In case you haven’t been following this game — Square-Enix, in conjunction with Dontnod Entertainment — has been periodically releasing an episodic game series for some time now. Following the “Choose your own Adventure” trope made popular by Telltale Games, Life Is Strange has always felt kind of like a teen drama carbon copy. Earlier this week, they released the 4th (out of 5) episode in this series, as the search for the missing Rachel Amber persisted.
WARNING: This analysis contains spoilers for multiple episodes of Life Is Strange up until this point. Scroll down to “final thoughts” for a brief summation.
There are many things that Dontnod has managed to do really well with this series up until now that even exceed Telltale in quality. The game performs much better than any game on the Telltale engine, suffering from far fewer pop-ins and stuttering sequences. I appreciate the stylish approach to the game — using licensed music, referencing tons of things any given nerd would understand, and having a unique user interface. The whole aspect of time travel and the chaos theory itself are heavily explored, and those are both things I find myself very fascinated by. It is a combination of these things that help to maintain my interest and keep me from being so annoyed with the game that I ultimately stop playing.
In spite of all of those positive things, there is a lot that usually holds this game back from being better than just good. Dontnod Entertainment is based in France — and while I don’t personally hold it against them — it’s clear that they definitely have an outsider’s perspective on what life is like for a typical American teenager. Just some of the dialog, it’s a little too off sometimes to feel like the characters would actually say those things (something they themselves even acknowledge this time around, but more on that later), and almost every conversation takes me out of the experience just a little bit. Max is (for most intents and purposes) also a pretty annoying protagonist. There are times where she speaks her thoughts or mentions things in conversation that make me want to stab myself with a fork. She (like all of the students at Blackwell) are insufferably hipster, and say very clichéd things in that regard. She is so into every hip thing you could think of, that sometimes her actual personality is difficult to nail down. Finding it difficult to personally connect with Max (she’s just so different from me), I’m only left with the hope of finding something interesting to get out of the other characters. Sadly, that is another issue. Everyone is an archetype, or occasionally spews a hammy punchline too trite to overlook. At their most realistic, they just remind me of high school, which makes me hate almost all of them. That’s just biased opinion, though.
The problems don’t end there. While a young teen given the power to rewind time to fix her mistakes is a great main hook (and an immensely interesting draw that has kept me playing up until this point), the rest of the subplots are fairly uninteresting. Other than the disappearance of Max’s best friend’s other best friend — a plot that has mostly overstayed its welcome at this point — everything else in Arcadia Bay is a little hollow and uninteresting. I’m sure people closer to the age of the characters may find it more appealing, it’s just hard for me (a 28 year old non-privileged, biracial male) to relate to any of it. They all just seem like a bunch of spoiled rich kids who all secretly hate each other and themselves. It is like if you combined a teen murder mystery story you have probably read in your childhood with something like what I imagine Pretty Little Liars would be. Not exactly a winning combination.
While there are usually a lot of things holding it back, Life Is Strange is beginning to finally find itself. Several issues plaguing early episodes are addressed, and they’re finally hitting the right plot points at the right time.
Still reeling from the crazy aftermath of Chaos Theory, Max finds herself in a brand new dilemma. Having the best of intentions, she tried to go way back in time to try and save the life of Chloe’s father before everything went sour. Things seemed like they’d be all well and good until she was thrust back into the present day. Due to unseen ramifications of meddling with time, Max discovers (to her horror) that this alternate version of her best friend had been paralyzed from the neck down in a car crash. Due to complications with her spinal injuries, Chloe’s respiratory system began a slow descent into failure, and she was not expected to live very much longer. The beginning of Dark Room focuses heavily on Max’s dynamic with alternate Chloe, as she comes to terms with the fact that some things are best left not tampered with. The whole beginning sequence is great, and it helps Max realize the true toll her powers can have on reality. The alternate Chloe is a lot more lovely and charming. She even disparages the use of the word “hella,” which I’m assuming was a sly self jab by the creators for earlier criticisms from the game’s fans. Max is mortified by the news that this version of Chloe is not only completely paralyzed and her parents are destitute, but she is also doomed to die from breathing issues regardless of treatment. With a heavy pang of guilt and regret, she offers her best friend her dying wish and puts her out of her misery, then once again resets the timeline and leaves things in Arcadia Bay as they were. Chloe may be suffering without her father, but Max felt keeping her best friend alive and in one piece was preferable to the gloomy alternative.
This episode feels heavier and more content-ridden than previous ones. Typically, I will finish a given episode of this game in around 90 minutes — when this episode took me a few hours to complete. Granted, a lot of this was unnecessary investigation and filler scenes, but I never lost interest due to the improved pacing.
The investigation leads the two girls down several paths as they attempt to uncover evidence of the now long missing Rachel Amber. Nathan Prescott had been expelled, but he was still around to cause a nuisance for everyone. Luckily Warren, Max’s knight in nerdy armor, swooped in to save the day and provided much needed assistance and support. The great threat of the seeming end of the world loomed heavily over Arcadia Bay, as the students of Blackwell Academy sought to worry about more trivial matters. Thanks to some begrudging help from none other than Frank Bowers (Rachel’s old flame), they were able to unravel even more about the Prescott family.
Their snooping led them deep into the belly of the beast, as they uncovered dark secrets on the seemingly abandoned Prescott farm. Their they discovered evidence of a lot of girls being drugged and posed in disturbing and sexual photographs. Chloe was propelled into a savage anxiety when she noticed evidence from her and Rachel’s old stomping grounds. Quickly, they raced back to the garbage dump — though they were horrified to discover that Rachel Amber had since been long dead and buried beneath the garbage of Arcadia Bay. Assuming Nathan was behind everything, Chloe furiously led Max back to the End of the World Party that was now in full effect. Max takes some time to try and make some sort of amends with the incessantly bitchy Victoria Chase, and decides to warn her that she may be in danger. The girls are discouraged when they realize that Nathan is nowhere in sight. As they are about to leave the party, Mr. Jefferson finally announces the victor of the Everyday Heroes contest. The winner is none other than Victoria herself. This bums out even more, and they leave the party with their tails between their legs, feeling utterly defeated by the events of the past week.
On the way to the truck Chloe receives a taunting and angry text from none other than Nathan Prescott, claiming that soon, they will have no evidence to pin anybody on the disappearance of Rachel Amber. This propels Max and Chloe right back into the monster’s trap, as they foolishly race to the town dump where Rachel’s body had been hidden. As they’re trying to dig up the girl to ensure her remains were still intact, Max is unexpectedly assaulted by a needle of drugs from behind. As she sluggishly falls to the ground, she his horrified to see Chloe, her best friend since childhood, shot in the head by their assailant. Desperately, Max reaches forward to try and rewind time, but the drugs are quickly working their way through her system. As she is about to pass out, she catches a glimpse of none other than her trusted teacher and mentor, Mark Jefferson as he walks over Max’s body holding a gun.
I’ve gotta admit, I didn’t really expect this.There have been rumors that Jefferson was at least kind of involved, but to me he always seemed little more than an auxiliary NPC. They hadn’t taken hardly any time developing anything of substance with his story, so it came a bit out of left field. Obviously, this was their intention, offering several red herrings throughout the game that pointed at other more obvious choices for the murderer. I wish it had been revealed in a more organic way, but I was still pleasantly surprised that the writers didn’t try and pick one of the obvious suspects as one of the main antagonists.
That’s not to say that Jefferson isn’t involved with other individuals. He did clearly have access to Nathan’s phone, but for all we know, Nathan could be as much a victim as anybody else. It makes me really wonder about some things. Did Mark know that Max had time control powers? Why wouldn’t he just shoot her in the back of the head? Could he want her for something more? You know, other than for kinky sex pictures, anyway. It’s perplexing. The game has definitely taken a dark turn. There’s no telling where Max, and Arcadia Bay itself will end up when it’s all said and done.
Dark Room is by far the best episode of Life Is Strange to date. Some heavily emotional scenes, combined with the ending of subplots that had been hampering the storyline helped this tumultuous chapter stand tall among the others. Max currently finds herself in a very dangerous situation. I will personally be awaiting the conclusion to this tale of a young girl with time control powers with excitement.
What’s Good: Much better dialog, emotionally impacting sequences, plot propelled much further than in previous episodes
What’s Not-so-good: The big villain reveal was a little weak, some things just didn’t add up
What do you think of Life Is Strange so far? Do you think it’s been worth your time (wink), or are you losing your interest in the goings on of Arcadia Bay? Let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned for the eventual finale whenever that happens to come out. Thanks for reading!