This is what I hope to be the low point in the game. It’s the middle of 5 episodes so it’s the mid-season slump, if you will. It wasn’t terrible but it was a bit dull and very repetitive. I know that sounds weird when talking about a game where the main mechanic is to be able to rewind time, but it’s true. Many of the tasks involve hunting for items, and one scene in the diner takes over six replays to unlock all conversation branches.
Of course, when I say the low point so far, it’s still compelling. Many of the puzzles are tedious, and Chloe is definitely in charge this episode, but there’s still a lot of character work going on. I think the problem is that the game designers have a little trouble balancing Max’s power with the mundane world she lives in. Max is starting to get cocky and while we as players can feel safe taking risks in the game, Max should still be a bit wary of messing with reality. She is just a high school student.
That balance comes back with raised stakes, but only in the final act of the game. Max’s powers mutate once again. She started with rewind, discovered freezing time, and now can leap back utilizing photographs as triggers. Max goes back to when she and Chloe were 13 and Chloe’s dad is about to run out and pick up his wife. Max’s task is to stop him from doing so, and prevent him from getting in a fatal car crash. This is when Max can really mess things up. It’s not just a few minutes she’s toying with. It’s the lasting effects that she’ll return to years later. On an intellectual level there’s no difference between what she’s doing in this moment compared to the many times she’s jumped back and changed things. Helping or not helping Kate when she’s being bullied, hiding in a closet or stepping up to stop Chloe’s step father from hitting her, these can all have huge ripple effects. The only difference between these and saving Chloe’s father is that she’ll see all of the effects of her actions immediately, and know how much of the future she’s directly responsible for. The end seems heavy handed and obvious, and it goes a long way to negate a lot of your choices in the game so far. I hope that episode four spends the early portion getting you back to your home timeline and just uses this as a twist ending hook.
The other notable thing about episode three is a possible romantic development between Max and Chloe. There’s discussion on whether this development is exploitative or not. It could be read that way, but to me it felt earned. Warren is an incredibly bland character and neither Max nor I, as the player, ever felt any sort of interest in him. He’s there, he’s nice, and he makes me feel guilty if I don’t reciprocate his flirting. Chloe is different. She and Max have a rapport. Max has a power over Chloe; just look at how upset she was when Max didn’t call after leaving, and how much Rachel Amber is turning out to be a Max surrogate. Chloe has a power over Max, something clearly established by how she leads the action of the story and how Max is constantly trying to protect her. While it didn’t need to become romantic (and doesn’t, the choice is yours), it did feel like a natural path for them to explore. As of this episode they’re not in a relationship, but they do test boundaries a bit during this part of the game.
So yeah, this episode is the most uneven yet. The pace drags for the most part and then ends just as it finds its footing and the ending seems a bit of a cheap shot. And I’m still dying to get to episode four. I am still completely invested in Max and Chloe, I am still waiting for Rachel Amber’s story to kick in (I have a couple of hypothesis about her), and I think that Max’s powers are going to make for a very interesting tool now that she’s developed her third mutation. So bring it, Life is Strange!