3 fantastic Life Is Strange Ep. 4 moments that are as good as The Walking Dead Season 1
One of the many reasons Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1 worked was its careful attention to characters. The series built up its cast of survivors just to put them into incredibly tense situations to make you squirm. Some people had their favorite characters and their least favorite characters, but everyone who played shared the same investment in what ultimately happened to them, for good or bad.
That’s the sign of a well-crafted story. Characters should be realized enough that we know their wants and needs and their actions should push the story forward. We should care about what happens to them and what they do. The Walking Dead made this a priority and it’s largely what made the game so effective.
Since then, Telltale has struggled to maintain a set of characters that were as strong as The Walking Dead’s. Often its characters don’t fully become empathetic until the later episodes. That’s okay for something like a television series that spans 10 to 12 episodes, but for most games that only work with half that amount, it can be a problem. It can make a good chunk of the episodes feel like a set up for what’s coming in the end, and that’s not always enjoyable to play.
Life Is Strange suffered from this in its first three episodes, but in its fourth, Dark Room, it finally hit its stride. Is it as great as The Walking Dead? That would be easier to answer once we get the final episode, but if I have to call it right now, then yes.
The Dark Room matches the same level of quality storytelling as the best moments in The Walking Dead. Here’s three examples.
The beginning of Dark Room is a huge bummer. In saving Chloe’s father from a car wreck, Max inadvertently puts Chloe in a wheelchair, and, for the first hour or so, Max believes she’s stuck with her decision. The game is careful not to tease a way out of the extremely sad situation, and instead just lets you understand how far-reaching the effects of Chloe’s fate is. She’s paralyzed from the neck down, she’s in constant pain, and her parents are in massive debt. Max sees that her time-rewinding power has huge consequences and she reaches a point of acceptance in the final decision, which, for the record, took me close to five minutes to decide on.
Even though this is an alternate reality, the game earns this with consistent characterization. Chloe retains the punk attitude despite her condition and Max struggles under the weight of all the guilt she feels for causing her accident to happen. How they both act is representative of what we know of them after spending so much time with them in the previous episodes. Every scene, whether it’s with Chloe and Max, or Max and Chloe’s dad, or Max and Chloe’s mom, it feels satisfying and resonant with the game’s broader themes of loss and regret.
The disappearance of Rachel Amber is something Life Is Strange has teased since the beginning. Since then, it’s only offered minor revelations for who could be connected to her absence. It never spent a lot of time on the actual search for her. The Dark Room makes up for that, because it’s almost all about Rachel Amber, and it utilizes all the information we’ve learned so far to make a surprisingly-much-longer episode feel focused.
Chloe and Max work together to gather the last bits of information via three well done gameplay segments. You search the dark, nasty room of Nathan Prescott, you find some clues in David’s garage, and you have an intense talk with Frank that got me killed a few times and forced me to rewind. Each of the segments do what Life Is Strange does best: building context for the mystery and offering puzzle-like conversations that depend on your knowledge of the characters.
At the end, Max must piece together the relevant findings and reveal a secret that you’ve been waiting all season for. While the method of doing that is pretty simple–you’re just connecting times and dates–it’s just the right amount of challenge to feel like you’ve earned the outcome.
And, without spoiling, the end of the episode offers some huge revelations that, while not developed on in this episode, do a fantastic job of lighting a fuse for what happens in the next and final episode.
Bright lights strobe across the faces of your classmates, briefly concealing and revealing the darkness that looms over them, again and again and again.
The End of the World party is the best example of Life Is Strange saying a lot through visuals and brief character moments. You spend quite a while in this large, pool room that thumps with rapid music and overwhelms with crowds of Max’s high school peers. I felt the adrenaline of the moment and, given the recent events, the tension of the danger Max and everyone could be in.
Each classmate you encounter remarks about the tense look on Max’s face in a way that feels just as dreamlike as the party. Max either knowingly denies it or accepts it and nervously asks people if they’ve seen Nathan. Even though the goal is to find Nathan, the game intentionally stalls that with all the chaos of the moment and your conversations with the character’s you’ve watched grow over the last three episodes. None of it would work if it hadn’t crafted a cast that you care about.
And one of Max’s best sit-and-reflect moments happens here and I don’t even remember what she said. The jumping camera angles that survey the dancing and the drunks and the stoned is so mesmerizing and effective in itself that you don’t need to hear Max to feel like she does. It’s one of the most enthralling scenes in the season and maybe in games. It’s still flashing in my head.