|System: PS4*, PC, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360|
|Pub: Square Enix|
|Release: May 19, 2105|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Violence, Use of Drugs|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
The third episode of Life is Strange has released, and by now the formula has been pretty well set in stone. The merits and flaws of the series aren’t changing much, and we can be sure that some unfortunate things like control bugs are going to be sticking around clear through episode five. But DontNod isn’t content to just rest on its laurels and let the rest of the game play out like previous episodes. Instead, it decided to throw new topics and new gameplay elements at us to keep the game feeling fresh. These new mechanical and story elements have their own fair share of merits and flaws, which once again leaves you feeling like the game is important and interesting, but not perfect. Even so, it’s good that DontNod is trying to keep introducing new things as the episodes go on. It manages to turn a game that would otherwise get monotonous into a fresh adventure every time a new episode boots up.
Let’s go over the bad elements of Life is Strange: Episode 3: Chaos Theory first, besides the needlessly long title, that is. The controls on the PC are still very wonky, and make it hard to effectively walk around and search for items to solve puzzles. The disappointment with making a decision only to rewind it a second later and figure out you are screwed no matter what you do is still around. There are still a million little plot elements that you barely knew existed that somehow effect the plot, which once again makes you want to wander around and check everything only to find a bunch of red herrings and canned one liners as you examine the main character, Max’s, posters for the fifteen millionth time.
The game also expects you to be in its designer's head again, much like Episode 2 did in its Bottle Finder 5000 segment. You have to do things like break into buildings by finding specific chemicals to make a bomb, which seems dumb because I have time rewinding powers! I could easily just kick down the door and rewind as if it never happened, which is extra infuriating because that’s exactly what you do after you set off the bomb!
There are tons of situations like this where you feel like you are smarter than the characters you are playing. For example, at one point you are told you need weed killer, so you think you should head to the janitor’s closet, right? Nope! It’s in the chem lab for no reason whatsoever. Another time you are told to find some bacon and eggs, so you check the fridge, right? Nope! The eggs are in a bag of groceries far away from the kitchen that you had no idea was there. At one point you have to hide someone’s keys from them, but you can’t even pick up the keys until you fail to hide the keys once, and then rewind all the way back after the consequences occur, to check the keys again, to attempt to hide them in a place that doesn’t work, to get the keys again, and finally hide it in the right place a third time. I’ve tried to get this all on the first shot. You can’t. You have to go through pre-programmed failure after pre-programmed failure in order to let the game go forward.
In fact, much of the game feels like it is railroading you into a position that you yourself didn’t really choose. You don’t really have a say in what mischief you get into. This is fine whenever you are doing a time rewind super sleuth thing, trying to save the day, but at one point Chloe says, “Come break into the pool with me for no reason,” and your gut instinct is “NOOOOOOOO!” but you don’t get to say that. Sure enough, you are then put into a situation where security is trying to hunt you down, and you have to go through a makeshift stealth section just to get out of it.
You’ll encounter similarly frustrating segments when you find yourself idly chatting up someone who threatened to kill you in previous episodes, with no particular consequences, or taking wild guesses at passwords to a computer by looking at random items strewn around the computer. In these points, the dialogue and character performances become stiff and robotic as well, as characters head on to the next section of the game “just because” instead of for any understandable motivated reason.
Once again the greatest part of this game is its story, which sometimes makes it feel like you are doing busy work just to get to the narrative. The game is stuffed full of repercussions from your actions in Episode 2, whether positive or negative. Characters start treating you in different ways, giving you access to areas you didn’t have before, and generally opening up to you in ways that were just superficial in the first two episodes.
Max and Chloe’s relationship also starts to get much more complicated. They spend far more time with each other in this episode, and talk about their wants, hopes, and dreams. You get the feeling that both of them are starting to fall for each other, which becomes extremely obvious when Chloe asks Max for a kiss out of nowhere.
However, this same relationship starts to feel creepy in subtle ways. Chloe, though she spends so much time with you, still can’t stop talking about Rachel Amber, her friend who moved away. She frequently comments on how you aren’t like her, and how she would have loved to meet you. She even dresses you up in Rachel's clothes at one point. You start to feel like Max is being used as a stand-in for Rachel in an unhealthy way, like she is trying to turn you into Rachel. This only becomes more creepy as you figure out more about Rachel’s backstory as the game goes on.
Unlike the first two episodes, Episode 3 heavily leans on elements of horror and mystery to push the story forward. You spend a lot of time wandering around in the dark as tense music plays in the background; either that, or suffocating silence. More and more questions arise as you start poking your nose into things you shouldn’t. Everyone in the story seems connected in deep and profound ways, ways that could turn you into a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist if you weren’t a plucky teenage girl. For the first time since the game’s beginning, the deeper plot starts to come alive, and it starts to feel like there is something much bigger than Chloe or Max happening in this little seaside town.