This review is spoiler free
Life is Strange has come a long way, since its awkward, teen drama opening. By Episode 4 – Dark Room, we’re embroiled in something more akin to the Danish hit drama, The Killing. Life is Strange has a dark side, but by the end of this episode, it just gets a whole lot darker.
Throughout the game, we’ve been told that our decisions have consequences. In Dark Room, those consequences come home to roost. Who you’ve spoken to, betrayed, ignored – they all come into play at the climax of this episode. So, prepare to regret some decisions and cheer others.
At the end of Episode 3, we’d all suffered the biggest shock ending, so far. We saw the ramifications of playing with time, laid bare and we were left wondering how it could be resolved. The worry was that choice would have to be taken away from the player and to a certain extent, that’s what happened.
Dark Room begins where Episode 3: Chaos Theory left off – for a reminder, read my previous Life is Strange review. Max and Chloe’s lives are on a completely different track and Act I deals with the emotional fallout. This leads to a literal life or death choice. The dilemma succeeds in making you gasp and hover between options, but ultimately, it’s a false choice, as far as I can tell. No matter which way you go, Max’s next action is out of the player’s hands and it’s a pivotal moment in the story.
Despite feeling cheated out of a decision, I understand that Dontnod had to get us back on track. Fortunately, the rest of the episode is so satisfying, that I forgive them this stumble. And despite it, this is a powerful opening, which sets the tone for the rest of the episode.
Gameplay takes a back seat, in favour of narrative, in Episode 3. Max
and Chloe go into full detective mode, as they focus on the Rachel Amber mystery, using all the clues they’ve gathered along the way. The information is assembled on a big board and the player must examine different sets of clues to determine the next move, as they close in on Nathan Prescott, who appears to be at the heart of the story.
What started as a fairly sweet coming of age story, with a bit of supernatural thrown in, takes an altogether different turn in Dark Room. Max actually finds the titular room, which exposes the seedy underbelly of Arcadia Bay. This is less quirky, indie movie a la Juno or Garden State and more David Lynch’s Blue Velvet.
It all comes to a head at the End of the World part at the Vortex Club, where Max talks to all the main players. This leads to another shock cliffhanger. Dontnod’s done it again. Dark Room’s final twist will have you playing through all the episodes again, to see what you missed.
Far from being shock for shock’s sake, this ending raises as many questions as it answers, which is just good writing. This is a twist that feels inevitable, yet surprising, as Dontnod shows its writing finesse, yet again. How could I not see it coming? And looking at the end of episode choices stats, very few did.
That said, Dark Room isn’t as compelling as Episode 3, which really set the bar high. The pacing wasn’t quite as good, as it was in Chaos Theory, but it’s still a quality bit of narrative gaming and the ending left me on a high.
There’s a lot to get through in Episode 5, but I have faith in Dontnod, now. Life is Strange deals with drug addiction, mental illness, corruption, environmental disaster and growing up, without making you feel overwhelmed. The supernatural, end of the world drama is secondary to the personal drama, which is what makes Life is Strange so compelling.