Life is Strange: Episode 5 “Polarized” Spoiler-Free Review
Until the beginning of this month I hadn’t played a single episode of Life is Strange. Sure I’d heard it was good and knew I wanted to play it, but I’ve a backlog pile of games that’s growing so large a health and safety inspector would become nervous at the thought of it toppling over.
This is important for you to know because it means I haven’t been present to the theories since the first episode launched back in January; haven’t waited in anticipation for the next episode to release; and ultimately haven’t had the months of emotional investment in the characters that fans from the beginning will have. Yet the finale of Life is Strange – Polarized – still marks for me the ending to one of this year’s stand out games. The question is, does this episode do justice to the story so far?
Polarized picks up immediately after the shocking climax to Dark Room, when Max’s seemingly charming photography teacher turns out to be an Evil [insert choice insult] as he drugs Max and shoots Chloe while they stand over the decomposing corpse of Rachel Amber. If you thought nothing good could come of these events you’d be right, as Max wakes up to find herself strapped to a chair in the aptly named Dark Room.
We’ll leave specifics there to remain spoiler-free but what follows is an episode that often subverts your assumptions of certain characters thanks to the top-notch writing that shows how they – and we – are all human, expands further on Max’s time-travelling abilities with even more realities, and features gameplay sequences that are dramatic, emotional and abstract.
The episode took me approximately three hours to complete, me being the sort that enjoys wandering up to everyone and talking even when the sky is falling down, and these abstract sequences are woven throughout. If you’ve been captivated by the unexpected ramifications of Max’s meddling in time said sections will prove unnerving yet utterly compelling; as the episode progresses they bring to mind the surreal moments of titles such as Alan Wake and even Far Cry 3, experiences that- in my opinion – are a fundamental wonder in video games.
Of course, the entirety of Life is Strange is quite surreal. That can sometimes prove to be an obstacle in connecting with characters, though it’s never been one Life is Strange has suffered from. In Polarized you feel that Max is isolated and separated from those around her by her powers more than ever: the story dives in and out of alternate realities and what-if scenarios at a fast pace and as you meet treasured and not-so treasured characters they’re at
different stages of events, leaving Max as the only continuum to join everything together.
The decisions you’ve made in the previous four episodes still come to bear in the finale, as usual by not always creating X or Y outcomes but engendering little differences that add up to make your entire playthrough feel personal. While many of the decisions in Polarized are less profound than those before, given that the outcomes are short lived with this being the final, you’ll still have a debate over what to choose. And if you’ve been racked with indecision and doubt when faced with some of these past choices, well, good luck with the ending.
Whether or not you’ll be satisfied with the ultimate outcome of the game is difficult to say. Many questions are answered though a certain mystery still surrounds Arcadia Bay; if you’re the type who wants everything clean cut and rounded off you may be a little disappointed, if you take satisfaction conjuring your own theories, however, it won’t let you down. Either way, get tissues ready.
Life is Strange excels at pulling you into the lives of its characters, making you share in their joys and pain. As the conclusion plays out to one of the most bitter-sweet thematic songs in the game I can guarantee that you will feel emotion.
With the same wonderful artistic style and excellent soundtrack, does Life is Strange: Episode 5 “Polarized” do justice to the story so far? Yes. And in so Dontnod concludes what is without doubt a magnificent testament to episodic gaming.
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