Review: Life is Strange: Episode 3 – Photographic Memory
Appropriately enough, the subtitle of Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment’s Life is Strange: Episode 3 permeates throughout the story of Maxine and Chloe where memory and rewinding the past come together.
In the case of “chaos theory,” where measuring the effects of seemingly unrelated events can cause wildly unexpected consequences, the term is far more relatable now more than ever in Dontnod’s episodic series.
By the heartbreaking conclusion of Episode 3, it truly takes players to a place where it seems anything can happen.
Continuing from the end of its second episode, the third episode, “Chaos Theory,” picks up the pieces for Maxine and her friends at Blackwell Academy after the horrific circumstances during the last episode’s conclusion.
While that particular scenario may lead to some different setups for “Chaos Theory” (depending on how your particular storyline played out) this episode builds on the slower paced set-up and world-building of the first two and to answer many of our questions, while still setting up for even more through a wildly unexpected conclusion by the end.
After the circumstances involving fellow student Kate Marsh as the predominant focus of Episode 2, “Chaos Theory” gives players an episode instead centering on the relationship between Maxine and Chloe, providing what may be the most action-heavy episode of the season so far.
By kicking off with Max and Chloe breaking into the school principal’s office to uncover some of the dark secrets of the town’s troubles.
The episode straddles the line effectively between what we expect, as Max and Chloe start to unravel some of the mysteries of the series, while still managing to find ways to shock players with new developments.
Continuing the series’ focus as an episodic adventure series, the use of exploration and light puzzle-solving works well once again in “Chaos Theory,” and in providing Life is Strange‘s most confident and polished episode yet.
While some of the series’ more nagging problems are still present at points (the often-crticized use of teenage slang and awkward dialogue), noticeably many of those issues are far less pronounced — if the first two episodes were the equivalent of Life is Strange‘s awkward teenage years, Episode 3 represents the series coming into maturity.
In particular, it builds off many of the series’ more admirable qualities and features many excellent moments of character development for Maxine, Chloe, and the other residents of Arcadia Bay that both expanded my current understanding of them, as well as made me see them in new ways.
Though the writing and dialogue hasn’t been one of this title’s strongest aspects, the episode builds even more off the series’ surprisingly engaging characters, as even the game’s fetch quest-esque puzzles hold many fascinating secrets and tidbits.
Where Life is Strange sometimes overdoes things with its “hellas” and other teen land, it excels in the smaller details that, while possibly going unnoticed by many players breezing through the series, opens up swaths of information about each of these characters in ways I hadn’t seen before.
In several sequences where Max has to uncover clues for particular scenarios I could have lost myself for hours, not only providing valuable information to solve a puzzle but revealing new bits of info on characters I might have loved or hated, piece-by-piece.
In one scenario where Max explores Chloe’s house for clues on her “step-douche” father David, my understandings of the character had grown immensely even through the aforementioned fetch quests.
Although the scenario involves searching Chloe’s garage for clues to open up a password on David’s computer, the objects in question contrast greatly to his abrasive (and borderline abusive) personality type — as they both humanize him on a relatable level, yet still provide enough motivation to uncover his downright creepiness.
It’s compelling in making even the most hateful characters more understandable on some level.
As a large portion of Life is Strange has involved the uncovering of Arcadia Bay’s many mysteries — the town’s not quite so conspicuous drug ring and disappearance of Blackwell student Rachel Amber — “Chaos Theory” continues to build upon that.
However, the game still sometimes feels at odds with itself gameplay-wise. Where many moments of Life is Strange are consistently intriguing and entertaining in figuring out powers or approaching conversations in different ways, the puzzle sequences still tend to bring the game to often sudden halts, never quite finding a good compromise between the mechanics.
At a fairly hefty 2 to 2.5 hour running time, “Chaos Theory” still manages to keep things moving at a brisk pace by eliminating some of the more monotonous puzzle sequences of the previous episodes (such as the long-winded bottle-finding section of Episode 2).
While many of the game’s intriguing characters make an appearance to further the plot, the strength of the episode rests mostly on the shoulders of Max and Chloe this time around, to great effect.
Their relationship has always been one of the series’ biggest draws, and yet Episode 3 continues to play off their obvious friendship (and possibly more) in new and unexpected ways, leaving moments that are both funny and charming but others equally poignant and approachable.
As Life is Strange hasn’t been a series to shy away from some serious issues of mental health, depression, and domestic trouble, it continues to find a way to explore some of these topics in both a tasteful and enlightening way, particularly as Maxine uncovers new details and scenes that paint Chloe in a very different light compared to her past.
With “Chaos Theory” marking the halfway point in the series, the title is committed to showing us the picturesque world of Arcadia Bay — a scenic, idyllic Northwestern America lit with the warm light and glow and young adulthood in its prime.
Now that we are into the second half of the series, however, the set-up and world-building of the first two installments is giving way to progression and showing through both Max and Chloe that not all is as peaceful as it seems in their hometown.
Though Maxine has the power to rewind time, alter the outcome of events, and gain new information from conversations with characters and her environment, by the end of the episode it’s beginning to show that Max’ powers can’t act as a catch-all for the best possible outcome of events.
Although it’s hard to explain without providing immense spoilers, Episode 3 provides some drastically large wrinkles in Max’s powers and that, while showing a monumentally game-changing new power in her arsenal, also provides a very clear picture that some moments are simply irreversible in an ending even more tense and devastating than the last.
Life is Strange has always been about showing us the collisions between the past and the present, and with an ending set to turn the series on its head, there’s no way of knowing just where to look back.