Life Is Strange - Dark Room
Platforms: PS4 (tested), Xbox One, PC, Xbox 360, PS3.
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
WARNING: This review contains no spoilers for episode four but does contain spoilers for the first three episodes of Life Is Strange.
Eventually Life Is Strange had to pay off. Each episode to date has set things up wonderfully, but all the mystery, the loose ends and decisions made have to be satisfyingly brought together for the experience to feel worthwhile.
Chaos Theory – the third of five episodes – ended on a huge and unexpected cliffhanger that significantly increased the scope of the series. It tied together the intimate coming of age feel that has made Life Is Strange so endearing with the looming apocalypse hanging over Arcadia Bay. We saw just how huge the ramifications of Max's time-traveling could be, and that opened up a huge array of story possibilities. From that point, Dontnod Entertainment's adventure series could really go anywhere.
Where it goes doesn't disappoint. In fact episode four isn't just the best so far, it's a sign that Dontnod are onto something truly remarkable. If the finale can match episode four's great pace and excellent plotting, then Life Is Strange will surely be a classic.
At this stage players will know Max's abilities and the potential uses for them. How to beat certain challenges will be clearer and how to work conversations will come more naturally having been given a better sense of what each of the major characters is like.
At first Max's abilities seemed tacked on: a 'video gamey' superpower trope to make this game feel more like a game. Four episodes in everything has meshed together, feeling more organic and natural.
Episode three was light on overt puzzling, something which left me a little sour. I was a big fan of its ending but felt that what preceded it fell a little flat. In episode four there are better puzzles, but they're also integrated better into the plot, bringing together the game's story with its mechanics and creating – in one particular instance of Max playing the detective – a truly engaging puzzle that feels meaningful to the characters and the story, not just a puzzle for puzzling's sake.
There are a couple of sequences in episode four that appear to have really pushed Dontnod to the best of their abilities. One in particular has a range of very different outcomes, but lays out such a web of dialogue possibilities that it's never clear which one the player will reach. It's the choice-driven style taken to its zenith – and showcases Dontnod's mastery and understanding perfectly.
That mastery is particularly crucial when the player has the ability to rewind time and try again. I rarely felt the need to during the aforementioned scene, but during others I hesitated repeatedly. In neither case did I feel that way because I felt a certain outcome was more beneficial to me as a player. It was entirely because I have been wholly absorbed by the story being told and want outcomes and decisions that may not be beneficial to the characters, but which feel right for the story unfolding.
Episode four is also the meatiest episode to date, in terms of length and the density of its narrative. There's a lot going on, but it never feels overwhelming thanks to a pervading sense of ease to all but the most dramatic scenes – helped by the dreamlike, Twins Peak-inspired feel.
To discuss any more would be to talk about specifics of the plot, which I'll save for another article. The fact I can't wait to write that and read what others think says everything about Life Is Strange to date and this episode in particular.