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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Life is Strange E4: Dark Room.

Life is Strange
Episode 4: Dark Room.

Has anyone else noticed that Brooke's voice actor isn't great? She kind of - she kind of drones. Like she's reading out a script for a terrible, transgressive infomercial. That's just one thing that stuck out about today's Life is Strange episode.

When I was writing the review for episode three, I expressed some concerns about where the game was going to go from there - having just introduced an entire alternate reality, it seemed like the devs had a choice between either making that plot point utterly irrelevant or wiping out all of the choices you'd made up to that point. Well, good - okay, not good, more better than the alternative - news, they went with the first choice, having that plot point get reversed in the first ten minutes. 

So, that's nice. Not sure why we even wasted ten minutes on that malarkey. It doesn't become relevant at all later in this episode, either, although there is some vague foreshadowing that it might end up being important in the final episode.

In this installment of Life is Strange, after changing the past again and reverting things back to the original timeline, Max and Chloe renew their search for the truth behind what's been going on in Arcadia Bay. Tracking down evidence from several different sources, their search leads them to a strange bunker beneath an old barn, and to the truth of what happened to Chloe's friend, Rachel.

It feels like this episode was trying very hard to be dramatic and shocking, and kind of falling short on every front, not least because I was expecting every single plot twist they threw at me. The Prescotts are involved in some kind of shady business? Well, naturally, it was always very clear that they were. Rachel is dead? Sure, I figured that one out by the end of the very first episode. Mr. Jefferson is evil? I figured that one out in the first episode as well. 

You could say they're having a ... whale of a time? Eh? Eh?

It's not that I'm an amazing sleuth, either, I think most people figured those twists out in the first episode, or at least had very strong suspicions, because they were always the most obvious routes to go down. Of course the amicable, admired photography teacher is the killer, because he always is. Of course the disappeared girl is dead, because she always is. Of course the wealthy, powerful family are involved in shady dealings - that's not just true of fiction, it's true of life.

A good twist should be well-foreshadowed but unexpected, and these twists weren't remotely unexpected - and without the impetus of those twists, the episode just comes across as very, very slow. It's about half an hour longer than every other episode in the series, but seems to have comparatively less content, partly because you can discount the first ten minutes entirely, and partly because you spend most of that time moving from one puzzle-y set piece to another, some of which (like the Vortex Club party) just feel torturously long and empty - it's noteworthy that in the aforementioned Vortex Club party scene, nothing actually happens. Instead, you expend a decent chunk of time asking around to see if anybody has seen Nathan Prescott, which nobody has, before leaving.

Because they're whales, right? The beached animals, they're ... they're whales ...

I do want to say nice things about this episode, so I will say that we got a lot of great interactions between Max and Chloe, and Max and Warren - I didn't like Warren much before, but this episode (which includes him headbutting Nathan) made me warm to him somewhat, so there is that. We also get some nice cameos from more minor characters like Kate and Alyssa, as well, and that's all pretty fun to play through.

Also, the episode is, as all the Life is Strange episodes have been, superb on a technical level. Smooth gameplay, gorgeous graphics, great soundtrack, and by and large good voice acting, at least from the main cast - once you branch out into the supporting cast things get a little more dicey, but you can't have everything, one supposes.

For the most part, though, this episode just bored me. I struggled to keep my attention on it, and to be fair, the episode's writers seemed to not have much better luck than me, as they flit wildly between plot points, occasionally throwing in an apocalyptic omen to spice things up (which everyone just kind of shrugs at). 

No, you're right. Conservation is no joke.

It's disappointing, because this game got off to such a great start with its first two episodes, but episode three and four have seen it start to collapse under its own weight. The choices have started to feel meaningless, the plot has lost its luster, everything is starting to kind of unravel and plot threads are being forgotten about (what happened to the ghost deer?). It's kind of sad, because lord knows that more competition, more diversity, more variety within the episodic games sector is always a good thing, and I had high hopes for this game.

That all having been said, I am looking forward to the fifth episode. If we're lucky, the finale will be a return to form. If we're not - well, it's been a fun enough journey, and I'm sure it'll get a sequel.

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