Uncovering The Mystery
Warning: Spoilers from Episodes 1 – 3 of Life is Strange to follow.
It seems as though episodic games and their respective penultimate episodes always seem to falter, with DONTNOD’s fourth episode of Life is Strange the latest victim. Episode 4, titled Dark Room, takes a various amount of steps in the right direction when it comes to moving the story forward, developing a better insight into the characters behind Blackwell Academy and their dark secrets, and finally starting to mention the storm that’s headed for Arcadia Bay, yet it’s the time it takes for this all of this to happen that makes Episode 4 such a dull affair, making it the weakest link in what has otherwise been a solid series so far.
We enter Episode 4 moments after Episode 3 left off, looking upon a gorgeous golden-soaked sunset that’s subsequently contrasting with those that gaze upon it. The music, composed by Jonathan Morali, sets the mood of the episode perfectly, and the exchange between Chloe and Max during this scene is one of the strongest and most emotional exchanges in all of the episodes thus far. We’re in an alternate reality of course, and having Chloe relegated to a wheelchair and reminiscing over what her life could have been is incredibly saddening, especially after we’d grown used to her punk rock, no-holds-barred style that had inhabited the life we shattered in the final moments of Episode 3.
Max is part of the Vortex Club now, she’s preppy and best friends with Victoria and the gang, and her life seems to be completely contrasting with the one we had previously developed a connection with. There still is, however, things that need to be sorted out. Nathan’s tirade is still apparent in this reality and we need to gather evidence surrounding him and his unstable lifestyle. Unfortunately, after another heartfelt, emotional exchange with Chloe and making one of the series’ biggest choices yet, we’re thrust into a rather dull hour of character building, trudging around Arcadia Bay, and unenjoyable mystery solving.
This is where Episode 4 really falters. The first fifteen minutes of the episode are fantastic, with a mood-setting soundtrack, great exchanges with Chloe, and a solid decision to make. After that though, we’re thrown back into the crux of a story that just seems to take forever to get going. This has been an ongoing theme with previous episodes, and the hour I spent talking with characters and piecing together sections of puzzles that are solved later in the episode was uninteresting and tiresome. I think it comes down to the fact that this episode is by far the longest in the series, clocking in at around three hours, and it takes a rather long time to get to the interesting arc of the story and finally start making headway. There’s too much time spent on uneventful school exchanges and not enough spent on meaningful character and story development.
The last quarter of Episode 4 is by far the most interesting and has you looking deeper into Nathan Prescott’s life and the conditions he’s seemingly afflicted by. There’s a lot more to the richest family in Arcadia Bay than you’d expect, and I like that we’re finally getting some backstory on his family and their place in the world. As is with most of the primary characters in Life is Strange, there’s a lot of small, subtle things you can discover about them by investigating your surroundings and examining absolutely everything possible. Although it is a completely optional thing to do, you’d be limiting your scope and understanding of the story, which is not what Life is Strange is about.
Major decision making and the consequences that usually follow aren’t really utilized in Episode 4, which is unusual. Considering this is the penultimate episode of Season 1 of Life is Strange, I would have thought we’d have a handful of major decisions to make but that just isn’t the case. The decisions embedded within this episode feel mostly inconsequential and minor when compared to what we encountered throughout Episode 2 and 3, and that makes the episode and its longevity feel all the more unnecessary and exhausting. I would have been satisfied to trudge through the episode to get to an ending or a choice that had real consequence and influence over the way the final episode is going to play out–like the finale of Episode 3 did–but that isn’t the case here. Episode 4 is dull, it’s tiring to endure, and it feels like the amount of story we’re fed could have been delivered in under two hours, not three or four.
Do keep in mind that I’m judging the story and experience that’s delivered to me, which could be entirely different to a playthrough that’s had a multitude of different choices made. One of the best and most impressive parts about DONTNOD’s episodic series is that it has a butterfly effect of choices that branch out from one another, giving players a differing version of the world and the story that’s played out. While the major story elements may be the same, other sections of the game are not, so it’s important to note that this far into the season my experience with the game may not entirely translate well with your own game and the choices made.
Life is Strange Episode 4 is definitely the weakest of the episodes so far, delivering a dull and inconsequential story that long overstays its welcome. The writing at times is clunky, which has been a staple of Life is Strange so far, the story moves at a frustratingly slow pace, the decisions made don’t feel as though they’ll have a major impact on proceedings, and the ending doesn’t really feel like a good payoff considering everything we’ve been through. While I enjoyed looking into the lives of the Prescott’s and watching the storm finally start to have an impact on life in Arcadia Bay, I couldn’t get behind a good amount of the characters and their motives this time around. I’m hoping that Episode 5–the finale to Season 1 of Life is Strange–delivers on the promise of Episodes 1 – 3, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
A review code was provided by the publisher.