Developers: Dontnod Entertainment
Publishers: Square Enix
Plot: Trapped in an alternate reality, Max’s chances of saving Arcadia Bay, taking down Nathan Prescott and finding Rachel Amber seem even more impossible.
After three episodes of not being able to reach its full potential, Life is Strange suddenly upgrades itself into the game I want it to be. In a big way. We have had some pretty heady shocks before in this episodic series by Dontnod Entertainment, including the potential suicide of a friend and last time’s gut-wrenching cliff-hanger, but what The Dark Room has in store for you could be the highlight of the series as a whole.
Mainly what I loved about Dark Room was the fact it finally embraced the fact that, above all else, it is a mystery game. While the other episodes have tip-toed around the fact that there is a central mystery, here we see Max and Chloe’s dynamic duo strip away the distractions and fully embrace the mystery of what happened to Rachel Amber. The supernatural stuff is even put to the side for one minute, only really coming into play in the opening chapter. The supporting cast such as Victoria, Warren and Dana are also briefly side-lined, only cropping up in the final set-piece. This might dishearten the fans of Life is Strange who were wrapped up in a character study rather than an adventure game. However, for me, Life is Strange delivered the exact thrills I wanted. The highlight of the episode is a segment where Max and Chloe head back to their room with all of the clues they have gathered over the course of the series. They create their very own police evidence whiteboard, ripped straight out of your favourite cop show, and examine their findings to figure out who is behind Rachel Amber’s disappearance. Reviewing the clues almost made me forgive the levels I have dismissed before. Last time, I criticised Max’s investigation for not uncovering anything new, but when a file I dismissed earlier turns out to be a major connection in the Rachel Amber case, I end up eating my own hat. The sequence doesn’t hold your hand either, forcing you to use your wits when solving the case. It becomes a mini-game of cross-referencing, matching up the clues to figure out who can be placed at the scene of the crime. It does let you cheat your way through to victory a few times. For example, you are given the option of reviewing your clues to guess Nathan’s PIN code for his phone or David Madsen’s locker combination. Yes, you can try and guess the correct answer using the evidence, but there are also the option to break into the device. However, when you review your stats at the end of the level, it does feel good to see you used your intellect and attention to detail rather than a crowbar lying around Madsen’s garage.
There are still some good emotional beats. Life is Strange continues to bring that atmospheric emotion that it excels at conveying to the player. Washed up whales litter the background, sombre and highlighting the drama that is to come. The opening scene hits you with a major choice, which while downplayed by the following ten minutes is still emotional stuff. Chloe asks you to make a big decision and if you are willing to let yourself get carried away by the emotional uplift of the moment, is bound to get you appreciating the level of friendship between these two characters. It only gets better, as Chloe gets further and further carried away with Rachel Amber. The suggestion that Chloe and Rachel had a lesbian fling isn’t brought up again and is pushed further from our minds, especially after a funny gag where Chloe bumps into Mr. Jefferson and instantly breaks into the flirting. However, you cannot help but feel the emotional resonance of her character arc. If Max still frustrates through her way of floating through the drama, Chloe’s pain and suffering will be the crux of the story for you. And the ending is perfect for resonating the drama. Minds will be blown and a double punch to the heart sends Life is Strange’s penultimate episode out with a tremendous bang. The finale is going to have to work hard to top this one.
Final Verdict: The Dark Room is the highlight of the series so far, embracing the darkness and mystery, as well as providing the cliff-hanger to end all cliff-hangers.