Life is St range Episode 4: Dark Room
Is the penultimate chapter fully developed or over-exposed?
The horrifying climax of Episode 3 always seemed like a double-edged sword. Dontnod left us with a doozy of a cliffhanger, but had clearly wandered into a narrative cul-de-sac. It’s no surprise, then, that it takes the most obvious escape route. And yet it’s far from the cop-out it sounds: 45 minutes or so of golden-hour melancholia establishes a motivation for Max’s forthcoming actions, while deepening her relationship with Chloe. It all culminates in a particularly wrenching decision. It raises an important question that isn’t answered for the rest of the episode, but may yet have wider consequences in the season finale. As you can probably tell, we’re having to tread carefully here: let’s just say we’ve never been quite so relieved to see cash in the cookie jar.
Thereafter, we return to the central plot, with Max and Chloe tugging at the various threads connecting the Prescotts with Rachel Amber, the Vortex Club, and the seemingly pre-apocalyptic happenings around Arcadia Bay. What follows is a series of pleasant surprises: players who experienced a successful resolution to an earlier sub-plot will enjoy a touching reunion, while a return visit to volatile dealer Frank has an alarming array of possible outcomes, contingent not only on the dialogue choices you make, but on decisions made in past episodes. Then there’s a simple but enjoyable bit of detective work, as all the clues Max and Chloe have been assembling are laid out, and you’re invited to pull out the key pieces of evidence to work out how everything ties together. There’s some much-needed levity, too, including a line that can be read as a light-hearted jab at critics or a wonderful moment of self-awareness.
It’s not all good news. After Chaos Theory, the pacing seems rather uneven. The script may have improved, but Max’s puritanical party-pooper act isn’t entirely convincing, either. And yet it more than compensates elsewhere. The tone turns decidedly darker as our curious pair get close to unearthing the truth, leading to some truly shocking plot developments and the most disturbing cliffhanger to date; let’s hope we don’t wait long for what looks like a chilling season finale. OXM