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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

On Life is Strange: Episode 4: Things just got truly frightening


A new month brings with it a new chapter of the Life is Strange episodic series, and this is something that I have grown to really look forward to. I'm almost sad that there's only one chapter left after this one, because after that it's done, and I won't get to squeal in joy when I see that "Life is Strange Update" message pop up on my PlayStation 4.

Anyhow, I digress. As with my previous writeups of this little series, I'm going to hold off doing a review until I've played through the last chapter, but I'll leave some of my thoughts in a brief write-up here, because this is the most intense, emotional and powerful chapter to date, and is the perfect example of how to hit players will a killer blow to get them clamouring for the final chapter.

I'll resist giving away spoilers, but talking about the narrative on any level will require at least hints. So, if you haven't played this game yet and don't want any spoilers, please don't read any further. 



In my write up of the previous chapter, I was a little concerned that the narrative had too many balls in the air and that the team at the game's developer, Dontnod, would struggle to resolve them all in a satisfactory manner in just two more chapters. One chapter down, and I shouldn't have doubted the writers, because this chapter resolves so many of the mysteries to leave us with just two key things left to worry about, and those two things will clearly be resolved by the end of the next chapter. So credit to Dontnod for creating something self contained, because I am no longer worried that I'll finish the final chapter to a "see you next season" message in a bid to force me into buying Life is Strange 2.

Of those mysteries that were resolved this chapter, one left me in tears, and another left me absolutely shell shocked. Without giving too much away, George R. R. Martin could learn a couple of tips on how to shock his readers from this series, and I was absolutely blown away that the story writers managed to have me, a crime fiction veteran, fooled. Across the four chapters, I suspected the villain, only to write them off, only to then be proven to my great surprise that my initial predictions were, in fact, accurate.

And the villain is far worse than you might have dreamed of going in. In this, the narrative writers seem to have lifted inspiration from Stieg Larsson, and while I won't be going into more detail than that here, that is something I'll be exploring in far greater depth in the full review after the next episode. Suffice to say for now that the villain is one of the most intense and interesting examples of a crime fiction monster that I've come across to date.


Thematically, the game is starting to draw some fierce, compelling conclusions around its feminist and youth themes, and while this is the least interactive episode of the series to date (there is almost no effort in here to provide players with puzzles, or indeed the use of the time rewind ability of leading lady, Max), it was the most focused on storytelling. As with previous chapters there were also four key decisions to make, though it must be said that with only one chapter remaining, the decisions have much more obvious long-term outcomes that we had seen previously. At least, I think so. Life is Strange has managed to hit me with red herrings so often by now that I've given up trying to guess where it will go next.

What I really appreciated about this chapter was that now I was starting to realise the full ramifications of my decisions in the early chapters. The writing is a little laboured here in places, with dialogue sequences in which characters literally list off a checklist of my previous decisions, but I am nevertheless seeing scenes that I would not have had I taken a different path through the decisions. This is a game I will replay at least once just to experience a different set of scenes next time.

On a purely aesthetic level, every time I play Life is Strange I am in awe of how beautiful the painterly environments are, with simple, clean lines and colours conveying a minimalist beauty. There's a nightclub scene in this episode which also perfectly captures the contrasting mix of horror at its decadence and the undeniable visceral thrill of being there that I have experienced when attending more... shall we say "dodgy"... nightclubs in real life.


I must apologise that this write up is so thin on details, because I really don't want to give anything away until the ending chapter and complete review. But what I can say, again, is that as the penultimate chapter in a series that I have intensely loved from the opening moments, Life is Strange has set itself up for a spectacular, and very likely emotionally loaded, finale.

Related reading: On Life is Strange: Episode 1 
Related reading: On Life is Strange: Episode 2
Related reading: On Life is Strange: Episode 3

My only concern is that what has happened in this chapter is so dramatic that I worry the writers will use Max's time travel ability to magically set everything right again in the end. I really hope not, and every one of my concerns to date have proven unfounded, so I wouldn't bet against Dontnod on this one either.

- Matt S.
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @digitallydownld
On Life is Strange: Episode 4: Things just got truly frightening
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