Well… fuck.

[SPOILER ALERT: This will go deep into spoiler territory from start to finish (seriously more so than any of my writeups so far to date), so if you haven’t played episode four yet, close the tab now. Otherwise, you read at your own risk.]

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[I’m serious, this goes big on heavy spoilers from literally the beginning of the writeup]

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[Last chance]

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“It’s me, Austin!”

“Aww, son of a bitch.” (“What!?”)

“It’s me, Austin. It was me all along, Austin.”

Replace Jim Ross with me, replace Steve Austin with Max and replace Vince McMahon with Jefferson. That was essentially what happened when I reached the end of episode four of Life is Strange, an episode that just doesn’t end with a stabbing to the stomach in terms of , but starts with the biggest figurative punch to the heart ever.

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The moment episode four kicks off from just after the ending of episode three is immediately heartbreaking as you deal with the revelation that Chloe is now bound in a wheelchair following a car accident. She seems, at first, to be happy that she’s spending time with her best friend. You’re also reminded you’re in a parallel universe at the same time, though, with little winks and nods: alternate universe Chloe loves emojis but hates the word ‘hella’. Main universe Chloe wouldn’t let the emoji loving fly. This just among other things (Max’s attitude to her parents is a bit more bitchy, for example, than it is in the main universe)

But just as you think things may be getting a bit comfortable as Max and Chloe watch Blade Runner and ponder if Deckard really is a replicant or not, the first major choice of the game comes up. But not even that, it’s the biggest major choice encountered in the game so far, and one that’ll be massively discussed in the next few weeks or so.

I mentioned last episode how ganging up on David Madsen along with Chloe and Joyce was the easiest decision I had made playing the game so far to date. But this choice was just completely out there and in turn, the hardest decision to make in the four episodes I’ve played this year.

Never has the topic of euthanasia/assisted suicide been approached in games, or at least certainly not by a well-known developer and publisher. But the way Life is Strange forces you – in its first twenty minutes, I add – to choose whether you help or refuse to help Chloe take her life is, while very loaded, absolutely powerful. I was genuinely weighting up the pros and cons of doing it, more so if you explore the house and talk to someone like William or Joyce (though I never came across Joyce in my playthrough of ep 4, but I know she’s there) and find out various factors.

I was genuinely frustrated by the question, not because of the question asked, but in trying to determine the right answer. Even when the game offers you a ‘don’t know’ answer, it throws the question back you afterwards. I was trying to figure out if this was the right choice, the various pros and cons for and against and what would be the ramifications if I did.

Not to mention, there was the relationship I had built with Chloe throughout these past episodes (even if it wasn’t the same Chloe at that moment): hightailing it from Nathan in episode one, the diner in episode two, chilling out after breaking into Blackwell the night before in episode three. All these things played a part in the decision making. In the end, after racking my brain for the better part of around 15 minutes, I opted not to. I just couldn’t do it.

Dontnod and Square Enix should be massively applauded, if nothing else, for respectively opting to visit such touchy matters – like suicide, depression, euthanasia – and treating them with care on the developer side and giving said developer the creative remit to explore those subjects on the publisher side.

We need more developer/publisher relationships like the one Square Enix and Dontnod have because I worry what it would have been like if another publisher had picked this up. This, in a way so to speak, is part of Life is Strange’s pull, its charm. And this is something that Square Enix, again, should get kudos for.

If Life is Strange is remembered at all, let it be remembered for stuff like this.

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Episode four also represents a dramatic shift in tone. The episode’s title, Dark Room, more or less lives up to its name. The first part of the title certainly represents most of the episode as it feels massive different to the episode three we were only playing just two months ago.

It’s a much more darker episode, and first proof of that is how some characters react to you during the episode. Nathan is much more sinister in this and, depending on choices you make when you encounter him, Frank can be equally as cold. Even sweet, loveable Warren goes ape(shit) at one point in one of those ‘fuck yeah’ moments to Nathan to the point that when he goes at it for too long, you do have to wonder what his state of mind currently is and slightly worry for his mental well being.

It’s also reflected in some of the set piece moments of the episode as we start to discover more of Nathan and his family and the secrets they hold. Holy fuck, it got super dark, even by Life is Strange standards. Like, the first three episodes had their darker moments, but for the most part, they are normal(ish) and explore a recently restablished friendship.

We have confirmation of what happened to Kate at the party and that she was indeed date raped at the last Vortex Party. Unfortunately, we also discover what happened to Rachel Amber, by which point, we finally see the girls hit their emotional lowest as they find her body in what was a gut-wrenching moment. As I said, even by Life is Strange standard, it got dark and super twisted.

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If episode four started out with one of the most hearbreaking and genuinely morally choiced questions ever, it ended in the biggest shanking ever with the reveal of Jefferson being the big bad or at least helping out the Prescotts in whatever they’re attempting to do.

As I discussed with someone on Facebook this morning (as of writing this), not once at all did I suspect the fucker. I mean, the only time I suspected something was up was towards the end of episode two and how he responded to Kate, but I was thinking it was just him being cold.

So much of my focus was on Nathan and David (and to a lesser extent, Frank) that any suspect feelings I had for Jefferson were simply washed out by the larger lack of trust I had for either Nathan or David.

Looking back in hindsight, there were things that now should have made me more wary of him and perhaps seen in a much more suspicious eye. Unfortunately, as it seems, it’s too late. You’re now in the dark room – if the finale teaser is a decent indicator – whilst Chloe is dead thanks to a bullet in the head from Jefferson, although the popular theory currently going about is that Max could use the photo she took with Warren to get back to an earlier point in the night before being ambushed by Jefferson.

Oh, and we seem to have forgotten a little thing. Like, you know, the tornado. That little thing which had an absent appearance in episode three besides brief mentions of it.

Either way, what a stunner. It feels such a cliche to say, but it doesn’t make it any less true in this instance: it’s always the person you least suspect. Because after all this, it’s Jefferson, everyone. It was Jefferson all along, everyone.

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I said in my thoughts of episode three that I expected episode four to tone back the drama, but Life’s is Strange’s penultimate episode had everything: frantic, emotional, shocking, frantic, heart-racing and the like. I perhaps should have expected that considering it hasn’t learned the concept of dialing it back.

I’ve also mentioned in the past worries I had that Dontnod could see their great work accomplished to date go down the toilet if they end up being complacent for future episodes. And although there’s still one episode left and therefore that worry is still there in part, I’m definitely a lot more assured that after four episodes, there is absolutely no complacency on the part of Dontnod right now.

Because since episode two, the game has constantly raised the bar from what I expect from the series thus far to date. And now, with the Season Finale on a knife edge, September/October is going to feel like the longest time away.

Simply put, baring the fuckups to end all fuckups in the finale, Life is Strange is on the verge of accomplishing something amazing and become truly special. For now, episode four sees it take the biggest step forward to become those things because right now, as is, Life is Strange is incredible – warts and all.

Holy shit.

lis 4 choices

Player statistics as of July 31, 2015.

Episode One: Crystallis

Episode Two: Out of Time –

Episode Three: Chaos Theory –

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