The third episode of DONTNOD’s success Life is Strange ended on a harrowing note, as the time altering powers of our main protagonist and narrator Max had dire consequences that shocked Max and players alike. The initial sequence of the fourth episode, released on the 28th of July, slowly steers the game into a different direction as things get more and more complicated and downright dark.
The previous episodes of Life is Strange managed to lull the player into a pleasant and harmonious state where a big, satisfying part of the gameplay was centred around walking around, observing, reflecting and simply being present in Max’s reality at Blackwell Academy. Over the past episodes the player has had time to build relationships, get to know (or not know) old and new friends such as the enigmatic Chloe, who functions in the game like a loud mouthed side kick to the (relatively) soft spoken and thoughtful narrator Max.
Episode 4, titled “Dark Room”, has Max realising the potential danger of her time-changing powers. Previously rewinding time in order to get people to react more positively suddenly doesn’t feel like such a small thing when we’re faced with a major, life changing difference that leaves the player heartbroken before we eventually get the chance to set things “right” again. The question is also posed on how many alternative realities Max is creating with her power. Considering the extreme events at the end of the episode, it also implies that even if Max is able to use her rewind powers via a photo taken at just the right time, it might have dire consequences if we decide to make things play out differently.
The overall feel of the episode is a lot darker than its predecessors. The murder mystery behind Laura Palmer Rachel Amber takes a new, twisted turn as Chloe and Max are puzzling the pieces together. Max spends time in an old barn, the dreaded End of the Universe/Vortex Party is finally taking place and the episode ends at night in a familiar location that adds to the harrowing atmosphere.The episode makes it evident that there is more to most characters than it seems. The game has done a pretty good job of convincing the player which Arcadia Bay inhabitants we should dislike and suspect, but as the story develops, it becomes more and more obvious that maybe things are not so black and white after all. Another thing that becomes almost painfully apparent in the game is Max’s ability to see good sides in everyone and tell them exactly what they need to hear. Even though it gets a bit grating at times, it is still a beautiful thing to experience how people react to being told positive and reinforcing things in a society where being a young adult translates to incredible amounts of pressure and judgement.
Certain characters are also showing significant and much appreciated personal growth, especially the blue haired wild child that is Chloe. It took me quite some time to warm up to her as I found her surprisingly selfish and self-focused at times. Even though I could see why she acted the way she did, it stopped me from liking her as much as I wanted to, seeing as she is pretty damn kickass. Episode 4 shows a somewhat matured Chloe who is very protective of Max’s security and who is finally willing to take responsibility for her actions. And I love her for it.Seeing as I personally love to wander around at Blackwell and Arcadia Bay, I was not overly bothered with issues of pacing and lack of action, but I did notice that many segments of the episode are slow and drawn out. Putting together and using the clues we’ve gathered so far turns out to be a somewhat frustrating experience. I chose to put some music on in the background (on Chloe’s good old Hifi that is) and ended up making discoveries I thought were really interesting – but the usual reflections provided by Max were absent. I would have liked some reflection or observation on the fact that Kate aka Chihuahua met up with the drug-dealing and dog-loving Frank several times and bought quite a lot of drugs. Instead I had to put pieces together that seemed pretty irrelevant or lacking of a clear directive. Even though I played episode 1-3 in a row a couple of weeks ago, I found it difficult to remember all the details and clues, and some voice over reminders would have been helpful and interesting as you stumble and feel unsure about the point of what you’re doing.
As frightening and unsettling that Life is Strange’s universe of Arcadia Bay has become since Max returned, every episode of the game makes me want to step into the world and stay there. I have come to love the game, not necessarily because of the story or the characters but because of its overall atmosphere and inclusive world. A world created via the use of the soothing (and often entertaining) narrative of Max, the soft, suggestive music in the background – be it Bright Eyes or Jose Gonzalez – and the mild, pleasant colours shaping the town of Arcadia Bay, despite being a place that is on the verge of extinction. There is a beautiful depth to Life is Strange; a certain ambience that creates a recess and a melancholy sort of calm. The game is shaped by a pleasant and peaceful sensation that is initiated with the intro screen music and then simply lingers, even after you’ve finished playing. Call it hipster or Tumblr in videogame form, Life is Strange definitely makes an impact because of its clever use of pop culture references, its understanding and interpretation of the very real struggle of being a teenager (at least I haven’t forgotten) and also how it feels to be on the outskirts, to be different. Of looking in from the outside. The game provides connections because that is what Max and her camera is – a connection between all sorts of individuals and perhaps more importantly, she functions as a connection between the player and the game itself.
It will be a long wait until the final episode is released. Lucky for me and you, the game has fantastic replay value because there are so many things to learn and to be discovered, or indeed done differently. Maybe the difficult choice of a bacon omelette or Belgian waffle is not a decision that will change the outcome of the game, but overall the game is incredibly responsive to what you say and do – or don’t.
Please note that as Vexoid resumed its activity very recently, no reviews are available for episode 2 and 3 as of now. However, please have a look at Ror’s initial reflections over the first episode.