Over this year, the video game Life is Strange has gone from a colorful puzzle-interaction game treat to an immersive experience that always leaves me wanting more. Never before have I played a game where I cared so damn much about every single character, from the gentle and shy Max Caulfield to even twisted bullies like Victoria and Nathan.
In its most recent installment, Episode 4: Dark Room, we get to see the beginning of the end for Max’s adventures. After making a choice that changed the face of Arcadia Bay, Max has to contend with how all of her choices have impacted her friend Chloe’s life, from multiple deaths to crippling paralysis. But when she gets back in action, Max’s investigation proceeds in earnest, gathering the final clues that link Nathan Prescott to na ominous drug deal, more secrets about the Prescott family, and clearer hints about what really happened to the missing Rachel Amber. All of which leads to the long-awaited “End of the World” party…
So, after so many weeks of eager anticipation, what did the fourth episode of Life is Strange deliver?
A more judicious use of the rewind power.
I was honestly surprised that I didn’t need to use Max’s rewind power as often in this episode. As a player, I got so much more out of sitting and going through every dialogue option with all the different characters.
Some happier moments with the extended cast.
For all the dark and terrible things we see in this episode, it’s nicely balanced with some healthy interaction between Max and her friends. Every moment with Chloe is sweet and heartbreaking, but ultimately strengthening their lifelong bond. And I was pleased that we get to have good, uplifting talks with students, from Daniel and Dana to Kate and Victoria. It’s not all bloodshed and betrayal as the trailers promised.
Seriously, if I were allowed, I’d spend the entire game either in Chloe’s bedroom or Kate’s hospital room, just hanging out and enjoying the adorableness.
The butterfly effect and chaos theory writ large.
It’s been a subtle point of the whole series how chaos theory works through Max’s powers and decisions. One key feature of chaos theory is sensitivity to initial conditions (otherwise known as “the butterfly effect”), where a small adjustment in a data set can drastically change its future progress. From whether William Price lives or dies to even some of the minor decisions we made back in Episode 1, everything comes into play and changes the landscape for Max and Chloe in their investigation.
Another feature of chaos theory is that we can’t approximate the future from the immediate present. In the game, this manifests with every little decision we make as a player, which is often marked with the butterfly logo and the words, “This action will have consequences…” It’s awesome (and a little scary) how much the developers have factored in for every little adjustment in this episode’s dialogue and plot branches.
A very, very dark turn of events.
This series already dealt with difficult subjects, from missing girls and date rape scenarios to pulling out guns and drug abuse, but Dark Room goes far deeper than expected into these subjects. At last we get a look at how deep and depraved the conspiracy against girls like Rachel Amber and Kate Marsh truly is—and what happens when Max and Chloe get too close to unraveling the truth.
After all the hype that fans like me felt for this episode, it delivered in the most explosive way imaginable. I’m a little relieved (and horrified) that some of my personal suspicions about the plot were confirmed, and filled with joy over the conversations I get to have with Blackwell students and how Max can really start to build a better future around them, even while her world slides closer to Armageddon.
Life is Strange Episode 4: Dark Room is available for purchase and download through Steam. The final episode will be released around September this year.
Bibliography: Life is Strange, Episode 4: Dark Room. Developed by DONTNOD Entertainment. Published by Square Enix. Directed by Raoul Barbet and Michel Koch. Produced by Luc Baghadoust. Designed by Baptiste Moisan, Sebastien Judit, and Sebastien Gaillard. Art by Amaury Balandier. Written by Christian Divine. Unreal Engine 3 (engine). Microsoft Windows; PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4; Xbox One, Xbox 360. Original release date: July 28, 2015.