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LIFE IS STRANGE EPISODE 3 Review – Chaos Theory

We’re back in Arcadia Bay, right where we left off, and it’s impossible to dive into Episode 3 of Dontnod entertainment’s fantastic coming of age time travelling sepia toned episode adventure without spoiling some of what we’ve seen so far. Beware and take note, here be spoilers for episode 2.

Life is Strange Episode 3, aptly titled Chaos Theory, throws back to a comment that the blue haired fire cracked Chloë made to our protagonist ‘Mad’ Max at the outset of Episode 2. Even the smallest action can have consequences. Like that oft quoted cliché about the wings of a butterfly causing a Tsunami on the other side of the globe. It’s no accident that when you make a decision in Life is Strange that will have long-term ramifications, the symbol that appears in the corner of your screen is a stylized butterfly fluttering it’s wings. Throughout the series, the butterfly has been a recurring motif.

This idea finally comes to the front in Episode 3. At the end of Episode 2, we see Max do one of two things, as a fellow student is poised to commit suicide by throwing themselves off the roof of Blackwell Academy, before a crowd of students who are mostly watching through their smartphones. Pastiches of the digital age aside, your ability to navigate a mine field of dialogue and pay attention to the lives of the other characters comes to a head as you either prevent the girl from jumping, or watch helplessly as she plummets to the ground.

Your time reverse power conveniently breaks here, but you manage to stop time in its tracks for a moment. This moment not only reveals the nuance of your power, but also whips away the safety net of it. If you can’t save the girl the first time, there are no second chances.

It’s an intense moment that informs Episode 3 heavily, which is exactly what you want from an episodic title. You’ll either spend the episode hailed as a hero and feeling new confidence in your powers, or you’ll spend it with a shattered, beaten Max, who’s not sure if she can really make any change with her power at all. These feelings both tie in neatly with the end of the episode, but let’s start at the start, shall we?

Total Eclipse of the Heart

A freak eclipse plunges Arcadia Bay into darkness, and Max and Chloë break into Blackwell Academy to find some answers. Along the way, we’re treated to a couple of logic problems, and a prestigious amount of snooping that reveals more about the missing girl, Rachel Amber. A lot of this episode is dedicated to fetch quests and mini logic puzzles, and it’s sad to see a game with such an interesting mechanic resort to the decidedly uninteresting mechanics of many an adventure title. When you’re in the midst of the action and dialogue, it’s just as engaging as ever, but the game play in Chaos Theory is let down by way of setting up story strands for Episode 4.

In this episode, we focus on Chloë, and the relationship with her mother, her grief over the loss of her father, and the hatred of her ‘step-douche’ which has led to her off the rails life and cavalier approach to laws and safety. It works incredibly well because the focus shifts away from Max, who has grown into a much more like-able and believable character. She is seeing herself as less of a victim, more of an arbiter of change, for better or for worse.

She makes jokes about her powers, and there’s even the potential to use it for a bit of tomfoolery, purely to annoy Chloë. When breaking into the drug dealer’s truck, Chloë comes up with an elaborate plan involving the convoluted rewinding and restoration of time to steal the keys. Max simply tells her to leave it all to her. Here’s a more confident Max, ready to take control of her gift and ready to defy Chloë.

Throughout the episode, we see their relationship start to change. Before, Chloë was very much the archetypal bad friend, or bad influence. The kind of person who generally tends to lead you into trouble and into the danger. The same applies here when she prompts Max to break into the school and go for a midnight swim. While Chloë tries to convince Max that her power is a safety net to allow the two to be reckless, it’s clear that this sort of behavior is the norm for Chloë. Max starts to use the freedom of her power to become more adventurous, and it’s clear that Chloë starts to see her with a new-found respect. Chloë comes to rely on her. As we go through the episode, we see more of Chloë, a person who feels abandoned by everyone who she’s ever cared about. First her father, then Max, then Rachel Amber. it’s ambiguous as to whether her and the missing girl were lovers, and Dontnod do a wonderful job of dancing around this issue.

The dialogue options between Max and Chloë essentially allow you to choose the flavor of their relationship. Chloë asks if you if there are any boys at Blackwell that you have the hots for, and you can respond with an answer that implies that it’s not boys that get Max’s motor running. There are a few double entendres which sound like Chloë flirtatiously asking Max which team she plays for, and an underwear midnight swim in the Blackwell pool feels both gratuitous and playfully suggestive. You’re invited to read into how you see fit and reflect what your own reactions say about you in a relatively innocent scene. Elsewhere, the implications are more overt, and a dare that Chloë places to Max suggests the potential for more than just friends between the two.

Overall

We don’t need to dwell on Chaos Theory‘s game play, as little has changed from the previous few games. Dontnod’s development cycle of having episodes finished ahead of time is proving to cause issues in that the problems are already set in stone. The bad dialogue isn’t going to away, and the occasionally poor game play is already their established formula.

The true achievement, once more, is in the world building and character development. Increasingly characters that seemed like one note stereotypes are blossoming into nuanced folks who feel part of a real world. Everyone is beginning to have a motivation that actually feels real, with perhaps the exception of Nathan Prescott, who remains an absolute prick.

Episode 4 has it’s work cut out for it, satisfying the conclusion of Chaos Theory while keeping that feeling of power over what happens, and that distinct lack of power that comes from choosing between two decisions that aren’t black and white, but rather murky shades of grey. There is no good or bad choice in Life Is Strange, just like in real life. You have power over time, but not over people.

Arcadia Bay is wonderful to just spend time in, and there’s a glacial pace at times to Life Is Strange that perfectly mirrors real life. You can lie on bed beside Chloë and listen to music for as long as you want. You can sit on a bench and watch the dragonflies. For a game that’s so very much about time in all it’s forms, you’re afforded ample opportunities to just sit and watch the world. That’s the beauty of it all. Occasionally clichéd dialogue aside and dull game play forgotten, Dontnod have evoked a world and developed characters that feel as real as real life, all through that sepia lens of fake nostalgia, like you’re reliving a life that you’ve forgotten by pawing through a box of dusty old Polaroids.

4 out of 5 stars

4 out of 5 stars

 

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