"...anything can happen within the well-written confines of Arcadia Bay."
The format of episodic gaming right now continues to serve as a point of contention for frustrated fans of Telltales' series, as well as Square Enix's recent attempt at this style of adventure titles. Among these woes is the reality that sometimes stories contain slumps in which the nature of writing demands that some setup is required before delivering a pivotal blow to the audience (in a totally good way, though). Episodes 3 and 4 of Life is Strange are just such an example of this.
In my Episode 3 review, I noted that the powerful ending just barely saved an otherwise dull experience. Life is Strange's fourth installment counters this experience almost entirely. Given the previous episode's ending, Episode 4 has to open strong. Although the themes and questions posed are cliche and predictable, especially of a series that involves time travel, the execution revitalizes these staples. Any consumer of literature knows that all ideas have been taken, forcing the author to write brilliantly in order to stave off eye-rolls. DONTNOD, the developer, does just that with distinct voice, strong dialogue, and powerful imagery in the form of detail and "acting." The poses, nonverbal communication, and "camera" placement are details I haven't given enough attention to in my reviews. A character's discomfort, focus, and hidden motives are often clearly communicated in the models alone, which amplifies the dialogue.
Stylistically, Life is Strange remains top-notch as it hails back to its roots. After revisiting campus, I remembered that Maxine is just a kid who exchanges 'tude with her mom on her phone. We also get a peek back into the life of the tertiary cast, which actually accentuates the experience by contributing authenticity to Max's world. Too often we get tunnel vision on the core plot and forget that we've been thrown into another reality; briefly exchanging dialogue — an almost completely optional venture — with acquaintances adds more than one might initially expect. Perhaps this is what Episode 3 lacked.
A constant battle I fight with every episode of all of the modern adventure titles is the return to exploration in which I have to click the right prompts to forward the plot while listening to the protagonist make mediocre reactions to inconsequential environments. Life is Strange uses this tool wisely in Episode 4. I felt like a detective, even though the puzzles were actually quite simple; however, DONTNOD creates this illusion with ample red herrings and an importance placed on discoveries.
As I alluded to earlier, Episode 4 poses some cliche, but beautifully executed questions. Here, I realized just how much I cared about these characters and this world, despite the developers' previous attempts at undercutting this. Episode 4 also adds gravitas to the story with closure on some relationships and huge reveals, though if it didn't four-fifths of the way through, then I'd have serious concerns for the series' life. However, that doesn't diminish the impact of these reveals, and the developers deserve kudos for their delivery.
Prior criticisms of Life is Strange may be the result of episodic gaming in general, but when other series and creators have fewer problems in this regard, one has to question how the developers weave their work to fit the model. Regardless, Episode 4 reassured me with a powerful episode that tugged at my heart. Max and Chloe truly feel like lifelong friends, and I want them to have happy closure. However, if Episode 4's ending is any indication, anything can happen within the well-written confines of Arcadia Bay.