The difficulty with reviewing episodic games full of twists and turns is that you can’t say an awful lot about their narratives. You can bash them or praise them, but you can’t provide sufficient textual anchors for the people who want to know: “Is this story worth playing?” Such is the case with Life is Strange – it peaks and troughs with reckless abandon as its tweeny-supernatural storyline weaves its disaster plot with genuinely heartfelt romanticism. It’s been a messy ride so far, but Episode Three shows Life Is Strange at its best – a confident foray into time-bending storytelling, which finally takes advantage of the series’ ever immense potential.
Chaos Theory starts up where Episode Two left off. After witnessing the undoubtedly tragic events of Out of Time‘s climax, Max begins to take her powers – and the town’s growing fear of an impending weather disaster – more seriously. With the assistance of her trusty (and unbelievably angsty) childhood best friend Chloe, Max decides to sneak into Blackwell Academy under cover of darkness, and attempt to unearth some dirt on Nathan Prescott, Rachel Amber and the notorious vortex club.
As per Max’s new-found sense of focus and purpose, Episode 3 is a much more controlled and confident affair. Max spends less time wandering around poking her nose in other people’s business, and more time using her immense powers for the good of her community (whilst also technically “breaking and entering”). The stakes feel higher, the drama is more intense, and though you’d expect to miss the charm of earlier episodes’ adventure game-y tidbits strewn about the campus, their absence allows Max and Chloe’s narrative to power forward into some gloriously insane territory.
This sense of purpose also provides Chaos Theory with the room to experiment more with its unique time manipulation mechanic. No longer must we squander these abilities guessing what keychain Chloe has in her pocket – Max now uses her power exclusively for important situations, rather than frivolous nonsense. There are some really clever instances in which Max must rewind in order to procure the correct information from several opposing parties, and others in which Max must make it to the correct position in the correct time before it is too late. There’s even a section which combines stealth mechanics with time rewinds, and it actually works. This is an adventure game with stealth and time travel, and it’s really good.
Dialogue is noticeably stronger in Episode Three, albeit not without the quirks and niggles that have become synonymous with Life Is Strange. Max and Chloe’s embarrassing youth-isms are as cringe inducing as ever, but they feel less frequent – or at least less important at this point in the story. Enough time is devoted to letting Max and Chloe really air their grievances, and it all feels aggressive and sincere, a far cry from the awkward referencing and meandering chit-chat from Episode One. By laying some necessary groundwork in Episodes One and Two, Life Is Strange’s world now feels like a touchable, breathable one filled with complex characters and important dramatic turns.
It is impressive to see just how “important” the series’ decisions appear to be so far, at least on a personal basis. Looking back at a choice as trivial is “Drawing on the dirty RV” now has tangible consequences, since that dirty RV belongs to Chloe’s drug dealer Frank. Looking back on previous decisions, no matter how small, already seems to carry more weight than it did in the death-heavy Walking Dead series.
Most notably though, Chaos Theory will be forever remembered for having the gall to implement one of the most bizarre and courageous twists I have ever seen in a game, particularly one of this genre. For a game about choices, and the consequences of said choices, Life Is Strange has done the unthinkable and turned its entire world completely upside down. There’s potential for this to tank catastrophically in the remaining two fallout episodes, but there’s also an incredible amount of room for some irresistible mind-bending material. I wish there was more I could say, but it’s a surprise ending executed with such confidence and skill that it really must be experienced first hand.
Life Is Strange has ironed out a considerable amount of its creases, and has finally found its groove. Part awkward teen drama, part time-twisting sci-fi thriller, Life Is Strange really comes into its own in Episode 3, and manages to show up genre behemoths TellTale Games in more than a few areas.