Life is Strange Episode 4: Dark Room
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: July 28th, 2015
Price: $7.99 AU/$4.99 US– Available On Steam, PlayStation Store, Xbox Live
Quick warning, unlike my last few Life is Strange Reviews this one will contain some slight indirect spoilers. Episode 3 of Life is Strange was a relatively slow episode, failing to do much to further the plot and was honestly rather forgettable outside of that fantastic ending. Luckily, Life is Strange Episode 4: Dark Room brings with it plenty of intense moments, character development and a heap of twists you most likely won’t see coming. Is Dark Room the penultimate episode this series deserves? Read on for our full review.
Where as episode 3 focused a lot on missing girl Rachael Amber and her history, main characters Max and Chloe didn’t get any closer to finding Arcadia Bay’s missing angel. Episode 4 feels like its trying to make up for all that, continuously keeping the ball rolling with intense or shocking sequences while not straying too far from the series roots.
Episode 4 starts up right where the third episode left off where we get to see a great alternate reality and a new, darker side to the story that represent the harsh consequences of Max’s last time bending escapade. Unfortunately you kind of feel any decisions you make in this alternate world are pointless as it’s a little obvious that things will return to normal based on how you arrived in the alternate reality in the first place, but this game has surprised me before so I wouldn’t be shocked if those decisions do make their way back into the main story.
The Rachael Amber and Prescott family storylines continue to give strong motivation the player to continue delving further into the story as the great pacing in this episode gives you one piece of the puzzle at a time. The ongoing mystery of the extreme weather effects and supernatural occurrences are still lurking in the background but are starting to weave their way into the story.
Max remains her shy, dorky self and her inner thoughts on her surroundings continue to bring more depth to this likable main character. The rest of the cast is equally believable and many of the characters are very fleshed out, with a lot of their back story coming through from objects found in the environment or conversations you have with them. It’s easy to feel for these characters and relate to them as a lot of different personalities are present. It’s perfect for a game like this as you feel yourself treating different types of people as you would in real life based on their attitude or even just how you’re feeling that day.
As for the actual dialogue, I feel it’s improved here overall from Episode 3. There are still a few awkwardly delivered lines from the main cast and there are some rare lines that are laughable (a stoner guy at one point says he “vaped some dank OG bud”), but these are few and far between they’re more hilariously bad rather than just bad.
The choices made so far also seem to be having a fair impact on the story. That is not to say that the story won’t play out essentially the same way for everyone but the journey will most certainly be different for many, to the point where some players may not experience entire scenes due to a character being otherwise occupied for whatever reason. Smaller effects such as dialogue that is effected by your choices are also peppered around the game, leading to moments where you’re like “oh cool, my actions made them say that.”
As with past episodes, some of the best features that have remained staples of the series also return here. This world is again so full and lovingly crafted and really feels lived in, making the small town of Arcadia Bay feel believable and allowing us to relate to the struggle it’s going through. Arcadia Bay is littered with intractable objects that all come accompanied by Max’s inner thoughts, giving the player insight in to how Max thinks and interprets the world in her head.
Max’s diary that contains text messages, diary entries, character biographies and more also makes a welcome return. The game does a great job at providing you with the necessary information to understand the main story upfront, but for those who are interested in really delving into character histories, past events and Max’s thoughts on everything you can do just that. The diary (along with the main script) hold heaps of fun pop culture references from movies to popular memes which are fun to find. The main diary entries and text messages can also aid in gameplay especially during the detective part of the game.
Episode 4 answered a lot of questions but be assured there is still heaps of mystery left to be revealed in the final episode and Episode 4 somehow manages to add that with some shocking, yet pleasing, plot twist and revelations. For me the best plot twists are ones that you can look back at the film/game and be like “ahh that makes sense” and I am happy to write that is the case here.
Gameplay is very similar to the last three episodes as Max walks around looking for the next prompt to advance the story, investigating the area and taking the odd photo for an achievement whilst doing so. A lot of the time you will have a choice in your actions or dialogue which will effect the story in a minor or major way depending on the gravitas of the situation. The options you have in these conversations often change depending on past actions and you can often rewind them if you are not happy with your answer. Once again your decisions feel important and thanks to Max’s time powers you can always watch out the immediate consequences of one action and then rewind to view the other, allowing you to make a more informed choice before you pick permanently.
Max’s time bending powers really aren’t used much in Episode 4 which can be seen as both a positive and a negative. It’s good that Dontnod aren’t overusing the mechanic and continue to use it smartly, in small doses. However it also means there isn’t as much time involved puzzle solving which is a shame as I had fun with it in past installments. The time puzzles presented here are rather simple, but will get you thinking about the right time to rewind and the spatial awareness of your surroundings.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t other types of puzzles to solve though and unlike the monotonous fetch quests that were present in Episode 3 there is none of that here. A fun section in the middle of the game has you pasting together a bunch of collected clues to help Max and Chloe identify where they should head to next to continue their mission. The game does a good job at making you feel like a detective as you have to really take a good look at each piece of evidence to link everything together.
The last episode had an instance where I was forced to restart due to an infinite loop bug and unfortunately Episode 4 isn’t bug free either. At first I thought it was just me not remembering the controls properly but after doing some research online it seems many others have had the same problem. Pressing LB on an Xbox control on the PC normally will rewind you back automatically to the start of the last interaction you had, but in Episode 4 it is broken and keeps rewinding. This happens across most of the episode and basically means that functionality can’t be used, forcing you to use the manual rewind. It’s not the worst bug in the world but considering how well the time controls worked in past episodes it is disappointing the game wasn’t tested enough to find this issue.
The visuals in this game are kind of like a 3D water colour painting with lots of soft tones and visible brush strokes. It looks great and details on characters and the environment are impressive for an art style that appears simplistic on the surface. Environments are incredibly detailed and have just as much personality as the characters within them. A great example of this is all the graffiti across the dorms and toilets which is mostly hilarious and a solid representation of how some kids act these days.
The interface is very clean and intuitive. Hand drawn lines pop up to represent objects you can interact with and also when the game is saving or you have made a consequential decision. When you perform a rewind the visual effects used are really powerful, user friendly and aren’t slow or clumsy. The freedom of the camera movement is fun to play with and allows you to set up cool screenshots in lieu of a proper photo mode.
I have slammed the past episodes for their bad lip syncing and it seems Dontnod and Square Enix have put the money earned from the series success to good use. The lip syncing is FIXED and while still not perfect is a gigantic step up from the past games. On a quick performance note, the PC version has plenty of visual settings to adjust and even on my only decent PC running max setting I suffered no performance issues while playing.
The game doesn’t have a big soundtrack however the licensed tracks used in the game are perfectly melded to the visuals. The soundtrack largely takes an indie vibe with obvious inspiration from films like Juno. Then there’s the party scene featuring a good mix of licensed songs that I thought fit a teen party really well. In terms of score, calm scenes have soothing music while intense moments have an equally fitting tone. As for the sound effects, none are out of place and aid in the completion of the wonderfully detailed world.
The voice acting is really good for the most part, with lines delivered well and character’s voices matching their personality. Sometimes the match is a bit stereotypical such as the dumb jock speaking slowly or the ‘bimbo blonde’ speaking with high afflictions, but those problems luckily don’t affect characters that speak a lot.
Life is Strange Episode 4: Dark Room continues on from the magnificent ending of Episode 3 and keeps the intensity up throughout the entire episode, right up to the shock ending of its own. The best of the series is present here with a great cast of likable characters, well detailed environments, meaningful choices and stimulating challenges. Tied together with fantastic visual and audio presentation, most players should easily be able to overlook some of the ridiculous dialogue and few bugs that try to interrupt your gaming session. If Dontnod nail it with Episode 5 they could have a surprise Game of the Year contender on their hands with this excellent original series.
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