Life is Strange Episode 3: Chaos Theory
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: May 19th, 2015
Price: $7.99 AU/$4.99 US– Available On Steam, PlayStation Store, Xbox Live
For any one who hasn’t played the game yet don’t worry this review contains no spoilers. Episode 2 of Life is Strange (full review here) capitalised on everything that made the first game great and ended on a very memorable and tense set piece. So far, the narrative’s ability to focus on real life problems while incorporating a supernatural element has worked incredibly well, as has having a likable and relatable protagonist and a wonderfully detailed world. Now the centerpiece of this five part series has been released in Life is Strange Episode 3: Chaos Theory. Does this newest episode continue building on the momentum set by the first two? Read on to find out.
Personally Episode 3 felt like the weakest episode we have received so far, especially in terms of advancement of the plot, but all that changed after I played through the final arc where the episode makes a strong case for itself to become one of the more memorable moments in gaming history (I’ll talk more about the ending later). The majority of this episode is focused on the disappearance of Rachael Amber, however while you learn more about this mysterious women in this chapter, you don’t really learn anymore about what happened to her at all. That’s not to say this is a bad chapter by any means, it just feels like a lot of old ground was retread. There’s more Chloe rebelling, more crazy Nathan Prescott, more sleazy Frank. All things we already knew about from the last two chapters.
It’s not all old ground though. One of the big highlights of this episode was Arcadia Bay’s reaction to the big event at the end of the last game and I honestly felt like the game would have played out much differently if I had ended that event the other way. Graffiti is different, the way people approach you seems different and while the central person of that event is conveniently not present for the entirety of the episode, you still felt like your part in the event played a huge role in shaping Arcadia Bay in this chapter. A lot of other small things also come up based on your past behavior, from small dialogues referencing past events to things like plants dying because you didn’t water them. It all adds up to create a world you feel like you have real impact in and fits in nicely with the whole butterfly effect theme of the game.
Episode 3 continues on with some of the best traits from the past two episodes. This world is again so full and lovingly crafted and really feels lived in, a very important aspect of this game to help ground it and make the world feel believable. Arcadia Bay is littered with intractable objects that all come accompanied by Max’s inner thoughts, giving the player insight in to how Max thinks and interprets the world in her head. Max is a deep, likable and relatable character which largely comes from these world interactions and her interactions with others. Even text messages received from her parents and friends help add further realism and uniqueness to Max’s character.
Another highlight carried over is the return of Max’s diary that contains text messages, diary entries, character biographies and more. The game does a great job at providing you with the necessary information to understand the main story upfront, but for those who are interested in really delving into character histories, past events and Max’s thoughts on everything you can do just that. The diary also holds heaps of fun pop culture references, I even found a reference to The Wizards of Waverly Place Disney show which I couldn’t believe. Combine all the narrative contained within this diary alongside everything learnt in this chapter and the slight advancement of some sub plots and there is a heap of story to be digested in Chapter 3.
Now about that ending. Dontnod have taken it upon themselves to expand Max’s powers yet again in another very fun and ingenious way. I obviously can’t say much due to spoilers but the developers really took a risk here and the ending had me feeling all tingly inside, a classic sign of a good, impactful story in my book. It will be very interesting to see where this twist leads us as we head into Episode 4, the penultimate chapter in this series. Saying that, I can’t help but feel that a large choice was taken away from the player in the final scenes. Unfortunately that is common place in games like this where not limiting the number of branches the narrative takes will lead to an amount of endings the developer could never hope to create, but I feel Dontnod just wanted players to see their intended ending too much to leave that choice in as it seems like the story could have carried on just fine if Max didn’t interfere.
As for the actual dialogue, it’s definitely not perfect by any sense of the word. There are a few awkwardly delivered lines and some of the writing seems more like adults imitating teenagers as opposed to what a teenager would say. That being said it’s mostly fine and even terrific at times, but it would be nice if some of the kinks in the script and voice acting were ironed out before release. There was also one cringe-worthy moment in this episode that I was hoping Dontnod would steer away from but it did happen. Again no spoilers but I felt having that interaction was a bit predictable and cliché, but at least I had a choice in the matter to avoid the worst of it.
Gameplay is very similar to the last two episodes as Max walks around looking for the next prompt to advance the story, investigating the area and taking the odd photo whilst doing so. A lot of the time you will have a choice in your actions or dialogue which will effect the story in a minor or major way depending on the gravitas of the situation. The options you have in these conversations often change depending on past actions and you can often rewind them if you are not happy with your answer. Once again your decisions feel important and thanks to Max’s time powers you can always watch out the immediate consequences of one action and then rewind to view the other, allowing you to make a more informed choice before you pick permanently.
Max’s time bending powers are also used to solve puzzles that are well implemented into the story and help break it up, but the puzzles in Episode 3 are a bit hit and miss. Some of the challenges presented here I found myself stuck on a lot longer the in the past episodes. It was nice to see the challenge stepped up even though it might have just been me over thinking the solution, but that is to the game’s credit for misleading me with red herrings. The multiple solutions to some of the puzzles should also be applauded. I watched a let’s play of the final mission and the solution used was completely different from my own and showcased many things I had missed. Non-linear gameplay and logical thinking is always appreciated in games and it was a highlight here.
For all the positives in gameplay there are some negatives. While I loved the challenges that made me think or put me in a tense situation, I wasn’t so fond of the ones that had me just running around trying to find the right ingredient or searching for a password. These tasks offer no challenge, bring the story to a halt and are really just boring. Luckily these tasks aren’t too common and don’t take too long to complete.
Another problem that again doesn’t come up too much but is annoying when it does; how Dontnod deal with your access to Max’s powers. It’s hard to explain without spoiling anything but there is a scene at the end where your rewind abilities are available to you but inexplicably unavailable to be used by you the player. I didn’t like having that taken away from me only for the powers to be restored moments later. I don’t see how having the powers at that point would have interfered with any story telling or gameplay, so removing them just felt like an unnecessary restriction.
I also had an unfortunate glitch in the diner that got me stuck in an infinite rewind, forcing me to restart the chapter and sit through a lot of conversations again. This was only a one-off and hopefully doesn’t affect too many peoples experience. Dontnod have been pretty good with patches so I expect this problem to be rectified in the future.
The visuals in this game are kind of like a 3D water colour painting with lots of soft tones and visible brush strokes. It looks great and details on characters and the environment are impressive for an art style that appears simplistic on the surface. Environments are incredibly detailed and have just as much personality as the characters within them. The PC version has plenty of options for visual settings and my version suffered no performance issues with my time in the game. I felt that for some reason or another Episode 3 looked slightly worse than past episodes, particularly in relation to facial animation but it was only a minor downgrade if that.
The interface is very clean and intuitive. Hand drawn lines pop up to represent objects you can interact with and also when the game is saving or you have made a consequential decision. When you perform a rewind the visual effects used are really powerful, user friendly and aren’t slow or clumsy. The freedom of the camera movement is fun to play with and allows you to set up cool screenshots in lieu of a proper photo mode.
One big negative that is not easy to overlook however is the lip syncing. It sucks and you can tell that no time at all was put into trying to get it to sync up and the best you can hope for is some coincidental matching mouth flaps. This is a cheaper title sure but it is just not up to today’s higher standards.
The game doesn’t have a big soundtrack however the licensed tracks used in the game are perfectly melded to the visuals. The soundtrack takes a really indie vibe with obvious inspiration from films like Juno and it really does compliment the world nicely especially during the game’s ending scene.
The voice acting is really good for the most part, with lines delivered well and character’s voices matching their personality from the shy Max to the hard working diner mum. No sound effects are out of place and complete the wonderfully detailed world.
Episode 3 may retread on a lot of old territory but its bold ending more than makes up for it and has us eagerly anticipating Episode 4. The choices made thus far are really building up to a climax and that began to be on display here. Once again beautiful hand painted graphics and detailed set pieces make Arcadia Bay feel like a believable, lived in town and the soundtrack again hits all the right notes at the right time. Some minor dialogue issues, horrible lip syncing and a couple technical issues do take away a little from the experience, but as a whole Life of Strange contains a fantastic narrative and some fun puzzles to allow the player to overlook the flaws. If you liked the first two episodes, there is no reason to stop now.
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