Last time we left off Max, she did an apparent no-no by traveling back in time. But not just by a few seconds or minutes, she rewinds time back 5 years by use of a photo and stops Chloe’s biological father William from dying in a car crash. A chain reaction of events happen in the present day, with William alive, but Chloe paralyzed from the neck down from her own car crash and has a failing respiratory system. Max is now stuck in this parallel universe…for about 30 minutes before it’s rectified, but let’s pretend that that wasn’t the way it would end up for the intro of this review. Welcome to Episode 4 of Life is Strange, Dark Room. If you people have been keeping up with my reviews of this series, then you know that I’m not too keen on a lot of things that this series has to offer. While the last episode offered a glimmer of hope and potential, the majority of the series for me has been a drag in the dirt while I’m wondering what the hell happened to that hurricane. As for episode 4, it gives some it takes some equally, so this is gonna be a weird one to review. But let’s cut the crap and get started. Once again, this story will be more focused on literary analysis instead of game, but game will also be present. Also, minor story spoilers ahead.
As said before, Max has ended up in a different timeline where Chloe’s dad is alive, but Chloe get the brunt end of the pain. Max and Chloe have a catching-up discussion, mostly for Max to get clues on what is what in this timeline, while Chloe is being a much, much nicer and likable character, but we’ll get to that later. Life generally sucks for the Price family as Chloe can’t move and her parents have to somehow pay for all the equipment that keeps Chloe alive. It’s also nice to talk to William for the first time, though I still think the writers were trying a bit too hard to make him sound like a Super Dad character. As mentioned before, Max thinks it’s too much to handle, so she uses the photo she used last time to undo her changes and let William die so Chloe could have a better life. Yes, that means that the first 30 minutes were somewhat pointless, but for me it didn’t matter much as I enjoyed some of it. Yeah, that’s right, I actually enjoyed a part of this game, but again, more on that later. Afterwards, Max returns to the prime timeline where Chloe is setting up a board of clues to finally figure out the sub-plot mystery, while, once again, the hurricane plot is utterly forgotten until literally the last few moments of the episode.
This is actually a strange beast to review, as one moment I’m enjoying the character interactions and events, but the next I’m staring at the screen for 45 minutes trying to match up pieces of paper. Another moment I’m enjoying the concept of consequences for messing with time, but the next that hurricane still hasn’t shown up in one set of dialogue. As said before, this episode’s major focus is the wrapping up of the Kate case and Nathan’s whole deal. This means that the focus is mostly detective work which the game does…questionably. You’ll have to gather clues from characters like Nathan and Frank, which might get violent if you make it that way for a chunk of the episode. Then comes the…compiling process, which are different sets of clues coming together to get a location. Why this god-forsaken bit not covered in a cutscene is beyond anyone. But that’s as far as I’ll go for story summarization. The bizarre separation of sub-plots in this episode makes it hard to analyze this thing as a whole, but I will say that the Rachel mystery is solved and the episode ends with the god of all cliff-hangers.
On the one hand is the alternate timeline. This part finally presents cause and effect and potential problems that come with screwing around with major events and deals with Max’s powers instead of leaving them as a side-issue while less interesting mysteries unfold. Not only that, but it’s the first time I have ever even liked the character of Chloe. Which is interesting, since because of this section, I now hate prime timeline Chloe even more. Here we have a Chloe with a life so backhanded by fate that it actually garners some emotion, and would actually warrant any of prime timeline Chloe’s bitchiness. Despite that however, she has a softer voice, a sweeter aura, her rebellious behavior is non-existent, and only one or two instances does Chloe get a certain level of sassy, and it’s hard to really complain about that since she has almost all the reason to be feverent.
On that note, the writing and dialogue for the first section is very well done (mostly), with more subtle moments peppered through the section. However, there is still the problem of characters droning on while you already get the point, and it doesn’t let up when the section ends. In some cases it works, in some it doesn’t, but again this episode gives some and takes some. If I had another complaint for the intro of the episode is that it focuses on the Price family, but literally no one else. It would be interesting to at least see what the rest of Arcadia Bay is like, since the end of Chaos Theory alludes that things are different at Blackwell, however little it may be. However, the section ends almost as quickly as it began. The dialogue is passable in the first section, but for some ungodly reason, it returns to its bad quality once Max returns to the prime timeline, with “hella’s” a plenty and internet memes…because why the f*** not.
On the topic of characterization, me already mentioning the much more well-handled alternate timeline section, other characters at first seem to sound like they’re changing personalities and finally becoming three-dimensional. I say at first because the writing returning to its obvious and point-blank conversations have characters literally say they’ve changed and realized the error of their ways. Why this matters is that instead of the player being subtly clued in on these changes, the game outright says it, making the moments have less impact when the player is simply being told that this is the way it is now. Speaking of which, it seems that characters are, instead of simply changing and moving on, are padding out the episode with constant explanations and unnecessary character analyses. Max is most guilty of this, as she’ll stop everything, despite the…*ahem*… “recent discovery,” and tell a character they’re smart or cute or worth a damn and resume after a pointless set of dialogue.
A topic I didn’t really even consider until now is Pacing, but this episode certainly reminded me of it. Previous episodes consisted of slower moments with faster moments peppered in between, but not too much. This episode goes 0 to 100 and back multiple times throughout the episode. While I’m glad the…”discovery” was finally made, despite me already predicting it, these characters seem oblivious to it while they have figurative mud-sling fights and chat up other people. It’s even more jarring because the first section of the episode nailed the concept of slower moments and letting it linger. With the discovery and the shock ending, it’s almost hard to believe they’re part of the same episode, and while some dialogue is certainly padding, the major plot points somehow speed past before anyone can register them.
Presentation remains once again the same, with good colors and textures, but it seems with every episode I notice another problem. There are a lot of moments throughout the series that have nothing but 1-2 minute camera switching of environmental shots. Mostly in the beginning of the episodes, but with this one it seems to be more prevalent that it lingers a lot on shots where nothing is happening. Music is, again, good, but in one particular case a bit out of place, and that pertains to the discovery.
Episode 4, “Dark Room” is certainly an oddity. While it is indeed the best episode so far, it still has a lot of problems when it comes to main dialogue and characterization, and now has a pacing issue. Despite its enjoyable intro, the rest of the episode was held together simply by the discovery and the shock ending. Here’s hoping that the final episode, “Polarized” will wrap up everything well.