Life is Strange Episode 5: Polarized Review – The illusion of choice?

Coming in late? Be sure to check out my spoiler-free reviews of Episode 1Episode 2Episode 3 and Episode 4.

Life is Strange’s five part episodic series began life back in January and the last episode was released nearly three months ago. It’s safe to say the release schedule has been a mess. Even the originally-planned six-week gap between episodes should have been flagged as a narrative momentum killer.

Such is life when reviewing and playing episodic content these days. If you’re smart though, you’ll have stayed away until today. Now the final episode is out, you’re free to play through the whole story at your own pace. And to get right to it: you really should. 

Life is Strange Episode 5: Polarized Review - The illusion of choice?

With so many questions left unanswered, Episode 5 has a lot of work to do. Without going into any spoilers, I can tell you that events of the ‘dark room’ narrative are satisfactorily tackled. Thankfully, that damn storm that’s been lingering unexplained throughout finally gets some attention in the plot. Whether you’ll accept the reasoning behind it may prove divisive between players.

Max’s ability to rewind time is used sparingly in Polarize. At one point, she must orchestrate the events of a fight between two others by pointing out helpful objects. It’s a good idea but the action’s scripting timings for failure are poor as they just don’t add up (how did you get over that fast?!). The solution feels cheap and makes little sense compared to your other attempts.

Another gameplay area involves travelling through a nightmare world avoiding the torchlight of your would-be captors. Thanks to Max’s ability to rewind time, the threat is never real and it’s simply a stage you walk though, with no real sense of danger.

Life is Strange Episode 5: Polarized Review - The illusion of choice?

For the most part, you really don’t have much to do in this final episode. It’s perhaps for the best that you go into Life is Strange accepting it isn’t really a game. It’s more easily categorised as an interactive drama. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the choices in this final episode largely feel inconsequential. Often you’ll have to say the right thing in order to progress, so your ‘choice’ is nothing of the sort really. At other times, options only seem to involve opting for brutal honesty or protecting people’s feelings. Without going into major details about the ending, I will say the binary choice feels like every choice throughout the series made no difference to your options at the end. It’s seriously off-putting if you were considering playing through again with alternate choices.

Series Summary

That’s about all I can say for this episode. So let’s talk about the overall series, as the score below is for the whole experience rather than just this episode. DONTNOD have stumbled onto a great idea here and I’d certainly recommend fans of interactive drama titles like The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead take a look.

I really enjoyed being able to rewind time, experimenting with different responses and judging the initial consequences before deciding which way I wanted to move forwards. As with most of the genre’s ilk though, many choices feel like minor emotional detours that don’t affect the outcomes of individual episodes (with one memorable exception involving Kate).

Life is Strange Episode 5: Polarized Review - The illusion of choice?

The plot deals with some very dark themes that games don’t usually go near. Despite the crushingly awkward teen speak and painfully hip references, the writing often excels at creating a desperately dark environment, giving the impression of you needing to make some terrible choices.

The graphical style with a hand-painted aesthetic was a fantastic choice as characters and the sleepy town of Arcadia Bay are beautifully rendered. It’s a shame the lip-sync is poor throughout the series though, with the final episode being really bad as mouths don’t even move most of the time.

Mid-season there were reports of the possibility of a second season, which raised personal concerns that we’d get a half-assed ending to this season, with more questions than answers. Don’t let that be a concern though. This is a solid finale that won’t leave you unfulfilled. If we’re to get a second season though, DONTNOD and Square should seriously consider completing development on a full season and releasing it weekly instead. You wouldn’t accept Life is Strange’s ridiculous release schedule in any other medium after all.

Life is Strange Episode 5: Polarized Review - The illusion of choice?Pros

  • Rewinding choices feels empowering
  • Overall story is excellent
  • No loose ends

Cons

  • Terrible lip-syncing
  • Binary ending
  • Did our choices really matter that much?

The Short Version: As a whole series, Life is Strange has been an intriguing and emotional experience. The rewind mechanic is an intelligent inclusion to the interactive drama genre and gives the impression of having significant control over the narrative. That said, there’s certainly an argument that player choices have all been leading to a singular binary decision which somewhat softens the finale’s emotional punch.

7/10

———
Platform: PS4 (reviewed) | PS3 | X360 | XO | PC
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix

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