This game! Structurally I know that there are some flaws carrying over from episode 3. The gameplay can become sluggish and heavily narrative. Chloe is regularly leading the action between game scenes and abruptly handing control back to Max within them. The writers seem to have fallen in love with big twists. I am aware of all of these flaws. And yet a large part of me doesn’t care. I’m invested and ended up staying up way too late last night to finish off the episode.
Spoiler Warning for episode four.
Huge, major spoilers that may make you not be able to even.
Because I can’t even.
What seemed like a ridiculous twist at the end of three turned into one of the most emotional pieces of any game I’ve ever played. We play through this new timeline where William is alive and Chloe is paralyzed. After a quiet and touching day at the beach, full of awkward conversation and small nods at the main timestream, you wander around Chloe’s home. The discussions with Chloe’s parents is both sweet and bitter. It’s nice that William is back and it’s amazing how much of a better person he is under a great deal of pressure than David was under relatively minor stress, but Chloe’s health and healthcare cast a shadow over everything. All of the social structure changes from school drop away as you find out that Chloe’s family is under huge financial strain and, more importantly, her health is deteriorating. The gut wrenching moment comes when Chloe asks you to increase her morphine so she can die with this great day as her last memory.
This whole alternate timeline that looked like a cheap twist last episode? It’s a painful, well executed, and nuanced discussion about quality of life compared to quantity of life. You’ve changed things so that all of the Price family is alive, but are they better? Even more difficult is that the alternative, the time where you came from, isn’t all joy even despite Chloe’s health. The financial difficulties and the potential of inflicting David on Joyce and Chloe again fell away as Chloe made her case to Max. She’s incapable of taking care of herself. She’s in constant pain. She feels like a burden and there’s no possibility of improvement. It’s clear that I’ve given William back to her and Joyce, but I’ve taken so much more away. I chose to give Chloe the smallest bit of agency and relief before I pick up a photo and go back in time, giving William his keys, and then return to when I came from.
That timeline is almost its own mini-episode 3.5. The rest of the episode, while consistent, has more of a horror/thriller pace than an emotional tearjerker. There is a discovery in the junkyard where the two emotional tones converge, but for the most part the rest of this segment is a straight thriller. What’s also strange is that the tone of escalated danger is paired with some of the most tedious gameplay in the season to date. There’s an extended sequence of putting clues together that requires no rewinding and a lot of reading of small text. This set of puzzles, while rewarding for doing the work, does bring everything to a grinding halt for some time.
In fact, there’s very little use of Max’s power in this episode, and the one time it would come in handy you cannot use it. It’s probably the most linear in terms of gameplay, with the most twists plot-wise. We learn a great deal about what’s going on with Nathan and drugging people. We also learn the whereabouts of Rachel Amber. While I was expecting something else (I was hoping for her having time powers or something similar) the real emotional connect for me was watching Chloe’s reaction. She’s absolutely devastated and it hurt to watch. While seeing what was happening with the mid-episode reveal during the Nathan investigation felt like watching a horror movie unfold, having Chloe find Rachel Amber was eviscerating. Not only was it something that should never have happened, but after seeing how much Chloe needs her friends, watching her loss was something that felt almost too personal to witness.
There’s another twist at the end that felt a bit out of left field when I first played it through. I thought it felt as cheap as the end of episode three, but I did restart the game while I wait for episode five, and there are clues for it earlier in the game, back when they mean nothing without context. I actualyl kept shouting at my TV while replaying episode one. A piece of photography equipment here, a publicly displayed photo there, and a strange comment all clicked into place and I kicked myself for missing everything the first time through. That combined with how amazing the alternate timeline twist payed off makes me give the developers the benefit of the doubt and just see where this all goes. I love this game, despite its flaws, and I am so eager to see where it ends up. I can’t remember the last time I was this emotionally invested in fictional characters.