Life is Strange, Episode 3: Chaos Theory Review (PlayStation 4)
After the shocking conclusion of the second episode of Dontnod's Life is Strange, it seemed the developer was ready to ratchet its story up a few notches. Though the third episode, "Chaos Theory," doesn't pack quite as much of an emotional punch as the previous chapter, Max's search for the truth in Arcadia Bay does take some startling turns.
The events of Life is Strange's second episode didn't just leave players reeling, it left the campus of Blackwell Academy in a state of shock, too. Regardless of the outcome of your personal playthrough, things at Blackwell are decidedly less upbeat than they were just a few short hours ago (by Max's time). The campus is under a curfewed lockdown, but that doesn't stop Max from sneaking out in the night to try and learn more about the connection between Kate, Rachel, her powers and the mysterious events happening in Arcadia Bay. Thankfully, she's got her good friend Chloe to ensure she finds trouble in all the right places.
Where previous episodes have elaborated more on the world and denizens of Arcadia Bay, and how they potentially fit into the mystery of Rachel's disappearance, "Chaos Theory" slows things down a bit to expand on Max and Chloe's relationship. The overarching subplot is still the driving motivation for the moments you'll spend with Chloe, but Dontnod finally allows its characters to breathe after the non-stop emotional roller coaster of events leading to this moment. That's not to say you and Chloe don't get up to some shenanigans, but all the beats this episode feel much more personal.
Strengthening the uneasy bond between Chloe and Max isn't the only objective for this third episode though, as we learn some rather harsh truths about Chloe's stepfather, and her missing friend, Rachel. You will have to use Max's abilities to uncover these truths, but it's not anything we haven't done before. It finally appears as if we're through the introductory phase of Max's powers and how they can be used in conversation or to access items and areas. None of the challenges are all that difficult to overcome, but difficult puzzles aren't really a part of what Dontnod is doing with Life is Strange. There's a modicum of trial and error, but there's nothing complicated enough that it will prevent you from fully exploring Max's mysteries.
Where "Chaos Theory" takes things up a notch is in its conclusion. While not quite as powerful or jaw-dropping, the final moments of this episode are made that much more impactful thanks to the past few hours spent reconnecting with Chloe. Sure, you've been rebuilding that bridge since the early moments of the first episode, but "Chaos Theory" is really the first time that the two girls seem to feel like honest-to-goodness BFFs again. And depending on how you choose to play, there might be a bit more to this relationship than it seems. It's all in how you choose to define how close Max and Chloe really are, and through some decisions Max gets to make on the duo's night out.
There's so much wonderful subtlety on display this episode, and while you might not think the main storyline is getting enough attention, it's almost a relief after episode two's conclusion to be allowed to slow your roll through Arcadia. Of course, learning that Max might be more powerful than even she imagined, and that her powers have some truly extreme consequences comes as a great surprise. Whether or not we'll really be able to explore just what it means to have so much raw, unbridled power at Max's disposal remains to be seen. Dontnod has only skirted around the issue previously, but it seems that thanks to the events of "Chaos Theory" we'll have to come face-to-face with some harsh realities very soon.
Prior to this episode, the pace of Life is Strange was a bit all over the place with a very slow first episode and a rushed, but exciting, second chapter. With this third episode, Dontnod seems to have found the balance in character development and furthering plot points. Max and Chloe have always been at the center of Life is Strange, but it wasn't until "Chaos Theory" that their relationship really became the heart and soul of the story. There are two episodes left to uncover the mysteries of Arcadia Bay, and we've never been more invested in what's happening than when the credits rolled on this latest episode.
This review is based on a download code of Life is Strange, Episode 3: Chaos Theory provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.