If you want a spoiler free introduction to Life Is Strange then I wrote a review of Episodes 1-3 without any here. If you haven’t played Episode 4 yet, come back to this review once you have and we can chat about it. I would love to hear about other people’s experiences playing this game.
I had always intended never to give spoilers in a review, however, given the cliffhanger in the last episode and the tone of Episode 4, I fell it would be very difficult to write anything about it properly without spoilers to either what has happened previously, or what happens in this episode. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
So, given the cliffhanger at the end of Episode 3, I was really looking forward to seeing what life was like for Max and Chloe in the alternative timeline of Episode 4. I felt guilty for having said how annoying I thought Chloe was in the first three episodes when I saw how my choices had affected her. This is another brilliant move by Dontnod, in that you feel so invested in the characters, that they have been able to manipulate your emotions. And they manipulate you further, making you consider the difficult issues of disability, euthanasia and whether your power to change time really is so great after all.
My only criticism (at the time of playing) was that given the anticipation I had awaiting the episode’s release, I felt the time spent in the alternative timeline was not really long enough. I would have liked to have seen how the butterfly effect had altered other areas of Max’s life too, but you never get to play out any part of that. The reason, is of course, that ultimately none of this timeline really matters, and by the time you get to the end of this episode, you will have forgotten how eager you were to play around as one of Victoria’s cronies at Blackwell.
And I am pleased to report that this first part of the episode did give me more sympathy for the character of Chloe when I returned to the previous version of reality. The word ‘hella’ was music to my ears!
In the rest of Episode 4, you are finally pulling all the clues together to try and solve the disappearance of Rachel Amber and the secrets of The Vortex Club which means that there is less roaming around looking at character’s CD collections and more meaningful issues to solve. Max makes more than one reference to Sherlock Holmes during this stage as the episode moves at breakneck pace as you move from one location to the next, picking up clues and solving mysteries. It feels as though there are fewer choices that you are in control of in this episode, and that it is all about storytelling and plot. There are still the same issues with terrible dialogue, but at this point you are so invested in the characters that who cares about that!
Then there is a notable shift in tone, about halfway through, when you find the barn owned by the Prescotts, or more accurately ‘The torture bunker’ hidden underneath it. Even the lighting changes as you enter the passageway leading to this place. And the game just gets darker from here when you finally find the body of Rachel Amber. This, I felt was a real significant moment in that there is always a glimmer of hope in previous episodes that she might still be alive. When you find her, you know that whoever is responsible is not the sort of person to be messed with!
Of course, the impending doom of the apocalypse continues to hangs over Arcadia Bay throughout the episode. There are beached whales, two moons in the sky, and you can’t help but wonder if all that playing around with time has somehow influenced it all. And of course there is the ‘End Of The World’ party as a big hint that there is still something worse to come but most of the time, you are more concerned with following the trail of Rachel Amber and the Vortex Club.
One of the interesting aspects of this episode is that you start to view some characters differently. For example, even though Nathan Prescott is clearly a disturbed individual (he has the psychiatric report to prove it) you can see how the overbearing relationship with his father is the influencing force. Likewise, when you realise Victoria is most likely the next victim of the Prescott’s own brand of torture porn, you suddenly stop viewing her as your nemesis and desperately try to save her. (Incidentally, because I had opted to taught Victoria about the spilled paint in an earlier episode, she now refused to believe my warnings about her intended fate. Once again, my choices came back to bite me.) Likewise, suspicions grow about other previously good characters. I had Mr Jefferson as a suspect long before the final scene. He always seemed too involved with Kate and Victoria to be a completely moral character, but I know that some of my friends playing Episode 4, found this to be very shocking. As one friend put it he trusted him because he ‘was blinded by his beauty.’
Once again, it is very clever plotting by Dontnod in that you are so busy finding evidence against Frank and Nathan that you don’t really consider him to be a threat and the game does not give you any opportunity to investigate him at all.
When the final scene in the junk yard arrived and Chloe was shot, I felt so sad. Typically, it is impossible to rewind this event. She may have been annoying at times but having another character share the action with you, makes a difference. And let’s be honest, Chloe is really the badass one. Without her to encourage her, Max is unlikely to be much of a fighter.
So, I have mixed feelings about Episode 5. I know, right from the word go, that the next episode is going to be very, very dark. Max is alone, presumably in the ‘torture bunker’ and I have a couple of theories about what will happen next:
I wouldn’t be surprised if the denouement is very much like the French horror film Martyrs, after all there have been characters referring to the Vortex Club as a religious cult a number of times. My friend Karl thinks (and I think he may be right on the money here) that Max will die at the end of the next episode and that the entire game is Max trying to rewind time to prevent it happening a la Donnie Darko/the game Limbo.
Twitter has obviously been going crazy about this episode but I saw this tweet on twitter that for me, hits the nail on the head:
How was it for you? What theories do you have about Episode 5? Feel free to comment below.