The second episode of Life Is Strange was always going to be a tough act to follow, with its powerful and gut-wrenching climactic moments that put Max under serious pressure whilst underscoring a fragility to her time altering powers. Somewhat surprisingly, the third episode, subtitled Chaos Theory, heads in a different direction.
Some of the fallout from the end of the second episode is clear to see however, as Max awakens later that night to the buzz of Chloe’s messages on her phone. As you sneak out to go and meet her, even a cursory glance at Max’s computer or talking to the other girls in the dorm show some of the impact that it had to those around you, whether you succeeded or failed.
While Kate is now a lingering and ever present topic of discussion though, and your previous actions clearly come to colour many of the interactions you have with other characters in the world, it’s really Rachel Amber’s mystery that has come to the fore once more. Your late-night rendezvous to break into Blackwell Academy after hours and snoop around for clues is rather fruitful, though it does little to rule out the various suspects at this stage, rather serving to make the likes of Nathan Prescott and David Madsen even shadier.
Of course, Chloe’s penchant for getting into trouble rears its head once more and your after dark excursion takes on a more playful tone as well – girls just want to have fun, as the song goes – even with the ever present risk of being caught. It’s partly as a consequence of this though that it can feel like Chloe and Max aren’t really advancing as characters.
Just as Kate’s ordeal has faded a little into the background, so too have the frailties in Max’s ability to alter time. At the point where you’d have expected these to become an ever present factor, all that really occurs is a minor amount of lip service, with internal monologue during a tense moment or her voicing her insecurities. Chloe, meanwhile, continues to either be an ebullient force of mischief and chaos or wracked by the guilt and rage which bubble under the surface, brought to the fore whenever something or someone does her a perceived wrong.
That sense of mischief is rather infectious, when presented with the opportunity to amend a certain party guest list, and Life Is Strange’s ability to let you explore the options by rewinding time is as powerful as ever. The key decision points don’t feel as though they’re quite so meaningful this time around, but there’s a pleasing self awareness in the script and dialogue. Chloe often teases Max that she might have rewound time once or twice already in order to pick and choose.
The puzzles this time around are also a little more satisfying than before, even if it’s somewhat ironic that the biggest mental hurdle to overcome is simply remembering the rules of Max’s time rewinding abilities and what it is that you retain while rewinding. Yet integrating this time manipulation continues to add a very compelling layer to the puzzles, even when you’re simply talking to different characters in order to find and exploit little snippets of information. That you have to rewind time and redirect a previously fruitless conversation is still a fantastic conceit.
It’s fitting that Chloe is the real driving force behind the episode’s final twist, which goes a long way to dispelling some of the complaints I had with story and development. Max’s nascent abilities, far from getting weaker, expand in a new and quite fascinating direction which completely defy any expectations I had from the second half of the story. The myriad of possibilities that Dontnod could explore from this point are simply staggering, but it’s almost certain that the key relationships within the story have been altered forever.
Though really little more than a footnote compared to the story and gameplay, it still bears mentioning that the game is let down once again by the lack of lip synching and some awkward animations. The switching camera angles can often help to disguise some of these deficiencies, and the game’s overall art style shines throughout, but it can still be a little jarring alongside the otherwise quite excellent voice acting throughout.
In the shadow of the incredibly powerful second episode, the midpoint in the series is a solid episode that felt for large parts like it was waiting for the next big thing to happen. Thankfully, Dontnod did just that with an almighty twist in its final few scenes that has you on tenterhooks with the seemingly infinite possibilities the story now holds.
Version tested: PS4