Life is Strange: Episode 3 – Chaos Theory
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Genre: Interactive Drama
Release Date: 05/19/2015
(Note: This review will feature text copied from my review of episode one. As things like graphics, audio, and core mechanics are unlikely to change between episodes, there’s hardly a good reason to rewrite bits for that. These copied sections will be in italics. Feel free to read them and/or skip them as you see fit.)
Episode 2 of Life is Strange was perhaps the pinnacle of of the interactive drama genre. These games all claim to emphasize player choice as having an outcome on events, but we simply weren’t prepared to talk down a teenage girl from the edge of a rooftop. Whether you failed or succeeded to do so, you left the game affected.
Chaos Theory picks up right after where the last one let off. You’re able to see the immediate after effects of your decisions before going to meet Chloe for a late night rendezvous/bit of investigating. There’s still that odd tornado vision to worry about, and a missing girl to find.
This episode departs a bit from the previous two. For starters, there’s less chance to explore. That isn’t to say there aren’t a ton of things to interact with. There are, and Max’s internal monologue is as interesting and authentic as ever. You can also still meet several different characters and participate in optional activities. While you may not have a school campus full of potential conversationalist, there’s still plenty to do. Also, a big part of the comparative lack of exploration is the game’s decision to focus the grand majority of its efforts on a few big scenes with Max and Chloe.
Overall, the story here is quite good. While it takes a while for the big stuff to start happening (almost the end of the episode really), a lot of attention is given to the two friends. They truly feel like fleshed out characters, and all of these little conversations and interactions go a long way to making them feel like real people instead of typical archetypes. The pacing can be a bit slow at times as a result, but the game delivers the big moments if you stick around to see them. The last twenty minutes or so is some of the best in the genre. Once you’re through it, you’ll be begging to play the next episode.
For the most part, Life is Strange looks great. The models and environments are well detailed, there’s a good use of color, and nothing looks strangely out of place. A couple of issues bog it down though. The hair for example, has the complexion of cheap plastic. It almost looks like characters are wearing helmets. Facial hair doesn’t fare much better either. Those that have it look like they’ve simply drawn it on with marker. More importantly, the lip syncing is terrible to the point of distraction. It feels like the audio is simply out of sync with the visuals. Unfortunately, these issues are consistent throughout the game and make it hard to enjoy an otherwise well put together little world.
Things fare better in the aural department. Those indie songs fit the mood to a tee, and sound pretty nice to boot. The voice acting is also quite good across the board. A few lines are overacted a bit, but that can just as easily be attributed to the fact that teenagers actually act like that. It’s not odd at all that Max would get into an all too serious reverie about some silly bit of graffiti or lament the state of her self portrait. That’s what kids do. It’s a solid package across the board really. It’s just a shame those words don’t match the lip movements.
Much like the various recent TT games, Life is Strange keeps a minimalist approach. However, this game keeps a few of the puzzle elements that those games have ditched. The time rewinding mechanic also throws a fresh perspective on the genre.
There’s actually freedom to explore and discover in the game. While you can only really progress the plot by completing certain actions, you’re often given a fairly well sized area to walk around in. You can hunt for photo ops, talk to people, and get Max’s input on various things as well. Talking to people helps flesh out the story, and adds a lot of depth. There’s one plot line about a girl who went missing in the months prior to the start of story, and you’ll find out a lot more by talking to non-essential people than you will on the main path. It’s really all about walking around and pressing one of two or so face buttons. It’s simple, but effective.
When a puzzle does show up, it’s often only a couple of steps in complexity. For example, you’ll only need to perform two actions in order to get the popular girls to stop blocking your way into the dorm. The trick is in using the time reversal to see what things you can interact with. In one case, you need to hide in a closet. If you attempt to open the door, a floor lamp falls into it and knocks everything over. A quick time reversal allows you to move the lamp first and thus save you from the accident. To reverse time, you need only hold down a shoulder button. The game has skip options to allow you fast forward through stuff you’ve already seen before/maneuver through time faster. Best of all, this mechanic lets you change your mind about even the biggest decisions in the game. The catch is that you can only reverse time so far, and once you leave the area, those decisions are set in stone. Still, it takes a lot of the anxiety out of making a choice. You can see what all the options do and pick the path you think is best.
When it comes to making choices in the game, your options are usually limited. Fans used to TT’s four option method might be disappointed to know that this game usually offers only two or three choices. This is most likely to give more meaning to those choices and to keep the time reversals from getting out of hand. On the other hand, you’re free to talk to someone until you’ve exhausted all dialogue options, which is nice. It’s certainly less on-rails than comparable games. It’s not quite to the point where you can call it a true adventure game, but it’s much closer than you’d expect.
With it’s (comparatively) more linear approach, episode three ends up being a big shorter than the other two. On the other hand, it’s just as lore dense as the rest of the season. If you full explore and check out the various decisions, you’ll get several hours of game time for your measly five bucks. It’s well worth the price.
Short Attention Span Summary
Chaos Theory is a great episode that gives you downtime to recover from the events of the last one while still moving things forward on all fronts. The game goes in an unexpected direction that will make the wait for the next episode all but unbearable. The slower pace and more linear nature of this episode might give pause to some, but this is still a solid step in what is proving to be a great series.