Life is Strange: Episode 4 – Dark Room earns its title. If up until now this rather lackluster adventure series was all about time-traveling angsty teens, the fourth episode takes a hard left turn into a very sinister territory. Not better or more interesting territory, mind you, but definitely darker. Dark Room deals with issues like bullying, suicide, torture and even murder, but does so in such a shallow and unengaging manner it fails to coax any reaction from the player. Anything other than a shrug, that is.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I have to say that episode four is the first episode that touched me. I felt compassion for Chloe and Max, and could finally appreciate their deep friendship. But that was in an alternate reality, where Chloe’s dad is alive but she is in a wheelchair. The second the old Chloe was back, I once again lost all sympathy. It’s obvious why we couldn’t stay in that alternate reality, since if we did, every choice we’ve made so far would have been utterly pointless, but frankly I found it a lot more compelling. I would have loved to explore it, or the idea of multiple timelines, further. Alas, we had to come back to boring old Arcadia Bay and continue the search of Rachel Amber with our blue-haired friend.
Since this is the fourth episode in the series, it’s pointless to discuss the game’s story so far. If there’s one thing Life is Strange excels at is making you feel like your playthrough is uniquely yours. Even when you see the statistics of other players’ choices, you still feel like the story is tailored specifically for you. While there are some things that will happen to everybody, the game continues to shift and mutate to accommodate for choices made in previous episodes. For example, there’s a whole segment with Kate Marsh that players will not experience if they failed to save her in episode two. There are also quite a few situations in this episode that will undoubtedly have dire and radically different consequences in the next.
What doesn’t change from one episode to another is my complete indifference towards the two main characters – Maxine and Chloe. I’m simply incapable of caring about either of them, and now that I’ve actually managed to connect with Max and wheelchair-bound Chloe in the alternate reality, I understand that the version of Chloe I’m stuck with is the problem. I find her neither likable nor relatable, as she is nothing more than a shallow depiction of a “troubled teen.”
Dark Room approaches its dark themes with the same shallowness, as it never lets them to get under your skin. During the playthrough you’ll make some really horrible revelations that don’t seem out of place in the real world. I won’t go too much into detail, as to not spoil anything, but it’s very obvious the game wants you to care and be shocked by these revelations. Deep down you know you really should be, but the game fails to engage you in any way. Episode four goes around showing you murder rooms and putting you in some very uncomfortable situations, but it never lets the player absorb the meaning behind it all. Maybe the next episode will take the time to let you process everything properly and deal with the repercussions, but Dark Room just ends up blazing through these disturbing moments without letting it all sink in.
On the other hand, this shift in direction actually means some excitement, since the series wasn’t exactly interesting so far. You won’t go around a junkyard collecting bottles in this episode, and the whole mystery at the center of the series finally starts to unravel. Once the episode gets going, it never stops, and there are quite a few segments that offer truly interesting and thought-provoking puzzles. The story still progresses at a snail’s pace, but at least we know there’s a little more happening.
It’s important for video games to tackle difficult subject matter, and Life is Strange: Dark Room gets points for trying, but it’s also important they do it well. Few moments are genuinely emotional, but they are mostly obscured by more of Max’s silly inner dialog or Chloe’s angsty clichés. Even so, Dark Room is completely different from any of the previous episodes in the series, and that can only be a good thing. All in all, it looks like we are heading for an interesting conclusion in episode five, but until then, we still remain mostly in the dark.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.