Life is Strange Episode 5 (Polarized) (2015)
PS4 / Rated M
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
The greatest part about choice-based storytelling games is watching the effects of your hard decisions transpire into multi-dimensional stories. Telltale Games have made a majority of these games to this day but a small studio named DONTNOD Entertainment, a Square-Enix studio, released Life is Strange’s first episode all the way back in January of this year. The game, in similar vein to the Telltale games, gave us a game full of player choice framed within a unique story about time travel and the consequences of such a power. Over the previous four episodes, a lot of choices had to be made and the consequences were very real…but none of this matters at the end of the series’ finale, Polarized, which is a real bummer.
Polarized takes place right after the bothersome events of the fourth episode, which provided us with probably one of the biggest plot twists of the season. It was a twist that you couldn’t possibly see coming, no matter how hard you think about it. Anyway, series protagonist Max Caulfield starts to realize the true nature of her powers and how messed up she has made things. A lot of events have taken place since the first pivotal moment in Blackwell Academy’s bathroom with Chloe and Nathan, and things have only gotten worse. Max starts to ponder if all of this is her fault. Are her powers, which seemed good at the time, actually hurting people more than helping them? That is the question that is thrown around constantly during the duration of the finale.
It makes way for a satisfying and very reflective finale. The consequences of her decisions make her ponder if she is making the right choices. Exploring these situations leads her to travel between different realities, desperately trying to find the right choice that makes everything right, the choice that makes everything normal again. Obviously, traveling between a number of different realities in time leads to some adverse mental and physically effects on Max, causing her to break down after a while.
Finally, all of the time and reality travelling catches up to Max, putting her in a nightmare like sequence that pretty much takes us to the end of the episode. Although these psychological and often times pretty dark sequences make for some great moments (At one point Max is sitting in a snow globe on the mantle in Chloe’s house staring at herself as a young child. Pretty powerful stuff.), a lot of the gameplay during these moments was pretty frustrating. There’s a weird portion of the nightmare where you have to sneak your way through a series of hallways, locker rooms, and outdoor areas on the way to the distant lighthouse. Characters like Mr. Jefferson, Nathan, and the principal (among others), are trying to look for you with flashlights. Avoiding the lights was pretty frustrating and I just found myself spamming the time rewind button in order to make it the end goal. It stopped being fun after a while and turned into an actual nightmare.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the episode was the final decision at the end. I DON’T WANT TO SPOIL ANYTHING SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, STOP READING THIS PARAGRAPH. The final choice that you have to make revolves around either sacrificing Chloe to her fate of getting shot in the bathroom to save Arcadia Bay or saving Chloe for good, letting Arcadia Bay get eaten up by the apocalyptic storm. It’s a touch choice to make but it’s binary in nature, making the choice pretty cheap. If you choose to save Arcadia Bay, then all of your choices you have made in previous episodes don’t matter anymore because everything is back to normal and everybody is okay. If you choose to save Chloe, then Arcadia Bay is totally destroyed by the storm…once again almost negating the choices that you made previously. It’s kind of a crappy way to end a choice-driven story. A good choice-driven story should wrap up in a variety of different ways depending on the consequences of your choices. Life is Strange throws all of this into the water, giving us either ending A or ending B, and not much else. It’s pretty frustrating, especially since the story had a ton of potential.
It’s sad to see such a great new series come to an end in such a bad way. I had an awesome time with the game and its refreshing and original story. It was intriguing and often thought-provoking and the decisions that you had to make were pretty meaningful for the most part. It’s a shame that all of these choices are written away during the game’s final moments. In the end, I have to applaud DONTNOD and Square-Enix for their Life is Strange, but it could have been so much better. It had the potential to be so much more.
Also available on PC, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360