Life is Strange: Episode Three - Chaos Theory review: echo chamber

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Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game from Dontnod, whose previous game, Remember Me, was also its first.

In the style of most episodic games, Life is Strange relies on a choice-and-consequence narrative in which players take on the role of high school student Max Caulfield — a young woman with the power to rewind time. While the game focuses on Max's school life, it also sheds a light on her relationships and the mysterious disappearance of a local girl.

As Max, players navigate school life through a linear path, interacting with classmates, teachers and friends through choice-driven dialogue. But these decisions aren't set in stone; once a conversation is over, you can choose to "rewind" time. You can relive a scenario as often as you like with no consequence, though your powers only allow you to back up for a set amount of time.

To accommodate for the game's branching narrative, senior reporters Colin Campbell and Megan Farokhmanesh are reviewing the game together as a series of discussions. Below is their take on Episode Three: Chaos Theory.

life is strange episode 3

Megan Farokhmanesh

Can I just be blunt? Because I want to get this out of the way early: This episode was REALLY BORING.

Colin Campbell

Excruciatingly dull, for about 95 percent of the time, and then with a kicker at the end that you could see coming a mile away. Most of the gaming in this episode was about tiresome fetch quests. And not even good ones. They made a bloody bomb? Really?

Megan: Woof, where to even begin with that one. We’re at Episode Three, otherwise known as the halfway point. It’s expected that things are going to be a little stale; by now the novelty of the rewinding mechanic has worn off. We’re basically left to use its effects in the same ways we’ve gotten used to, which leads to Max getting cocky about her powers. Pipe bomb in the school? Why not!

Unfortunately, this makes an otherwise grounded game (I know, I know, that sounds weird when you’re talking about a game rooted in time travel) start to feel wacky beyond an enjoyable level. Max knows her powers aren’t unlimited, so why is she tempting fate?

life is strange

Colin: Max is an interesting character in that she is not like all the other video game characters we get to play. The designers give her this magical ability and then they bend it around to give us shooting galleries and explosions. In video game terms, it’s lazy. In the context of a compelling drama about young people, it feels wrong. I want to feel the magic of her abilities, not do the same stuff I can in every other game.

When we weren’t opening drawers and looking for random stuff, we were engaged in mildly interesting dialogue tree puzzles, but even they ended up as formless blobs of to-ing and fro-ing. I just kept clicking on options, rewinding and trying again. It’s a shame that the actual gameplay is so annoying because this is a story that set out to bring something new to video games, and then falls back on familiar ideas.

So, the story. There was a big theme running through this episode: the friendship and the closeness between Max and Chloe, which is great. How often do we see that in games? And then we get a vaguely Dead or Alive swimming pool moment and even a kiss. How did you feel about this direction, which, frankly, they have been heavily trailing since Episode One?

It’s a shame that the actual gameplay is so annoying

Megan: I didn't have problems with the pool scene. Sure, you don't need your two teenage leads stripping down to their underwear when they could have done literally anything else in that school, but at least it didn't feel exploitative. The kiss scene — what did you do, by the way? — was a little weird and definitely clumsy.

I’ve loved Life is Strange because of its focus on friendship. Max shows little to no interest in her dating life, which makes perfect sense when you consider everything else she has going on. I’m willing to hold my judgment to see if it shakes out in a meaningful way. We don’t know much about Chloe’s sexual orientation, or even Max’s, for that matter. This could be indicative of something deeper ... or it could be a very frustrating red herring. Fingers crossed it's not the latter.

life is strange

Colin: There are a lot of male writers who, given a scenario featuring two young women alone in a room together, are going to write in a shedding of clothing and some sort of make-out scenario. But a part of me hopes Dontnod is fooling with us here, that the writers are upending this tired convention, or they are positing Chloe’s sexual orientation as something that is neither here nor there.

Perhaps I am being a hypocrite. I clicked "yes" to "do they kiss?" and so engaged in what I suspect to be a program of mild titillation, rather than a valid exploration of an intense and complex relationship. There certainly doesn’t seem to be much inner dialogue from Max on this issue. I thought the whole thing was crudely handled, but I hope I’m proved wrong and that it turns out that these events add something meaningful to their relationship.

We saw something more interesting about Max and Chloe with the final scene, in which time travel is more imaginatively explored. The denouement was all standard fare — be careful what you wish for — but seeing the roots of their friendship was really touching.

Megan: The last 20 minutes or so of this episode really got me to sit up straight and pay attention. We’re given something entirely new to do with Max’s powers, and for the first time it feels like things can go seriously, dangerously wrong.

The way this plays out is interesting to me, because unlike the big moment at the end of Episode Two, you really don’t have a say in how this will go down. It’s all so innocent, right? Max just wants to change Chloe’s life for the better. She’s doing it out of a deep love for her friend.

Like you mentioned earlier, I think that final scene is expected. I didn’t know exactly what would happen, but there is a sense of dread that hangs over the whole thing.

I didn’t know exactly what would happen, but there is a sense of dread that hangs over the whole thing
life is strange

Colin: We’ve moaned about how dull this episode was, but if Episode Four dropped right now, I’d go play it.

Max and Chloe’s relationship is at the center of this story. The surrounding characters like Chloe’s mom, her drug dealer, her stepdad, poor broken Victoria are all so much deeper and more interesting than just about anything we see in standard video game fantasies.

It’s becoming the thing it set out to be: a TV series that people like to talk about. A lot of that talk is critical, even mocking. Yes, this game makes tons of errors in its quest to entertain us and to find a way to elevate gaming fiction. But at least it’s seeking a different place for us.

It didn’t matter to me that the final scene was predictable, considering the clues I’d been given. What matters is that it made me feel something, because I really care about these people and the lives they live.

Megan: I bitch because I love. The last two episodes have done a stellar job creating tiny stories within the larger narrative, while "Chaos Theory" feels like Dontnod shrugging its collective shoulders. There is information we needed to get to Episode Four, but unfortunately we got it in a way that feels lazy and disconnected.

Wrap Up:

The end of this episode is a killer cliffhanger, one that has been turning over in my brain since I finished. I care about these characters enough to want the happy ending for them. I want to know what’s going to happen to Max and Chloe; I want to find Rachel Amber; I want to figure out what’s up with all the batshit crazy climate changes. "Chaos Theory" is the lowest point of Life is Strange yet — and still, it’s the first game I want to recommend to everyone I know right now.

Life is Strange: Episode Three was reviewed using PS3 retail copies purchased by Polygon. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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