After the incredible drama at the end of episode two of Life is Strange, I can’t deny that I was looking for a bit of calm, a bit of breathing space. Thankfully, one of the things Life is Strange does best is humanity, and that breathing space seemed to be what everyone in the game needed too.
Blackwell Academy is reeling after Kate’s attempted suicide and the start of Chaos Theory allows you to wander your dormitory after hours, understanding Max’s feelings, and the feelings of other students. Starting episode three off slowly and building is the perfect way to acknowledge the weight of the previous episode’s events on a cast of characters who feel increasingly real and likeable as you find scraps of their lives littered throughout the game, offering insight, sympathy, and sometimes revulsion.
Episode three has more instances of using Max’s time rewinding powers to solve puzzles than the previous episodes, and for the most part they’re pretty fun! The environmental puzzles are mostly search and fetch in nature, and although often I do this with gritted teeth, Dontnod diffuse most of my irritation by using the searching time to allow Max to monologue, giving us more insight into Max herself. Thankfully the writing does such a good job of making Max a likeable character that it’s a pleasure to listen to her thoughts and sympathise with her.
The puzzle of building a pipe bomb and breaking into the principal’s office was particularly well done, as not only was it really fun to skulk around the school after dark in an atmosphere that was at once familiar and foreboding, it also made her powers feel essential. There wasn’t really any way to pull off she and Chloe’s scheme without Max’s powers and that’s essential in making what could be a gimmick feel needed.
Chaos Theory has that “we’ve reached the middle” feeling you get when watching a TV series, but not entirely in a bad way. It can definitely be boring and drag along at some points, but episode three has to slow down to pull together information from past episodes before speeding up to one hell of an ending that left me clutching my controller, desperate to jump straight into episode 4. The fact that it does this reasonably well really helped me let the more dull aspects of the episode slide. The quiet nature of the rest of the gameplay (aside from the short sidestep into bomb creation) allows the relationship between Max and Chloe to develop. They’re becoming closer, their interactions warmer, and you can see the friendship that was supposed to exist before the game began coming through with increasing sincerity.
I didn’t really know what to make, then, of the jarring moment where you’re given the option to kiss Chloe. It felt forced, jarring, and ruined the tenderness that had been built up in the pool scene. I wish they’d tried to introduce the idea of Max and Chloe as more than friends in a more natural way, rather than throwing it as a dare that isn’t really mentioned again in the rest of the episode, making the moment feel more like pointless titillation than a meaningful development.
The last section of the episode really gets you paying attention because it’s an insight into a darker and more complex side of Max’s powers. Max’s intentions are good and she just wants to help Chloe because she loves her, right? But you can’t help but find yourself wishing you could stop her because her actions just feel…wrong. There’s an extremely well created feeling of dread over the entire section. The twist at the end is the kind of direction you would expect the writers to go in when it comes to exploring the dangers and possibilities of time travel, but when you care this much about the characters in a world that otherwise feels so grounded, it manages to feel less like a predictable sci-fi storyline.
Life is Strange episode three melds the big and small uses of Max’s power, integrating it into the story better than ever before and giving it depth of meaning we haven’t seen before. I can’t wait to find out where Dontnod are going to go in episode four.
Main Image via Flickr © JP Freethinker