Life Is Strange - Chaos Theory
Platforms: PS4 (tested), Xbox One, PC, Xbox 360, PS3.
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Chaos Theory is the branch of mathematics that deals with complex systems in which even the smallest action can have huge ramifications. By the end of Life Is Strange's third episode, the player and the character's will know this all too well.
So far Dontnod's narrative-led interactive adventure has juggled a number of elements – it is part mystery, part supernatural thriller and part coming-of-age tale. Episode one, Chrysalis, set everything up with the second, Out of Time, cementing an identity for the series and its characters before reaching a powerful finale.
Episode three, Chaos Theory, explores the mystery side with heroine Max Caulfield and her closest friend Chloe Price breaking into the high school around which the story has focused to search for clues.
We have had teenage angst, diddly indie music and rekindled friendships in the prior episodes so for this central one, the task is to move the everything forward as we head towards the final act. The result, unfortunately, is an episode that for the most part is unmemorable but which turns the entire series on its head by the time the credits roll.
Life Is Strange is about the choices you make in both your actions and words. Relationships are grown and tested through Max's interactions with characters, with many of the game's highlights coming from the conversations you have and the dialogue options you select. There are also puzzles that make use of Max's ability to rewind time.
In both of these areas, Chaos Theory is lacking. Puzzles are either too simplistic or boil down to "go around looking at everything until you find the answer". These are tiresome but the episode gets better as it goes.
The clues Max and Chloe gather into the mystery of Rachel Amber's disappearance and the conspiracy surrounding the events at the end of episode two are fairly insubstantial until the game starts gearing toward a conclusion.
Chloe and Max's friendship is further strengthened through dialogue that is as often sweet and naturalistic as it is corny and forced (they need to stop saying "hella" so much, it only reminds me of Cartman in South Park). However, none of their moments together top those in Out Of Time.
The final act unfolds after Max learns of a new time-warping ability that gifts her an opportunity. To say much at all about what happens would be to spoil it but it is wholly unexpected and carries a surprising gravity, much to the credit of the characters Dontnod have created.
There are elements to what happens that might strike as cliché but for me those were overcome by the ramifications heading going into the fourth and fifth episodes. I will be writing a second article to discuss the end of this episode in detail but I can't say any more here without spoilers.
Something beyond the content of the episode does need addressing though. As Resident Evil: Revelations 2 proved earlier in 2015, episodic gaming works best when each episode arrives promptly and is given a firm release date straight out of the gate.
We do not know when episode four of Life Is Strange will arrive. We can guess late July based on the pattern of releases so far, but we do not know for sure and that uncertainty is what puts people off episodic gaming. That really needs to change.