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Saturday, 23 May 2015

Life is Strange, Episode 3: Chaos Theory.

Life is Strange
Episode 3: Chaos Theory.

There's a brewing problem with Life is Strange that's as serious as the tornado apparently making its way to Arcadia Bay, and that will probably take up a decent chunk of this review, so just - maybe wave your arms wildly if it seems like I'm talking about it too long, okay? It won't help, I'll have written this hours before you even have the chance to do that, but gosh, I will feel very sheepish.

Chaos Theory, the third episode of Life is Strange, sees time-manipulating protagonist Max and her best friend Chloe break into Blackwell Academy to search the principal's office; take a midnight swim; navigate the difficult social issues surrounding breakfast; notice the alarming numbers of animals dying in sets of three; and, for Max, use her powers in their biggest way yet.

The problem that I'm talking about is that with every episode that passes, Life is Strange throws more key elements that require a satisfactory conclusion into the mix, making the plot more complicated and unwieldy, instead of developing on the plot elements they already have: The first episode introduced us to a town with secrets, a missing girl, suddenly acquired time-manipulation powers, and an ominous tornado set to destroy Arcadia Bay in one week. So far so good. Episode two then adds to that, introducing the idea of a mental strain from Max's powers, as well as a mysterious deer who is unaffected by her time-reversal abilities. Okay, I'm not sure the deer is necessarily, but as you will, Dontnod. Episode three then throws into the mix an entirely new timeline, thus making any character development, any choices, or even a lot of plot developments thus far utterly pointless. Part of me wonders if that was intentional, if the weight of having to create different routes for different choices became too much for Dontnod and they felt they had to simply wipe it all away.

Woo, crime.

(Telltale gets around this by having none of your choices really matter at all, and so far one of the things Life is Strange had over the Telltale Games' games is that the choices did feel like they had genuine weight. I'll wait until episode four to see how this one pans out, but I don't have good feelings about it.)

As far as the episode goes - well, people have been saying it's the best one yet, and I kind of understand that. The episode provides a lot of character development for Chloe, which is always good (and basically confirms, short of her wearing a shirt reading 'I'm a super super gay' and riding a rainbow while accompanied by two goat-headed femme fatales, that she is catastrophically gay and was in love with Rachel, a reveal that surprised absolutely nobody), as well as providing some resolution to the David-Chloe subplot, having some nicely ominous moments, and hammering in just how sinister Mister Jefferson is - because seriously, if he's not a serial killer, I will eat my hat.

Clearly you can.

I personally don't think it's the best one yet. It felt kind of flabby to me, in that throughout nothing seems to really happen, bar the very end where a totally unforeshadowed jumping-into-the-past power massively overcomplicates the plot and introduces a multiple timelines schtick that nobody wanted - a multiple timelines schtick that involves a trope I'm ambivalent about but at least one person I know hates, the 'you saved someone's life so something else awful has happened in its place' - and I don't see how Dontnod can really fully make use of this new timeline without totally wiping away everything previous.

The dead animals also don't seem like as ominous an omen as we've had before. They make more sense than the eclipse, but Life is Strange hasn't yet managed to top the sheer dramatic force of the end of its first episode with the snowfall. 

It also felt light on the plot, and light on the decisions. You don't seemingly make any meaningful decisions, and the point where you arguably could make the most meaningful choice of the game so far, choosing whether or not to save Chloe's father and possibly irrevocably damage the timeline, the game decides to not give you a choice, instead railroading you into doing it, even though I think that given the choice, most players would go 'Well, I could do that, but I actually possess some common sense.' 

You might ask 'Are you trying to make me ship Max and Chloe with these pictures?'
And if you'd played this episode, you'd know how much of a foolish question that is,
you cad.

It was a good but not amazing third episode, and I look forward to the fourth episode with some trepidation, because without exaggeration, if they have pretty much wiped away all of your choices, then that will be a series-killer for me. 

When's Telltale releasing the next Tales of the Borderlands? It's soon, right?

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