Life is Strange: Episode 4 – Darkroom Review
In previous Life is Strange episodes, developer Dontnod has proven that it's not afraid to tackle complex issues, such as abuse and suicide. Most developers wouldn't dare touch these subjects, but Dontnod keeps pushing even further with them. Sometimes that doesn't make it an easy game to play. In Arcadia Bay, everyone's dirty little secrets are more sinister and alarming than expected. Episode 4 isn't for the faint of heart - it's for those who have hope that this crazy ride has some satisfying solution that isn't as messed up as it seems.
Life is Strange picks up right where the previous episode's shocking cliffhanger left us. Max's time travel abilities have altered Chloe's life in a big way. My favorite parts of Episode 4 are when it showcases Chloe and Max's longtime friendship and natural bond. This isn't always something games spend time building up, but I enjoyed the little moments of them looking through old photographs, joking about playing pirates as children, and watching Blade Runner together.
As much as I love the smaller moments, I've also felt unsettled by this episode, almost to the point of putting it down. However, I've come to know and care about these characters and that's what keeps me playing even when horrible things happen to them. I will avoid spoiling anything, but the story is littered with intense situations - subject matter that I'm happy to see explored in a video game, though the execution isn't always great. Sometimes seemingly significant issues are passed off far too quickly. For instance, a guy might violently push a girl, but then the characters move on to the next thing without much reflection. I hope the finale gives issues like these more room to breathe. I felt Dontnod did a good job exploring some of the after-effects of suicide in previous episodes, even if I didn't like how the event surrounding it played out.
Dontnod continues to put in small puzzles to break up some of the gameplay. For the most part, these are a nice touch and don't require too much effort. The solutions involve finding objects in the environments and reading papers. The puzzles are never intrusive, which I like, and they make you feel like you're doing some of the legwork in solving the mystery.
I still contend Dontnod is making choice matter and doing a great job at forcing me to evaluate the long-term implications a decision may have. However, an early choice in this episode really rubbed me the wrong way. I felt like the game was just going for shock value rather than what fits the story best. It is an unfair and unnecessary decision to put on a player, especially since the message the story was trying to get across in regards to illness and pain was already evident.
Life is Strange has remained unpredictable, to its benefit. I can't tell where this is going, but I hope the conclusion takes a step back from the more horrifying things we see in Episode 4. Dontnod has been teasing supernatural elements, but so far the story has stayed relatively grounded. A lot happens in this episode, and it looks to be building up to a hell of a finale - for better or worse. I just hope the ending is satisfying and provides a worthy reason for all this. Bad things happen in the world, but this game makes me feel like that's all there is. Thankfully, Dontnod has created a charming cast of characters and premise so bizarre that I'm willing to withstand some of the problematic subject matter just to see its end.
Note: This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. Life is Strange is also available on PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.