One of the things I missed most on holiday was the chance to play the new Life Is Strange episode as soon as possible. I got the season pass as soon as I played through the first episode as the particularly interesting time-travel system was enough to sway me alone, ignoring both its attractive unique art style and the intriguing mysteries that began to unravel.
I’ve consistently enjoyed every contender so far, despite its rather shallow piddle-paddling around its themes and its strengthening reliance on feel-good vibes against the particularly dark themes that are spreading, it’s up there contending with TellTale, personally. There is something very alluring about playing a story driven game through an eschatological perspective, knowing that every action you perform, everything you say could ultimately be meaningless if your visions prove true. So, yeah, damn it, I like Life is Strange! Or at least I thought I did, until I played episode 4, The Dark Room. I mean… what?!
There often comes along with episodic narratives a pressure to maintain if not increase the quality of the previously released episodes, as, if I’m not mistaken, the episodes are in development as they are simultaneously being released. And while I can’t prove that this is the fault of that kind of that inherent time pressure during development rather than simply worse writing, I can kind of feel it when I play The Dark Room… It’s the superficially small things that are easily overlooked but are absolutely key in terms of the overall emotional impact and plot impact, things like the necessity of decisions which are each, through the presentation of the game mechanic, presented as equally as important when they’re obviously not. Let’s elaborate on this, considering this is the penultimate episode to what I assume is the concluding chapter of the entire story arc, I at least expected to see the results of my decisions from far back affect the present in The Dark Room, and so far at least the only decisions that have had effect are the ones in the most recent episode, and even then they yield quite insignificant results. And considering one of the most intrinsic qualities of Life is Strange is its decision making mechanic, man… The Dark Room really falls flat this time. The decision making here feels arbitrary, and if not arbitrary then simply here to arbitrarily introduce out-of-place grave moral quandary in what I assume is an attempt to make the plot seem more sophisticated than it ever actually proves. It’s…lazy. And speaking of lazy…
It feels incredibly underwhelming to have a missing persons subplot conclude with the most likely and most expected outcome possible… yeah, haven’t seen Rachel for weeks? She’s dead, big surprise. I mean, isn’t this meant to be one of the few major revelations in the entire story? At least you find out precisely how she died but the fact that Rachel ends up dead kind of annoyed me, because it feels really out of place given the context. It is revealed that Jefferson has dozens of sick and twisted photo albums dedicated to individual students, and yet Rachel is the only one who ends up dying of all the drugged students. Rachel being dead essentially nullifies all the supporting characters’ unabating beliefs and theories that she is still alive, and jeez, that’s a whole lot of dialogue throughout all four episodes so far just put to waste. Once completing the episode, in retrospect, both the use of Rachel’s disappearance as the main inciting plot point and Rachel’s death feel like conveniences. It would have been much more plot enriching to have an alive Rachel who strengthens any strings of emotional attachment that have formed through her exposition, but then again that Rachel would have been more challenging to write instead of just writing her off. The fact that Rachel’s massive underlying subplot in Life is Strange is concluded so tersely, so fruitlessly, perhaps indicates that the conclusion was created as deliberately irritating, almost to act as a striking moment to cause dismay, which it imbues effectively, but then again by having Rachel die you also cross an awful lot of shortcuts. For example, the developer not having to build a character which is concordant with her exposition, the developers not having to decide what Chloe’s appropriate reaction to her being alive would be, and others. It’s easy for Rachel to arbitrarily disappear and die and it’s easy for Chloe to cry a lot because that’s the standard reaction to a loved one dying.
There will probably be some lavishly garbed explanation for her death in the final episode Polarised but it still feels such a waste for Rachel’s character never to be fully fleshed out and instead used as a brief fluffy talking point for the previous episodes. The mysteries could have been unravelled so smoothly and so much more cleverly without something as overtly inviting and mysterious as missing person with no suspected location. Perhaps Life is Strange would have been better without Rachel at all.
And… come on… the teacher did it? To an extent it is futile to so meticulously examine the likelihood of plot points in a story where two moons can just casually enter the night’s sky at once and the whole world doesn’t freak out about it, but I mean… really? Again, there’ll probably be another lavishly garbed explanation for his character motivation, but in a story that at least attempts to mirror realism I have to criticise this. A good murder mystery reveal should be shocking not because the murderer is unexpected but because he was right under your nose the whole time. The killer revealed as Mr Jefferson just feels shocking because it doesn’t make sense. His motivations have been too well hidden for the reveal to at least be considered clever, I don’t even know what they could be. It’s like if Keiser Soze from The Usual Suspects turned out to be… the muffin man. It’s not clever, it’s just shocking.
And I leave The Dark Room with an overwhelming sense of ‘well, okay then…’. I’m not sitting dumbstruck, connecting all the loose links in my head as I was at the end of Bioshock Infinite, in fact I leave The Dark Room with an equally overwhelming desire to have that internal detective fire up inside, and I just just didn’t get it because it didn’t leave anything for me to ponder over. It really annoys me that people are satisfied with Episode 4 as much as the other episodes, that they’re satisfied with merely the preface of mature discussion, satisfying revelation and moral quandary, that they don’t desire deep exploration into these things.