Review: Life is Strange: Episode 4 – Dark Room (Xbox One)
Episode 1 – Chrysalis
There’s nothing strange about the episodic video game formula that Life is Strange has adopted. Neither is the rewind mechanic that the developers, Dontnod Entertainment, has been talking about for several months now. We’ve had a small taste of it in Remember Me. What is strange is that I still can’t get used to waiting for the next episode of a game that both delivers and promises on a great narrative.
Max is your typical awkward teenager student who has a passion for photography. As with most students she daydreams, but in her case it’s more of a nightmare when she suddenly wakes up in the middle of a lecture. Your lecturer, Mr. Jefferson, takes little time to mock Max once she takes a Selfie of herself. Yup, Life is Stange has a fantastic grip on popular culture. Throughout the game you’ll see references to Facebook and Square Enix classics such as Lara Croft and Final Fantasy: Spirits Within. It’s also in this moment that the rewind system is introduced.
Max is asked, “Who invented the ‘selfie’ portrait concept?”, that was originally started in the 1800’s – a historical lesson for me too (I hate the bastard who started that). She obviously has no clue. Once he tells her it’s your chance to rewind time and surprise Mr. Jefferson as well as your peers. Press and hold the Left Trigger and a spiral will wind down in the top left corner of your screen. To make the time move back faster you hold in RT (along with LT) to speed things up. To instantly move back to the last important decision you made, represented by a butterfly (yes, the Butterfly Effect), press LB and you’ll move to your last decisive point that will have an impact on the story in the future.
Life is Strange is a combination between the Back to the Future and The Walking Dead Telltale games. You control Max from a third-person perspective as you investigate everything from posters at your high school through to private emails in the dormitories at your school. It’s in essence an investigating drama adventure that will see you make some tough decisions. Pressing the Y button will let you look at objects or people, while the A button will let you read or observe objects and speak to people. The dialogue can at times leave you with several answers, mapped to the face buttons. Get it wrong and you simply rewind and try it again. This does not mean you have to rewind everything you do.
There were instances where the game kept pushing me to rewind, as Max would question the actions I had taken for her, but I decided to keep with my original decisions. These decisions would later prove to have a positive outcome. It brings through some form of psychological approach in how the game is making you question your own decisions, now that you have the option to change up the future with the polarity system. Like with most Telltale games you’ll get to know the various characters in the game and it being a high-school brings various personalities into play. Things really kick off when you get to meet Max’s childhood friend Chloe Price.
Everything is not quite as it seems. It becomes more and more apparent as you reach the end conclusion of the first chapter, but I’d rather not spoil anything for you. Like with Telltale games you’ll be able to compare your choices with other players (and your friends) once completed and you’ll receive a small snippet of what to expect in episode 2 that releases in March.
Life is Strange provides a gripping story that looks to mimic the quality of Telltale games and there’s enough puzzle solving that points back to older point ‘n click games of old, though it’s not quite as tough. There are unforgettable moments, like when Max places her headphones in her ears and listens to a mesmerising intro song as she walks through the school corridor for the first time (Pictured in the featured review image). It just sets the scene beautifully. There are several moments that’s pure genius. This first episode will last you 3 hours, but it’s 3 hours better than most 10-15 hour games. Life is unquestionably strange and empty now that the first episode is over.
PLEASE NOTE: If you have not completed Episode 1 please do not read on as there are spoilers
Episode 2 – Out of Time
Your last experience in Life is Strange spells doom and gloom for the small town Max resides in as there is a promise that mother nature plans to destroy what’s there. It provides an expectation in the coming episodes that you’ll definitely make use of the rewind feature to help yourself, as well as friends, family and perhaps even strangers.
Having collected quite a bit of evidence in the first episode, Chrysalis, it now shifts your focus from various events, and the overall tutorial, to something that you now practice. It’s time to save some people who needs saving. Before that though you’ll have Chloe all up in your face as you have to prove to her that you really have powers. You’ll head off to a restaurant, then later to a scrap yard (Chloe’s playground) where you’ll be put through several tests. These tests involve simple puzzle solving, that can be a little too easy at times. The title ‘Out of time’ comes into play when you head back to your college.
Kate, the girl who struggled with immense pure pressure, is going through a very tough time. She’s not quite coping and will be your biggest challenge in this episode. It’s up to you to prevent the worst from happening. Observing everything is of the utmost importance as you’ll be confronted by questions later on that can’t be repeated.
The last bit of this episode is not as dictated as it was in Episode 1. You’ll have the opportunity to move ahead in three different directions. Which one you choose is up to you, and looks to change the narrative for individuals quite drastically. You’ll really find that you’re running ‘out of time’. I found most of it a little boring, though the last third of the episode will inject same much-needed drama into the story telling.
PLEASE NOTE: If you have not completed Episode 2 please do not read on as there are spoilers
Episode 3 – Chaos Theory
At this point you’re wondering where the developers, Dontnod Entertainment, will be taking the next episode. Other than the ending in Episode 2, where Kate commits suicide, it’s been a so-so experience in that last episode. Episode 2, though still strong in its own right, did not provide the same level of impact as the first entry into the series did. Can Episode 3 revive that?
You’ll start things off in the your dorm once again with one aim – to sniff out more answers on Kate’s death and, the still missing, Rachel Amber. Before you sneak out of your dorms at night you’ll get to read up on events since Kate’s death via your laptop and phone. It’s here that you’re once again reminded that the developers have a great understanding of young adults and how they communicate with each other via social networks.
It’s really interesting to read the various comments from people on Kate’s death, and their thoughts on the decision you made in the principles office in the last episode. Each and every decision you make seems to have a very unique outcome. Unique enough that, at this point, I can’t wait to replay the game to select other options. Once outside you’ll very quickly learn to use your rewind option again. In fact, for the remainder of the Episode I found that I used the rewind option more often than ever before… as if they’re getting you prepped for something big.
To avoid spoiling too much I’ll keep it simple. You meet up with Chloe, who helps you gain access to areas that would otherwise be out of your reach. From here you’ll visit locations you’ve been to before, but with added bits of that area that was once not available to you. It’s however the last 20 minutes of this episode that blows everything out of the water. Let’s just say it’s the Butterfly Effect (or Chaos Theory) in full motion. The twist changes up the plot altogether and brings in a whole new gameplay mechanic. To spoil it would be a complete sin, so I’ll leave that for you to experience for yourself.
This change is exactly what the game required. It’s an ever-evolving episodic game and it’s playing out better than most series’ on the silver screen. What waits in episode 4 is a tantalising prospect.
Episode 4 – Dark Room
By now you would have experienced the tragic outcome at the ending of Episode 3. Max’s lifelong friend, Chloe, is in a very unfortunate condition because of Max trying to bring Chloe’s dad back into her life. As you have now discovered, Max can use photographs to jump back in time and to change the outcome of the future. The Butterfly Effect is now into full affect and very early on in Life is Strange: Episode 4 you’re tasked with a very difficult decision.
Many pieces of the puzzle now falls in place and it changes the pace of the game somewhat. The rewinding feature, that plays a pivotal role at certain points in this episode, barely makes a showing. Instead you’re tasked with some instances that has you puzzle solving and checking and comparing facts to do so. There’s also a major discovery that’s made that leads to one of the highlights in the game so far.
Decisions you’ve made in the game earlier now has an impact on how things move ahead. How you treated various characters in the game leading up to this point will have an affect on the outcome of everything you’ll do in Dark Room. It all ties up events that involve the missing Rachel, Kate’s events and other events that’s in the making.
I’d love to point out what it could be, but that would destroy your experience. I found this chapter in particular to last me a little longer the previous three and ended up investing roughly 4 hours of my time, which is not bad for an episodic formula. Dark Room sets the finale up perfectly. The bizarre events in Arcadia Bay are about to come to a conclusion. How it all turns out is anyone’s guess. Expect to be Polarized when the last chapter kicks off later this year.