Now over halfway through Life is Strange, I can safely say, for better or for worse, there really is nothing else quite like it. An episodic adventure game, much like what we have come to expect from Telltale for example, Life is Strange takes that formula and tells a story you certainly wouldn’t expect. It is crafting a narrative that is equal parts teen-angst drama, murder/maybe-not-murder mystery, and crazy time travel story.
Continuing directly from the events of episode one and two, of which you can find the reviews of here and here, respectively, “Chaos Theory” sees Max and the rest of Blackwell’s students reeling from the tragedy (or near tragedy) that capped off the last episode. This is actually one of the episode’s stronger characteristics, as a lot of your choices from the previous episodes really feel like they are shaping the world around you. Even small things, that at the time you figured had little importance, reappear. To be fair, they reappear in equally small ways, but the mere abundance of them flavor the world in such a way that it feels as if you truly have changed things. Better yet, many of these small changes are hidden throughout the world, completely missable, rewarding the patience it takes to really examine everything and see what’s around every corner.
While so far Life is Strange has nudged the player heavily towards snooping around in everyone else’s business, episode 3 is the first time it is stated as a narrative goal, something that actually serves the gameplay quite well. “Chaos Theory” sees Max and Chloe finally set themselves to figuring out what is going on in Arcadia Bay, a mission that ultimately means breaking into a lot of places and going through a lot of people’s things. As small as it might seem, it was an enjoyable experience feeling the narrative and my motivations as a player mesh so smoothly together. In this way, the whole episode turned more heavily towards the mystery and intrigue of Arcadia Bay, feeding my desire to just keep digging and find more. Like any good mystery however, for every answer Max found, two more questions popped up.
More than the previous two episodes, “Chaos Theory” then also took the chance to really explore Max and Chloe’s relationship, Chloe operating as your partner in crime for nearly the entirety of the episode. The current dynamic between the two is thrown into constant conflict with the way things used to be, with the way things were between Chloe and Rachel, the way things are between Max and the rest of her classmates. And this is where Life is Strange shines.
Even hampered by occasionally cheesy dialogue, a handful of lines that really could have been delivered better, and enough angst to knock a sumo wrestler head-over-heels, “Chaos Theory,” builds on the strong cast developed of episodes one and two, illustrates fully believable characters torn apart by very realistic tragedies, experiencing relatable and powerful emotions. Ashly Burch, the voice of Chloe, deserves particular recognition, delivering over and over again on the raw anger and pain that defines Chloe, knocking it out of the park, scene after scene.
On top of this, Dontnod Entertainment then manages to deliver on multiple clever puzzles, all working on the basic rewind mechanics introduced before, but pushing them to the next level. The often used talk to someone, learn something, talk to them again with the new information puzzle steps up a bit as one scene introduces multiple people into the information gathering/sharing mix. Fans of the memory remix segments of Dontnod’s other game, Remember Me, certainly will find a lot to like.
The added complexity works well for the gameplay, and as a form of showing Max’s growing comfort with her powers. In the same way, options to mess with people, for the express purpose of seeing what will happen, just to then rewind immediately, adds a bit more comedy to the proceedings, as Max loosens up a bit about how she uses her powers.
Even as the story of Life is Strange dips into increasingly dark material, moments of comedy, like the ability to mess with people, still dot the narrative, working well without taking away from the serious tone of the episode. Additionally, as Life is Strange develops its patterns and standard puzzle design, it takes the time to not only poke fun at itself, but also at its source material. For example, upon seeing a red hunter’s hat, much like the one worn by Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield, Max promptly states, “Only a phony would wear a hat like that…” If you haven’t read Catcher in the Rye, you’ll just have to take my word for it, it’s funny.
Then, even after all of this, “Chaos Theory” manages to culminate in a single massive story twist. Serving to not only redefine Max’s power, but also to totally redefine every expectation you might have had for where the story was going, the twist is quite the shock, and, more than either episode before it, left me desperate, wishing the next episode was already out.
Despite its continued faults of uneven performances and dialogue, and even without earth-shattering moral choices to agonize over, Life is Strange continues to develop an interesting world, inhabited by interesting people with real emotions and problems, who, at the end of the day, I care about, and want to spend more time with. And as a cherry on top, “Chaos Theory” even managed to deliver a game-changing twist, ensuring my continued interest as the last two episodes of Life is Strange roll out in the months ahead.