Life is Strange Episode Three: Chaos Theory PS4 Review
It’s a rare occurrence that I want to skip to the end whilst talking about a game for review. But in this case I have to make an exception, as there is no doubt the most important and interesting part of Episode Three of Life is Strange occurs during its final moments. The events of the last 10-or-so minutes are so compelling that I want to fill this page up with a torrent of speculation, thoughts and theories of where the story will go from here. Blurting that all out at this point would be unfair though. But let it be known I will be darting off to various forums, comment sections, and social media outlets to see how the finale is received once this episode is out in the wild. It really is a gamechanger – and I do not use that word lightly.
However, that ending is but a small percentage of the entire game, and there is plenty of other stuff worth pointing out. Let’s talk about it then!
Chaos Theory begins in the middle of the night – which is a first for the series. I do feel it is fitting for this one to start in literal darkness, as it is a follow up on an episode with an exceedingly dark theme attached. At the core of that preceding episode was depression, and surrounding it was accusations of rape, bullying, slut shaming and suicide. It was not always fun to take in everything the episode offered, but it was certainly a compelling play.
With Arcadia Bay abuzz with talk of the crucial events that occurred near the end of the last episode, Chaos Theory opens with a much more oppressive feel than what came before. Our hero protagonist Max Caulfield, like seemingly everyone else in the town, is pondering what happened just hours before. A quick check on Max’s laptop in her room shows the local media is on the case, and a quick check outside the walls of her room shows almost all her collage peers are feeling downbeat.
Dontnod choose these moments to alert players to the fact they are still keeping track of decisions made in previous episodes. They do not want anyone to forget that events that really matter to a game with narrative choices at its core happened during Episode Two. Speaking of stuff that matters, I had meticulously watered a plant for two episodes running, and now that plant I cared for is dead. I think I killed it by drowning. Seriously Dontnod, have you no heart? The first thing that greets me in the third episode is this awful sight? I was expecting a catchy indie tune at the very least. How am I supposed to go on now?
The early parts of Chaos Theory are very much a series of hunts for hidden objects, which isn’t ideal. This is a standout early criticism of this episode, as it fractures the series’ most compelling gameplay – having interesting conversations with characters. I really feel this episode has a few too many fetch quests for its own good. My main issue is they are just too simple. There is no clever use of Max’s time manipulation skills to tie any of them together. Thankfully, none are as bad as trying to find all five bottles in the junkyard from Episode Two. I think everyone that played that had a problem with at least one bottle. Thankfully nothing is hidden away this time.
This episode also tries its hand at a bit of stealth – which other games have shown can sometimes end up a mess. However having time manipulation in play means the sole stealth section never becomes an issue, so it does not hurt the game’s appeal in any way, and instead gives players a small intermission from the usual adventure based gameplay.
Now that I’m down this path, I may as well mention the other low point, that this episode shares many similar locations with the preceding ones. In fact, an overwhelmingly large percentage of gameplay takes place in areas already visited previously – with only three new rooms (two of them very small), offering brand new sights to see. It is not all bad news. As I previously mentioned, you play a portion of the start of this episode late at night. With darkness descended on Arcadia Bay, many areas have a more menacing feel than during the daylight hours. A simple lighting shift changes the feel of the game more than you’d expect, and manages to make already traversed areas feel new.
Let’s move on to happier things, of which they are many. Clever use of licensed music is becoming a trademark of the series. I thought for a while Episode Three was not going to bother with one, but have no fear, a tune pops up a little bit into the game. “Lua” by Bright Eyes is the well-chosen song to go alongside a early morning conversation between Max and her friend Chloe.
Another nicety is that Dontnod finally start to point fingers at characters that could end up playing a larger role in the overarcing story of the entire series. In Episode Three we delve a bit more into who exactly Rachel Amber is, and glimpses of what has become of her start to arise. No questions are answered totally, and to be fair the majority remain unanswered, but at least more hints are now given. We also find out that Max is a woman that likes creamy peanut butter rather than crunchy. She made the right choice!
A very well done scene from the episode sees Max and Chloe swimming in a dimly lit pool in the middle of the night. It is a scene that manages to expand on both their characters, and gives some interesting information and insight into their personalities. Most importantly, it manages to be included in the game without seeming oversexulized, and is respectfully framed for its duration. I don’t mean to sound crass, but far too many games would have done such a scene with less respect to the characters it portrays. It has happened before, and it will happen again. Life is Strange however gets the tone right, and you have to applaud it for that.
Looking back through all three episodes, I quickly realized that Life is Strange is a series with more than enough themes, symbolism, iconography, hidden meanings, and interesting events to cause a whole bunch of speculation and theory from it’s fans, and that is exactly what has occurred over the course of the first two episodes. Check Youtube, and it is full to the brim with videos with well reasoned thoughts on where the story might go. If you are looking for just one to view, Mari from Geek Remix has some well thought out ideas on their channel. Once Episode Three gets out into the wild, I feel that these fan theories will go into overdrive, as there is now a whole bunch of new threads to tug at and try to unravel.
However, for players that hope decisions they are making truly matter, Chaos Theory seems to offer a definite answer that they will not play a crucial part going forward. I am starting to believe they are just an added extra atop the core story Dontnod are weaving, and large events won’t change drastically to suit different choices. Some players will hit different bumps in the road, but I feel everyone is on the way to the same destination regardless. That is not necessarily a bad thing. The story Dontnod are telling looks to be a good one, and Episode Three adds more than enough compelling narrative to make it easy to come back for more.
Taken as a singular entity, Chaos Theory is not Dontnod’s best work, but there are still some interesting moments to be had should you choose to play. Whilst I do feel Chaos Theory lacks the emotional heft of the previous episode, I do not blame Dontnod for pulling on the reigns a bit. To go down that dark route twice in a row may have been a bit too much to handle. Sure, Life is Strange is a mature series, that has the panache to deal with adult themes, but it is also a series filled to the brim with unique personalities and little idiosyncrasies that give it a highly unique feel. This episode deals more with the latter this time round, but also manages to expertly set the stage for Episode Four
“If only I could go back and fix my mistakes,” is a phrase often casually uttered when people face hardships the world throws at them. Life is Strange is a game that turns that fantasy into a reality, but by the time Episode Three comes to an end that question itself will have changed. As fans collectively wait for Episode Four, the question on the tip of everyone’s tongue will be is one person choosing to incite such change always the right thing to do?