Review: Life Is Strange: Episode 4 – Dark Room

LifeIsStrange-Episode4-StoryLife Is Strange follows Maxine Caulfield, or Max for short. Returning to her hometown of Arcadia Bay in Oregon, she enrols in a prestigious academy as senior photography student, working with some of the most prestigious in the business. The academy is rife with rumours and speculations regarding the mysterious disappearance of Rachel Amber, a girl whose reputation changes depending on who you talk to.

Without giving too much away, the events of Life Is Strange are thrust into motion when Max reunites with her estranged best friend, a more rebellious Chloe. Chloe’s father died the same year that Max left town, leading to the two becoming estranged. Max and Chloe both have a mutual goal, however, as both were involved with Rachel Amber, and as such, investigate her disappearance together.

LifeIsStrange-Episode4-ChloeMaxIt seems that the developers of Life Is Strange are alternating between the smaller conflicts between members of the student body and the larger more immediate threats to the town of Arcadia. Episode 4 of Life Is Strange continues this trend, with the fourth episode focusing more on the student body once again. As we get closer and closer to the conclusion of this rather unique series, bonds are formed and broken and the consequences of your choices become more and more apparent.

The writers have done a great job at making sure that the episode ends on a cliff-hangers that possibly begs more questions to be asked than it answers, and may go either way once we see where the story goes in the final episode. But those who are enjoying the story so far will appreciate the fact that some of the storylines are starting to be tied up and concluded. But something fantastic about the twist in Episode 4, is that if you go back through the earlier episodes, it all makes sense. There’s no jumping the shark here, just yet, at least.

LifeIsStrange-Episode4-PresentationAs I muse in every review of each Life Is Strange episode, not a lot changes in terms of the visual style. The game still employs a rough, dream like looking aesthetic that helps give the game an aloof and indie flavour, as if it takes place in another world. The fourth episode takes things to some more different locations – and without ruining much – you’ll visit familiar locations and newer locations and a rather impressive party given the game’s budget.

Unfortunately the usual issues that have plagued the first three episodes continue to rear their ugly head in the fourth episode. Character models look very rough and have a severely stylised look to them. Much like any game running on the Unreal Engine, here is also some texture pop-in and it’s especially obvious in some scene transitions here and there. Lip syncing remains very average as well.

LifeIsStrange-Episode4-Party02The tradition of using original music with a certain sense of whimsy and French independent licensed music continues in episode four of Life Is Strange too. Some of the more intense and poignant scenes utilise licensed music particularly well and the aforementioned party scene also employs some fantastic and yet not overbearing electronic music to sell an ambience and atmosphere like no other.

Given that things are starting to wrap up and are beginning to get emotional, Life Is Strange still sounds great in terms of voice work but the script itself is still slightly cringe-worthy. Your mileage will certainly vary as to how much of these teenagers eye rolling dialogue you can stomach, but I personally know some people who talk like this so it’s a bit easier to put up with.LifeIsStrange-Episode4-GameplayEpisode 4 remains quite similar to previous episodes. Life is Strange is an adventure game that feels slightly more involved. This episode feels like a good mix of puzzles, investigations and conversations. Much like previous episodes, the game embraces and comes to peace with the fact that you can almost rewind every situation and play out each outcome and then comfortably pick which one you want to go ahead with. What Life Is Strange does differently to compensate for this is that the outcome of your choices are not immediately apparent.

In fact, there were several moments throughout Episode 4 of Life Is Strange where I was actually left with regrets. Somebody who I threatened previously in one of the episodes returned in a position of power in this episode, and if I’d been just a little bit nicer then things would’ve been much easier for m in terms of completing my objective. It’s nice to see my choices actually have some ramification throughout the story, but it’s sure as hell changed the way I look at future choices in the game.

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LifeIsStrange-Episode4-CluesMax continues to be very talkative whether it be to other people or internally while discussing and item or object she’s looking at. It remains a great way to further develop and build the world and Max’s character, but also remains completely optional if you just want to get the brunt of the main storyline. More often than not though, and this was especially evident in the fourth episode, these interactions can sometimes help your efforts more so than hindering them.

Being a game revolving around the Butterfly Effect or Chaos Theory, there are some choices to be made throughout the episode. A big issue I had with Episode 3’s choices were just how black and white they were and how blatantly moralistic they were about them. Episode 4 provides a few interesting major and even minor choices that are more morally grey. Choices where your own personal opinion may cloud your judgment in deciding to do what is right or wrong. It’s a welcome change especially following Episode 3 which was great but rather on the nose.

LifeIsStrange-Episode4-ChloeMaxPartyThe rewind mechanic is still used in Episode 4 but it feels like its role has been notably diminished. There are times here and there where Rewind is required to progress, but it’s quite rare that it’ll be forcibly be relied upon. Players who want conversations to play out differently and keep friends on their side will enjoy the ability as they have in previous episodes. But don’t expect anything major or new being employed with the Rewind mechanic. Of course, expect it to conveniently fail during a key story moment, just as it did in Episode 2, though.

One thing I love about Life Is Strange and continually to enjoy in Episode 4 is just how much extra information the game provides you if you’re willing to look for it. There’s journals, text messages, photographs and emails to look through both on Max’s phone and in other people’s belongings that help sell the idea that the world is alive and moving without you without actually showing you so. It’s a simple yet clever trick that the developers have managed to employ throughout the entire series without resorting to big budget spectacle and wonderment.

LifeIsStrange-Episode4-WhalePhotoThe episode itself felt like the best paced one of the series so far. Lasting roughly three or four hours, the episode is constantly throwing new surprises or twists at you to keep you interested from beginning to end. But it’s done so in a way that doesn’t emotionally exhaust you or drain you or wish for you to end. Instead, you just want to keep playing a little bit more each time until the chilling finale.

LifeIsStrange-Episode4-ConclusionAs with all my other musings on the episodes of Life Is Strange, it will be interesting to see just how the developers and the writers will choose to end this series. On one hand, you have the rather lofty and intangible plot elements in the threats to Arcadia Bay itself. On the other, you have a surprisingly grounded mystery element in the disappearance of Rachel Amber, which is starting to wrap itself up in a rather satisfactory manner.

It will remain to be seen whether or not Life Is Strange will be able to juggle these two conflicting angles of its story and bring them both to a close without disappointment. But given what we’ve seen in Episode 4 and how, upon looking back, it’s surprises can all be explained or made sense of – and how our choices have affected our experiences in later episodes – we’re very close to calling Life Is Strange a resounding success.

Great ending and cliffhanger
Consequences of choices becoming more apparent
Some great presentation in the second half
Visually rough art style
Less rewind related puzzles
Very poor lipsyncing