Well, here we are again... Wait, have I said that before? Anyway, once again (after quite the wait) Life is Strange is back with a new episode. Although if you've already played the other two episodes you may already think you know what to expect, I'm going to come out and say it now -- you don't! With the other two episodes, things were quite different. Episode 1 was an intro that either got players interested or pushed them away, and Episode 2 was sort of that in between one. Yes it was fine and all, and it was also where some of the other core gameplay features came into play, but it was more of an expansion of the intro, and it set the stages for what was to come. In other words, it all lead up to this -- the episode which may be the deciding factor on how good this game really will become. It's a big one, and the "true" start of what may possibly be a game none of us will ever forget. Now, with that being said, let us get on with the review.
Life is Strange is a game about life -- sort of. It follows the story of a young girl named Max as she returns to her home town to attend a famous arts school and follow her dream of becoming an ace photographer. Of course, things aren't that simple. Upon returning, she finds her old home town a shell of what it once was. She learns of her best friend's dad's death, she hears about a missing girl, she watches as her new friends are bullied, and she sees how the people in the town are struggling simply to get by. Everything is a mess, and it's almost like a dark cloud constantly lurks above all who live there. This town of "Arcadia Bay" is now one filled with sadness and mystery, and soon our long Max will find herself caught up in it all.
After witnessing a girl who looks like her old best friend get shot and killed in the girl's bathroom (by a boy who's family now controls the town on top of that), Max reaches out towards her and cause something strange to happen -- she rewinds time and reappears at her desk in her classroom. Unsure of what just happened, Max does some simple tests to see if what she thought just happened truly did, and she heads to the bathroom and waits. Upon seeing the girl (whom she can tell is her friend Chloe) and the boy enter, she pulls the fire alarm, and saves Chloe's life. Max, has changed the future.
Using her powers Max explores Arcadia Bay and attempts to set things "right." Throughout Episode 1 and 2 she reunites with people from her past, learns more about the missing girl, helps those in need (or attempts to), and starts to piece together the reason why things are happening. There's a lot going on in this town, and everything seems to be connected. Although she's unsure of why she has this new strange power, Max attempts to use it to change the world, and changing the world is exactly what she does.
Episode 3 opens up shortly after the end of Episode 2 (as in a few hours later), and depending on what happened in the previous episode, things will be very different. Episode 2 had a few major events which control the fate of this game's future, and depending on what the player did they may find Max and the school in a very different place. Even so, the game continues to follow both Max and Chloe as they try to both find the missing girl, Rachel Amber, and find out just how she may be connected to everything else that is happening.
If you've already played the other episodes, you should already know the basic gameplay; however, this episode itself is quite a bit different from the other two, and that's a good thing.
Just like in the previous episodes, Life is Strange is an interactive drama -- this will not be changing. Players take control of Max, walk around the world, and interact with it in different ways. Some objects you can "look" at to hear a comment from Max, while others you can actually interact with -- such as most of the people you see. As one might expect from this sort of game, talking to those around you will typically present you with a dialogue tree where you can choose what Max asks them, or how she responds to them. By talking, and asking the right questions, you can learn more about what's going on in the world, or learn information which can be useful later on down the road. This is just something that's standard in these sort of games, and it really does give you more control over the course of the game; however, Life is Strange does put a twist on this system.
Max has the ability to control time, and not just in the story -- this is actually a mechanic that you, the player, have complete control over. You can rewind time to stop things from happening in front of you (such as to prevent a girl from being hit), you can rewind to take back what you said to someone, and you can even rewind time to solve puzzles. It can be a bit challenging to wrap your head around how this system works at first, but once you do, the possibilities almost seem endless. Sometimes you'll learn something from a character, but the conversation may not always end on a good note. For example, you may talk to someone who is worried and lashes out at you for confronting them. Of course during this you may learn what they are worried about, but that character may hate you for prying, and things could go bad later on because of it. Well, by simply rewinding time you can take back what you said, and this time talk to said character about their problems. The information you learn before rewinding time carries over, and that can be used to your advantage in a lot of situations. Although, there's a limit to this...
While the vast majority of the game can be rewound, there's cut off points where once you leave an area you cannot undo your actions, and there are even some scenes where you cannot go back in time to try different dialogue options, or take back your choices. During these times you truly have to watch what Max says or does, and sometimes these moments are the ones that matter most -- especially in the previous episode. Other than that, rewinding time has almost no limits, and it is even used for puzzle solving. Need to get past someone without them seeing you? Rewind time to a moment where their back is turned, or before they enter the area. Max stays where she is standing when time goes backwards (unlike in the first episode's opening) so you don't have to worry about losing your place, or making a mad dash towards the location you need to be at. This too is actually used for solving puzzles, and can take a bit to get used to at first.
The thing is about Life is Strange, there are MANY ways to play this game. Your actions change it, and because of that each player will have a different experience. What's nice is the game gives you stats at the end of each episode to show you what other players did, and it also shows you anything you may have missed -- this allows you to easily replay chapters and make new choices if you wish to do so, and it gives you an idea of what other players may be seeing as this game goes on. While you may not realize it at first, even small actions may greatly alter the future, and sometimes missing that one little thing, or siding with the wrong person may have grave consequences. This is a game that is based on the butterfly effect, and with Episode 3 that is very apparent.
The Good and the Bad:
Life is Strange is a game that does a lot right. It's a game that pulls the player in, and keeps hold from start to finish. It has great music, a unique art style, a character whom you may possibly really relate to (it doesn't matter if you are male or female), unique gameplay, and a very well written story full of mystery. While some of the slang or dialogue may make you cringe, it actually captures the high school feel perfectly, and I'm sure each and every one of you can remember a time when these characters were us (unless of course you are still in high school, then you can possibly relate to it now). It is a game all about life, and it is filled with nostalgia. As for this episode itself, it has greatly improved upon everything set forth by the previous ones. The locations you visit are more varied, there are more puzzles for you to solve, a lot of new things to interactive with and old to follow up your previous actions, and it contains one of the most shocking moments you will ever see in a video game -- so shocking you will never forget it. Overall this episode is packed full of content, and much more enjoyable than the previous. Heck, even the issues that were very noticeable before (such as the sometimes funky lip movements) have been fixed. Sure you may notice the voices get off every once in awhile, or you may run into a rare glitch or two, but other than that the game has been refined.
If you liked the previous episodes, or like interactive dramas in general, Life is Strange is a game well worth checking out. Each episode is roughly 3-4 hours long depending on how fast you play through them, and now that Episode 3 Chaos Theory is out a large chunk of the game is available. Sure you could always wait until the entire thing is out to play, but at this moment there already is enough content to make it worth playing. Although after this one the wait for Episode 4 is even harder than it has ever been... So, with that being said, I'm giving Life is Strange: Episode 3 Chaos Theory a perfect score of 10/10. The few minor issues are nothing compared to how great the rest of this episode is, and personally I can't see how they are going to top this one -- although I'm sure they will.
"You can't go home again, said Robert Frost, but here I am."