Life Is Strange - Episode 3: Chaos Theory Review
Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
We’ve been reviewing each episode as they are released so will refer to events up to episode two. Therefore beware - this review will be spoilertastic for anyone new to the series.
Following the dramatic conclusion to the second episode of Life Is Strange, we were hopeful that the series would continue at a high quality, expand its scope and keep on surprising us. We relished the brand new environments Out Of Time took us to, as well as the expansions to Max’s abilities that allowed us to interact with the game in different ways. Furthermore, Max grew as a person and we began to build a connection with her, as she troubled herself over the tough decisions the game poses. We were buoyant that all of these positives would carry over into the third episode, Chaos Theory, and would be built upon further to create another fascinating episode of Life Is Strange. Unfortunately it appears we were too optimistic because almost everything seems to have taken a step back in Chaos Theory.
This episode begins by immediately addressing the startling ending to Out Of Time, which depending on your actions, resulted in either Kate committing suicide or the player saving her. Kate survived in our playthrough, but the effects of the event can be felt instantly. Everyone you encounter is in a sombre mood and reflecting on the situation, even Victoria and her cronies. This melancholy atmosphere is carried throughout the entire episode so that the player is always reminded of Kate, as her character only features in a text conversation in Chaos Theory. But the plot does progress from that affair, somewhat. Rather than actually advancing the story, the third episode chooses to provide some context and background to many characters we know little about, including Rachel and Chloe’s Dad. While this is no bad thing, we would have preferred to have these discoveries combined with a new motivation to progress through the episode besides simply hanging out with Chloe again. One very strange omission to the story though is the impending storm that was hinted at during the very beginning of Life Is Strange. Chrysalis spent an entire scene taking you to the lighthouse and displaying the consequences of the hurricane, and yet it appears to have sunk completely into the backdrop, save for a very quick mention in the final cutscene. However, the concluding cutscene is one we won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Of course we won’t spoil it, but it is a twist that completely turns the entire game on its head. Consider us both fascinated and excited to see what unfolds in episode four.
The gameplay of Life Is Strange remains the same in Chaos Theory, but unfortunately that is the episode’s main downfall. We enjoyed experimenting with Max’s time travelling abilities in the previous episodes, as we predicted the future in the diner and saved Chloe’s life at the junkyard. Here though, the most elaborate demonstration of Max’s ability is opening a locked door from the other side. It is extremely disappointing to regard this as the height of Max’s ability usage in Chaos Theory, considering what we have already accomplished in preceding episodes. Furthermore, places we visit in episode three are rehashes of places we’ve already visited, or are different rooms in settings we’ve already explored. This feels like a real setback after Out Of Time expanded the world of Arcadia Bay so much by taking us to new spots in the town. The newest location we’re taken to is Blackwell swimming pool, which is where Max and Chloe reflect on previous events and talk about each other. It gives the player a nice little breather, but it is hardly needed, for what follows is a short stealth section that is devoid of any tension. Overall, Max’s time travelling skill is fun to mess around with, but the game’s minute to minute gameplay is nowhere near as engaging as it was in Chrysalis. We hope that Dontnod gives players a few new ways to interact with Life Is Strange in the penultimate episode, otherwise outside of its story, we can see the game becoming a bit of a bore to play.
One of the best things about Life Is Strange is Max, and this positive stays true in Chaos Theory as well. As cheesy as some of her dialogue may be sometimes, she is still a completely believable character and a fantastic protagonist. Additionally, if you were to compare the Max we were introduced to in the debut episode to the one that we’re forming a friendship with now, then you’d conclude she is almost a completely different person. Max has grown in confidence, she sticks up for herself more and has realised that sometimes, she doesn’t even need her power. The game’s overall plot does take centre stage, but the transformation we’ve seen in Max has been just as important, and we think it improves the overall quality of the game no end. Not only are you seeing a fascinating story unfold, but you’re also seeing the evolution of one of the best characters in videogames in 2015.
It’s common knowledge that the lip syncing in Life Is Strange is its most glaring flaw, but episode three takes this problem a step further. Whereas in previous instalments words didn’t match the movement of a character’s mouth, here a character’s lips would be in motion but there wasn’t any dialogue on screen for them to actually say. This was not a common occurrence, but it happened enough times to disengage us from the scene. Another problem we noticed was the complete lack of emotion on certain character’s faces when they were saying something. For example, Max bumps into Nathan Prescott at the diner, and following his expulsion, he proceeds to shout at Max for telling the school president about his actions. While we could hear Nathan shouting at us, his character wore the most monotone expression, which pulled us out of the scene completely because it wasn’t believable. On the other hand, it appears the frame rate issues we experienced in Out Of Time have been fixed, as we didn’t experience any drops throughout our two and a half hour completion time.
Chaos Theory has two big things going for it, the character of Max and its final cutscene. If it wasn’t for these two factors, our time of enjoying Life Is Strange may have been up. Its gameplay has become rather tedious and the lack of elaboration in Max’s time travelling usage is a severe let-down. The lip syncing issues are worse than ever, and when the technical problems are combined with monotonous gameplay, it’s clear that Dontnod have a lot of work to do if they want to re-engage us for the penultimate episode. Max and the episode’s finale are the saving graces of Chaos Theory, and they are the main reasons that we still hold hope and optimism for the fourth episode of Life Is Strange.