Game Review | Life is Strange | Season 1, Episode 4 | "Dark Room"
Episode Summary: Max's investigation into the disappearance of Rachel Amber begins to reach a thrilling conclusion as she finds the Dark Room. Will the answers lie within? Or will there just be trouble? (Life is Strange wiki)
*** SPOILER ALERT – Do not read any further if you don’t want any spoilers ***
It’s amazing how quickly a series can throw away a lot of goodwill by following up a fantastic episode with one that doesn’t even come close to the same level of quality, and “Dark Room” is a perfect example of this.
The episode starts off well enough, continuing Max’s experience in the alternate timeline where Chloe is a paraplegic after Max used her time travel powers to save her friend’s father. The same emotional undercurrent that was so powerful at the end of the previous episode – that this is your fault – continues here and is genuinely moving.
The game doesn’t shy away from how difficult life is for people like Chloe who rely on others to do everything for them, or how hard it is for her family to look after her, especially with how much the care and equipment cost.
It’s genuinely one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever experienced in a game to perform an assisted suicide and up Chloe’s IV feed to send her peacefully off to sleep. She had her last night watching Blade Runner with her best friend, she knows her condition is getting worse and she doesn’t want to continue suffering.
It’s an profoundly powerful moment that very few other games can rival, but after Max decides to travel back in time again and let Chloe’s father die as he was supposed to, the return to the original timeline is when things start to head back downhill.
This time it isn’t so much the story or the characterisation, which have been issues before, but the pacing and structure which is off by quite a large degree. This episode is long – really, really long.
After two and a half hours, I thought the episode had to be finishing soon, probably taking place at the party that was so heavily focused on in the trailer at the end of the previous episode. Instead, Chloe and Max head off to a barn to hunt down more clues about Nathan Prescott’s connection to the disappearance of Rachel Amber.
“Dark Room” is the first episode of any of these episodic games I’ve been playing that I’ve had to split over two nights due to length as a result. After the barn, they head to the junkyard, then the party, then back to the junkyard. Be aware to set aside close to four hours if you want to do this episode in one sitting.
The previous paragraph also highlights the structural issue I had – was there no way to have the two junkyard scenes combined? I’m not going to go into detailed plot spoilers, but it does seem like it would take only a very minor edit to make things flow better. However, there may have been an important scene that I missed out on due to choices from an earlier episode, so I can’t say for sure.
The issue remains though, at least on my play-through: this episode really drags. It becomes a chore to get through, including another of the obnoxious ‘put in obstacle to pad out time’ issues from earlier episodes, with a puzzle that I gave up on after just a few minutes to get the solution online, as the in-game feedback was just making it trial-and-error rather than something to work out properly.
"Dark Room" is good, but it’s extremely frustrating that poor direction has undercut the increasingly stronger story and characterisation, as this world and the people in it are growing on me, but the rest of the game is struggling to match it in level of quality.