“It’s not all bad news in Arcadia Bay. Or is it…?”
This quote summarizes Life is Strange, Episode 4: Dark Room rather well. From its opening scene until the haunting, even borderline traumatic last, Dark Room goes there—you know, there.
When the season started, it was hard to know exactly where there would be. On one hand, it was obviously a story of a young artiste in residence at an elite private school in a small town. That small town had its social dynamics and hierarchies that were both said and unsaid and Max, our heroine, had to navigate that landscape effectively.
On the other hand, it was a mystery, wherein you and your counterpart and best-friend Chloe were on the hunt to uncover what had happened to the missing girl Rachel Amber. Posters and murmurings haunted Blackwell, the private school which Max attended, but no one had any straight information. It was all, essentially, dream-like in its presentation.
What Is It?
As time went on in the season of Life is Strange, it seemed that old Illuminatus turned Assassin’s Creed catch-phrase triumphed:
Nothing is true, everything is permitted.
The level of obscured reality in Arcadia Bay began to take hold in the first episode as Max developed a sort of time-warp skill that allowed her to rewind events, re-experience them, and therefore affect their outcome as she willed. Since then, her skills have developed and so has the intricacy of how this power can manipulate outcomes—for better and for worse.
The fourth episode, Dark Room, might frustrate some people because it is not only significantly longer than the other three so far, but it is also bent on forcing you to play Sherlock Holmes and be an old-fashioned connect-the-dots detective. Sequences which would have usually taken just a few minutes could leave you guessing for many more than that, taking you out of your element.
But it’s well worth it. Let me tell you why.
Why Should I Care?
If you’ve already played the first three episodes, Dark Room is going to knock you off your feet. It’s a brilliant and dark climax that starts to pull a lot of the mystery together.
At the end of the third episode, a very interesting sequence of events took place which forced Max into an alternate reality. Seeing exactly how this reality is experienced in spite of the chaos around her in her own reality is rather stunning. To me, it put into perspective all of the teenage drama that had perhaps marred the seriousness of the mystery.
Forcing you to choose between some terrible and upsetting alternatives, it makes no claims at holding your hand through what might trigger a traumatic memory or flashback. It really does go there—not even once, but multiple times throughout Dark Room.
That’s the thing that’s so curious about this episode. Some people will appreciate what happens in it—I know I did—but others are going to probably say it went too far too fast and without much warning. But I would disagree with that, knowing that this series has been built on two elements so far: the inner-workings of Arcadia Bay’s social dynamics; and, also, the mystery involving space-time, chaos, and the impending apocalypse.
Why Is It Worth My Time and Money?
The two sort of streamed elements of the plot are synthesized in Dark Room, which makes this my personal favorite episode of the series so far. No longer is this a teenage drama wherein your social standing matters and the rich-kid rule at Blackwell serves any purpose.
It’s not thrown out the door, but rather it’s trumped by a series of significant events wherein these kids, their parents or teachers, and the town around them are faced with, what they ironically call, the “End of the World.” You know, that party the kids have been hyping up for a long time. The day when the solar eclipse happens. The memory of the “eco-havoc,” as Max calls it. Everything comes together before, at, and right after that party.
But where does that leave us?
We’re in store for an exciting finale. Assuming they can keep the momentum going in the last episode, Life is Strange is changing the game for how female-driven storytelling in our medium can exist. By bringing us in with sitcom television-level drama, it got us hooked. But where it excelled was by taking it to the level of something more like Gone Girl or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Needless to say, if this gushing review hasn’t sold you on purchasing the fourth episode after you’ve already played three, what else is there to say? Skip it.
If you’ve already played the last three, I don’t know why you’re wasting time outside of Arcadia Bay. Get in there and dig deeper into the mystery. You’re in for a wild ride.
Lastly, if you’re on the fence now and haven’t yet played any of the series, I can tell you it’s relentless and very endearing. To me, I’m hard pressed naming a more human story in spite of the fact we are dealing with the supernatural. This is, so far, one of the best story-driven episodic games. It is at the forefront of a new form of adventure game.
Dark Room is awesome. It’s as simple as that. It’s totally and completely awesome.
Even considering the strange and slow breakdown with some tedious puzzles, you’re going to be blown away by the otherwise break-kneck events. It’s nuts how dark Dark Room really is, and it’s great to see a game willing to dare to go that far.
Here’s to the season finale—coming soon.
Reviews of Previous Episodes of Life is Strange:
- Life is Strange, Episode 3: Chaos Theory
- Life is Strange, Episode 2: Out of Time
- Life is Strange, Episode 1: Chrysalis