A storm is coming, in both the figurative and literal sense, to Arcadia Bay, and Life is Strange heroine Max Caulfield looks to be in the center of it all in Episode 4 of Life is Strange: Dark Room. While DONTNOD has gradually built up the drama and mystery as Max deals with her powers and the supernatural phenomena happening around her, Episode 4 ramps everything up almost right off from the start and doesn’t stop. Answers are found, and revelations are made, and by the end of The Dark Room, you will be begging for the finale to be released.
Dark Room starts right after the conclusion of Chaos Theory, as Max finds herself in an alternate universe where Chloe’s father was not killed in a car accident, but instead Chloe was crippled in another accident years later. Although that was the biggest change in the timeline, thorough observation and exploration reveals that other things have changed, as well as how some things have stayed the same, due to Max altering history. DONTNOD did a fantastic job of going through great lengths to show these changes, from conversations with previously familiar characters, to even changes in Max’s journal and text messages. It’s odd and feels genuinely wrong, and it culminates with arguably the hardest decision in the entire series so far. When it came up I honestly stared at the screen for at least 20 minutes, unsure of what do. It goes to show how well the characters of Life is Strange have been developed, and how invested you get into them.
Max eventually returns to the proper timeline, and the majority of the episode focuses on her and Chloe putting together the final pieces of the puzzle to find out what happened to Rachel Amber. Decisions in previous episodes start to pay off, especially the fate of Kate Moss, and it is surprisingly refreshing to see that certain previous decisions aren’t as black and white as they seemed at the time. Along with the big decision in the alternate timeline, there is another moment around the halfway point with huge consequences. Unlike previous moments where “failure states” prompt an automatic rewind, the final outcome of this decision is left entirely up to the player. It’s a pretty bold choice by the developers to allow such a diverging moment happen, and hopefully it will play a significant role in the finale. The primary puzzle mechanic in this episode is going through all of the evidence gathered and picking out what’s relevant to the case, reminiscent of the old children’s edutainment game Eagle Eye Mysteries. Like with the confrontation with Kate on the roof, it helps to have paid attention to the details of everything you’ve examined, and not just haphazardly go through everything. It’s a neat bit of detective work, and it certainly beats out collecting bottles. (Amusingly enough, there’s a moment of self-awareness when Max finds some bottles and gets disgusted by the sight of them)
The voice acting of the game continues to be top-notch, with some absolutely powerful performances by Hannah Telle as Max and Ashly Burch as Chloe. Lip synching has vastly improved, and now characters actually look like they’re saying the dialogue, instead of the the disjointed mess that looked to be right out of Final Fantasy X. Environments also continue to do an excellent job at building the world of Arcadia Bay, from the disturbing dorm room of Nathan Prescott, to the mysterious Dark Room, and to the claustrophobic and sensory-overloading “End of the World” party. Everything builds towards a dark tonal shift to the story, culminating in the shocking conclusion.
Things look dire for Max at the end Dark Room, and people are already theorizing and debating on how the rest of the story is going to play out. DONTNOD has not disappointed so far on their story, and if they’re able to stick the landing to Episode 5, Life is Strange will deserve to be called one of the greatest adventure games of all time. The finale cannot come soon enough.