solution. I have already addressed my relative distaste with complex puzzles in classic point-and-click adventure games so naturally I struggle for “thinking outside of the box” versus pure logic. There is also an annoying sequence that requires you to redo the entire conversation – you can skip ahead in parts of the conversation but it still takes a few minutes to re-navigate the whole scene – and proves to be repetitive and boring. If you are a player that just lets the pieces fall where they may, this won’t be much of a hassle, but then this entire game is based on learning, rewinding, and adjusting your behavior.
Dark Room is a great example of building upon both the story and the gameplay we have already experienced and ramping up for what appears to be one hell of a finale. That’s not to say there aren’t stumbles along the way and I guess to a certain extent Dontnod couldn’t wander too far off the beaten path as the developers now have to rope us in to a meaningful endgame. You may not like some of the plot devices and I personally had to grind my teeth at one of the puzzles, but by the end of this slightly longer 3 hour journey you will be greeted with a staggering burst of information and development. I’m quite impressed with the overall product at this point and look forward to seeing if Life is Strange can pull off not only being a fantastic standalone product, but also a new template for future titles of this ilk.
Final Score: 3 out of 5
Given that this game is episodic, this review will continue to build upon itself per episode. Posts of each episode will go on the main page individually but this link will stand as the comprehensive review for all episodes. Each episode will be given its own score initially, but the comprehensive review will have an overall score that will update with each episode (and may not necessarily reflect an average of the scores as this is not the method to scoring). This game was purchased by the reviewer and played on PC, however it is available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC (including Steam), Xbox One, and Playstation 4 at a price of $4.99 for Episode One and $19.99 for the entire five episode run. Episodes are available individually for $4.99 each and require the first episode to be purchased.