The third episode of Dontnod Entertainment's mystery drama Life Is Strange is out now. I reviewed it as best I could while avoiding spoilers, but once played, all I or anyone else gripped by the episodic thriller will want to talk about is the ending.
There is a final twist that changes everything to do with Dontnod's game and it opens up a multitude of possibilities as to what might happen next. So with that in mind, let's get stuck in....
WARNING: Major spoilers for Life Is Strange – Episode Three 'Chaos Theory' follow.
Life Is Strange has been pretty mellow for the majority of its three episodes. The second ended with a dramatic flourish, but otherwise the tone has been melancholic and the stakes not particularly high.
Greater focus has been given to building of characters and the setting than to the mysteries at the core of the story. That changes in episode three however as Max and Chloe investigate the disappearance of Rachel Amber and the events surrounding the very recent suicide of Kate Marsh (I was unable to talk her down in my game).
This leads them to a string of clues that reveal only a little more about the latter mystery and, eventually, a significant revelation about the former. From both a story and gameplay perspective all this was a little bland in my opinion, but then comes the final act, which begins with Max looking at an old photograph of her and Chloe.
In the photo the two friends are fourteen-years-old, and it is the day Chloe's father died. It's here that Max discovers a new power as she transports her back to that very day, where she is presented the chance to alter history and save Chloe's dad. She does so, hiding his car keys and preventing a fatal accident – before returning to the present.
In a textbook example of the butterfly effect in practise, Max awakens in a different reality. She is a member of the Vortex Club, friends with school bullies Victoria Chase and Nathan Prescott, and upon making her way to Chloe's house she discovers that her father is alive and well, but Chloe is now quadriplegic.
It's here the episode ends. Quite a cliffhanger.
Max's newfound ability drastically alters the scope of the game, making her even more powerful than anyone would have imagined she'd become at the start of the series. Meanwhile, the survival of Chloe's father has unexpected consequences yet to be fully explained.
In the first two episodes we meet and find out more about Chloe, who certainly has her share of problems - all of which stem back to the death of her dad. She's a tearaway, a punk, she was expelled from Blackwell Academy and hates her new step-dad. She dearly wants her father back, giving cause to Max's actions.
The severity of the changes caused by those actions are very clear, but not wholly explained yet. Chloe could yet turn out to be a more fulfilled person with her father in her life despite her disability? And just how far do those disabilities go? How much brain function does she have, and how much will those factors matter when Max blames herself for everything she's done?
Despite the many possibilities it creates for the final two episodes, the ending isn't exactly perfect. The butterfly effect and time-travel have been explored in pop culture numerous times over the years, and the consequences of Max's actions being that her best friend is now disabled does feel a bit trite and on-the-nose.
Having the choice wrestled away from the player during this (you either save Chloe's father or you fail) is also one of those unfortunate but unavoidable moments that undermine games that emphasise choice but set everything to a strict (ish) narrative.
The moment still has impact however, thanks not only to the work Dontnod have done in building their characters and relationships but also because the very nature of this style of game means we the players have to deal with the consequences.
Max will probably seek to reverse her actions by finding the original photograph that sent her back in the first place, which is likely how she'll return to the time - and Chloe - that she knows. We don't even know if the Max and Chloe in this timeline are even close friends any more.
In any event, how will Max process what has happened? Will she confess to Chloe and risk devastating their friendship, or will she lie? If that is the choice of the player (if it isn't that would be utterly absurd) then putting the players in that position justifies how on-the-nose the ending might seem to some.
Max's new power also opens up a world of wider possibilities; can she only transport herself into pictures of her or taken by her, or would she be able to transport herself into the damning video of Kate Marsh and discover what happened that night, or into pictures of Rachel Amber?
Could her reality-manipulating trips through time be causing the odd events leading to the game's climatic super-storm, and how will that tie into Life Is Strange's many other mysteries? Could the whole series in fact be a loop? One which closes with Max looking at that very first selfie, and wondering whether she might make better decisions if she did it all again?
Time will tell.