Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Graphic Adventure/Slice of Life
Rating: M for Mature
Price: 4.99 (Single Episode) or 19.99 (Whole Season — 5 Episodes)
The third episode of Life is Strange has at long last become available for download. I was awaiting the installment where things changed in a big way, and this was the one. Chaos Theory acts as something of a catapult for the series, throwing it headlong in a new direction, where nearly every familiar paradigm is forced to undergo a severe and dramatic transformation.
Yes, things are finally beginning to take shape.
Having resolved to fully dredge up every last secret hidden in the cozy town of Arcadia Bay, Max and Chloe decide an infiltration of Blackwell Academy is in order. Too much is unknown about Rachel Amber’s disappearance and Kate Marsh’s recent suicide (*attempt*) for suspicions to go unanswered. The girls get what they want and a little bit more when they learn just how deep the mysteries and corruption root throughout Arcadia Bay’s history and heritage. On top of this, alliances are called into question, enemies begin showing darker shades, and Max’s Rewind power undergoes an extraordinary and terrifying metamorphosis beyond what she ever believed possible.
Things truly kick into gear with the addition of Chaos Theory, though the player may not think so at first. The casual tone of the series stays in tact, but adopts the sleuth vibe of a traditional detective story to make for a refreshing new episode unlike the preceding. In terms of gameplay, things are still leisurely in stature, but the story hardly remains as such, with dark information unearthed and running amok. Emotional turmoil embraces the player and throws them into a twilight zone of decision-making interactions where there are no obvious, right (or even comfortable) answers available. Everything enters a slow climb towards the episode climax, where an act of desperate hope turns the story upside down and creates an aftermath of daunting proportions.
Not much can be said for Chaos Theory’s setting, as little has changed from previous episodes. Most notably, a large portion of the narrative takes place at night, painting a new feeling over Arcadia Bay. Besides this, there are not many new locations visited, though we are given much more access to previously unavailable sections of Blackwell Academy, including such areas as the president’s office, the pool and the locker rooms. The game still maintains the essence of an indie film, and I am once again reminded of the 2007 hit film Juno, at least in terms of each having a similar setting and vibe.
Characters are developed in big ways with the third episode, but some of the most influential changes need to stay hush-hush, as they could lead to devastating spoilers. As players further progress into the narrative fabric, Chloe seems to be slowly bleeding into the center of every event. If something important happens in the story, it’s usually either a direct response to her behaviors or comes about because of the unique relationship she shares with Max. Details about the character of Rachel Amber are also coming to our attention, and they might not be what many players were expecting of the prodigal girl. Besides the most imperative characters of Max, Chloe, and Rachel, the only developments in characters are reinforcements to their already established personalities. However, after the end of Chaos Theory, I suspect my review of episode 4 will not be the same regarding this latter-most point.
Life is Strange continues with its brand of irreverent humor and playful banter. A distinct brand of humanness swims through most of the interactions, where most players will read cues to character intentions and agendas, but recognize that no answer leads to simple consequences. This makes for an interesting, albeit complicated web of cognition and emotion throughout the dialogue. It’s an excellent gallery for how stressful situations usually feel in real life, and will challenge the character of the player as much as the characters who reside within the game itself.
Right off the bat, the game opens to Max sitting in her dorm room, with the language, “Nobody messes with me b****,” scrawled in large black letters on her wall. It doesn’t seem Life is Strange will be withdrawing any of its previous derogatory spirit. If anything, more vulgarity is observed in Chaos Theory than any of the previous episodes. The F-bomb is dropped over a dozen times, with uses of “D***”, “B****”, “S***”, “H***” and other general profanities used frequently. Chloe continues with the assault of rude nicknames for her step-father, such as “Step-prick” and “Step-Fuhrer”. The words “whore” and “slut” are found in a couple different locations, such as the school locker rooms and on Max’s phone. Max is insulted as a “Feminazi” at least twice, “Jesus” is cast as an expletive a couple times, with a few more instances of God’s name being used in vain. Several sexually crude nicknames are also used for characters out of favor with the more mean-spirited students of Blackwell.
Chaos Theory does not involve much violence. It’s possible for the player to kill a vicious dog off-screen, rather than the alternative of distracting it. A breaking-and-entering escapade involves Max creating an impromptu bomb to blow open a locked door. There’s an anonymous phone number which messages threats to Max.
Sexuality is far more pervasive in Life is Strange‘s third episode compared to any of the former. Two different instances involve witnessing girls in pajamas, usually consisting of nothing more than a t-shirt and short-shorts. Vaguely detailed posters hang throughout a few dorms and living quarters which depict bikini models and, in one instance, two nude women embracing each other. These posters are given no particular attention, and are not shown in graphic account, but they aren’t ambiguous to the point they should be shrugged off. The player can definitely tell what each image is supposed to be. Max and Chloe decide to take a dip in the school swimming pool after hours, wearing nothing other than their underwear. The locker rooms are littered with several inappropriate sexual remarks and images, including a poorly drawn depiction of male genitalia. Chloe makes one passing joke about pornography. One character tries to seduce a professor through thinly veiled sexual advancements and even threatens him with false black mail about sexual favors when he turns her away. The player is given a choice to have Max kiss Chloe on a dare. A seething email from a scorned student makes a jab at Max “playing with herself.”
In contrast to the sexual content, drugs and related substances are less prominent than previous episodes. When invading the boys’ locker room after hours, the player may find an e-cigarette laying in the open, and the hidden drug stash of another student tucked away in one of the lockers. Some beer cans and bottles are dotted around various environments. The player may also find a drug dealer’s ledger with his client’s details, and the paraphernalia he siphons out to them.
Due to Kate’s relative absence in contrast to episode two, the spiritual content of Chaos Theory is far lower, though not absent. An Illuminati symbol is plastered onto the wall of Chloe’s room and probably always has been, I just didn’t notice it during the previous episodes. After Kate’s nearly premature death-by-suicide, she is away from Blackwell, and several students are showing support for their fellow student through marker board messages such as “Praying for you, Kate” and “God bless you, Kate.” The nastier students write hidden messages in bathroom stalls suggesting the exact opposite. “‘Dear Kate, I don’t care.’ – God” is one example. Towards the beginning of the episode there’s half of a Bible reference, when Max steps out into a dark hallway and declares “Let there be,” before turning on a flashlight.
Regarding other negative material, one character threatens to steal from the school’s handicapped student’s fund. The player is given a choice whether or not to let this action take place. Max and Chloe break-and-enter into multiple different locations in Chaos Theory. It was so common, one might even considered it a sort of ‘theme’ for the episode. Usually these situations are coupled with the girls looking through private and sensitive material to aid in their investigation.
I’m finding positive material to be a trickier category with each succeeding episode of Life is Strange. Not because it’s absent, but because as the narrative progresses, a lot of actions and motives are slowly turning grey. The sense of comradery between Max and her friends is greater than ever. The ability for the player to be a positive moral compass is given extensive freedom in terms of decision making, allowing for Max to grow as a more dependable and genuinely considerate person. She might be breaking some laws throughout Chaos Theory, but her end goal is to try and help people who may otherwise be in danger. If nothing else, the motive is pure.
Life is Strange continues with the same gameplay we’ve come to expect from the series. Hardly more than a point-and-click adventure, there are brief segments where the player is required to manage such feats as finding a hiding place or responding to quick-time events. No functional changes have been made to the Rewind ability, despite it’s increased power at the end of episode 2.
Unfortunately, the uncompromisingly poor synchronization of the voices to the character models has shown no sign of improvement from past episodes, with inaccurate lips grasping at the words which pass through them. This visual irk aside, Chaos Theory tackles a setting largely unseen in Life is Strange to this point: night time. The former half of the game takes place in the tranquil, early hours of the morning and the same aesthetic principles that have been prominent in the game so far- a watery color palette, friendly lighting effects -are all reorganized to bolster this new time of day. Fireflies trace lazy circles through the air, streetlamps flood orange throughout campus, and florescent lights illuminate a swimming pool in the depths of stirring darkness.
Jonathan Morali, lead singer and frontman of band Syd Matters, continues to head the music in Life is Strange. Many of the indie and ambient tracks players have come to appreciate in episodes 1 and 2 are injected into the third installment, with a couple stirring new tracks thrown in to accentuate key moments. The soundtrack does not relent in its pursuit to perfectly compliment the narrative and artistic sway of the game.
Dontnod Entertainment clearly understands what they have on their plate with Life is Strange. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who is suffering for that never-too-soon fourth installment to become available. I promise, I’ll blast through that episode in one sitting, just I have with all the rest. I’m all-in now and there’s no turning back. I cannot wait to see how things develop towards that ominous and ultimate conclusion, where Max will surely be tested in a way unlike any she’s endured before. The deeper meanings of this enrapturing tale are coming to surface, and if you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and start swimming.
God bless, pray before bed, and always remember to smile.
(Life is Strange is a download-exclusive game and is not available for purchase with any local retailer).
The Bottom Line
A transformative installment in the Life is Strange franchise. "Chaos Theory" takes the strengths players have come to expect of the series and pumps them to their fullest, all the while guiding the narrative into a new dawn where things will never be the same again.