Hella good or hella bad?
Life Is Strange Episode 5: Polarized on PlayStation 4
Spoiler warning: This review contains minor spoilers for Life Is Strange Episode 5: Polarized. If you are worried about any part of the episode being spoiled or any plot developments hinted at, read at your own risk.
Here we are: The hotly anticipated finale of Life Is Strange has arrived. When this episodic adventure from Dontnod Entertainment debuted back in January, I don’t think many would have predicted it would grow to be as beloved as it is in many circles currently. Its first episode, Chrysalis, was a nice first entry. It introduced us to some interesting characters such as our hero Max Caulfield and her best friend Chloe Price, and featured neat time-based gameplay, but it was nothing revolutionary. We’ve seen time used as a gameplay hook before.
However, Life Is Strange proved to be a slow burn that gradually picked up steam across four episodes and developed quite the cult following. The first two episodes set the stage for Episode 3, Chaos Theory, whose ending finally delivered the payoff that fans have been waiting for. Now, all eyes are on Episode 5: Polarized. Ending a choice-based game is no easy task, and Polarized actually pulls it off.
The hard part in ending a game such as Life Is Strange is delivering a satisfying ending to the story. Polarized handles this with grace which we’ll get to in a bit. Instead, where Polarized stumbles is in its mix up of the gameplay. Most of Polarized feels like it is on rails and devoid of choices, at least in comparison to the last four episodes.
There aren’t many puzzles, time-based or otherwise, to solve here. Polarized is very story-centered and instead heavily uses the jumping into photos mechanic that was underutilized up until this episode. The majority of your time will consist of jumping into alternate realities via staring at a photo, watching how it plays out, and then going into another photo to try and fix the screwed up vision that Max had.
Provided you’ve played Life is Strange up until this point and are invested, this mix up of the gameplay is definitely tolerable even if it is a little frustrating. I’m sure most fans of Life Is Strange, if they had to pick, would rather have a satisfying story in their final episode than anything else. Obviously, though, the full package would have been preferred.
A perfect example of how gameplay was an afterthought in Polarized is the section towards the end of of the episode where Max has to use her rewind powers to save characters that for the most part we have no reason to care about, from the mega tornado. It just feels like someone realized that there wasn’t a lot of gameplay and decided to tack on some to spice it up. But hey, at the end of the day, Life Is Strange has never hung its hat on its gameplay and Episode 5 doesn’t change this.
Where Life is Strange and its final episode, Polarized, do deliver is in continuing its gripping story. Episode 4 ended on a mind blowing cliffhanger that Mr. Jefferson has been a complete sociopath the entire time. Max, now trapped in the dark room, is able to use her powers of time travel to escape and attempt to set things right. At least she thinks that’s what she is doing.
Polarized is where Max’s continued messing around with timelines finally catches up to her. Dontnod successfully hammers home the point that messing with fate is a bad thing, and does this through showing Max screw up, over and over again throughout the episode. Max desperately wants to stop Mr. Jefferson, protect Chloe, and rescue Arcadia Bay from disaster. However, every time Max thinks she’s figured out the perfect solution, it ends up blowing up in her face.
Max messes up so many times that in fact, she traps herself in a nightmarish time loop where not only does she fix nothing, everything is as bad as it could possibly be. I don’t want to spoil exactly what happens in this section for anyone but let me just say, this section is bizarre, unsettling, and is something that will stick in my video game memories forever.
Everything that takes place in the time loop is mentally conditioning you for the final, and arguably the most difficult, choice in Life is Strange. Although nightmarish, while in that timeloop, Max is able able to see how her choices have hurt many people in Arcadia Bay but also how it has bought her more time with her best friend Chloe, who was doomed to die that day in the bathroom back in Episode 1. How you choose to end Life is Strange will come down to how how you process all that information and everything you just played. From the perspective of this reviewer, there is no right or wrong or good or bad here.
One glaring problem, however, is that other characters in Arcadia Bay not named Max and Chloe, don’t get the same graceful ending. There are a lot of smaller plot lines that are left unfulfilled. Mysteries such as what the Prescott’s connection was (if any) to all of the strange events and the origin of Max’s visions remain just that, mysteries. It’s excusable, but still disappointing.
Despite being marred by some dull gameplay at times, Life is Strange Episode 5: Polarized successfully pulls off what many other games have failed to do: delivering a satisfying ending to a player-driven, choice heavy game. There’s no pleasing everyone, but the finale does allow players to see the payoff of their decisions and how their final choice impacts the world that they have been invested in for over five episodes. Max and Chloe have turned out to be a pretty memorable duo, and if this is the last game we ever see them in, then we’re proud to report that they got the send off that they deserve.