Life is Strange took a new path at the end of its third episode, going in a very different direction for the series as a whole. I wasn’t sure how they were going to treat that or where Dontnod was going to go from there, but Dark Room is another masterful example of emotional storytelling that actually progresses the pieces and puts things together. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, and one that abruptly ends, leaving you pining for more.
The two major scenes that occur around the beginning of this four to five hour long episode, a huge staple for the series and episodic adventure games to date, really demonstrates that Dontnod knows a lot about people and has learned even more through this title. The scenes occur in really vast juxtaposition, and one may not even occur depending on the player’s’ actions in previous episodes. One left me hopeful, and made me feel like I made a difference in the shoes of Max Caulfield. The other… Well, it was a grim look at a dark reality that was introduced towards the end of episode three. It was poignant, well done, and incredibly powerful.
It shows that Dontnod can create characters that you care about, legitimately. You want to help them, be there for them and be their friend. Honestly, the scene made me empathetic for people who have to deal with similar family trauma, like losing a member of your family, or them being severely injured. I don’t want to give too much away, but Dontnod approaches the subject with care and grace, showing a level of respect and dignity that is often forgotten when telling stories in video games.
The episode also has a huge focus on “putting the clues” together, which kind of ties up its middle act. You interact with all of the shadiest people in town while gathering evidence, with interactions that can range from friendly to very deadly. It all has a conspiracy theorist vibe to it, pinning different clues on the corkboard requiring you to actually put the pieces together and figure out where in Arcadia Bay the answers lie. I really dug it, made me feel like Nancy Drew, which is something I aspire to in my everyday life. Chloe and Max continue to be one of the most compelling pairs in video games so far this year, and that vibe never leaves throughout Dark Room.
The game jumps to an exceptionally dark place, and the mature themes explored throughout the beginnings of this series are taken to an entirely new level here. It was genuinely terrifying to see the kind of world that Max and Chloe stumble into. Maybe it’s because the characters are humanized so incredibly well, but you empathize with what you see, and it’ll leave you disturbed and afraid, emotions that Max and Chloe themselves demonstrate to a T.
Dark Room is both new and different while also maintaining what drew me into the series in the beginning. It feels like Dontnod had some serious things they wanted to convey to the player, and it jumps to that quite quickly, which will no doubt surprise a lot of players. It surprised me, but only because I was hopeful and optimistic about what I could do, as Max, to make a difference in Arcadia Bay. The reality I was met with was not at all what I was expecting, serving as a gut punch to end all gut punches.
Dontnod really evolves on what they started with Dark Room, for the better of the series in the long run, but for the worse of your emotions when you play this episode. Dark Room gives several answers and leaves you with several questions, but as Life is Strange continues to get better with every iteration, I’m confident that this penultimate episode sets up for and equally as shocking finale.