Since the early days of 2015, DONTNOD’s Life is Strange has taken us on an enlightening, thought provoking and all around interesting episodic journey. It’s done this with class, polish and intrigue, presenting a unique experience that has hardly felt predictable. And, like all good things, the series has officially come to an end, with its fifth and final episode: Polarized.
Life is Strange is, and will always be remembered for being the story of a deep friendship between two young women named Max and Chloe. Their roots may be in Arcadia Bay, but it’s a friendship for the ages, and one that both girls will do anything to protect. Of course, there’s more to things than that — much more, indeed. There happens to be superpowers, which allow Max to rewind time and change what happens around her, or even teleport back in time through photography. On top of that, there’s the overarching disappearance of a beautiful young girl named Rachel Amber, whose missing posters can be seen throughout the seaside town and its prestigious Blackwell Academy.
As you’ll likely recall, the last time we were in Max Caulfield’s shoes, she was trying to prevent a potential murder and had to infiltrate the pretentious Vortex Club’s End of the World Party in order to do so. Things didn’t go as planned, though, and a major reveal shocked us, before making us wish that this final episode was available to jump right into. I won’t spoil things for those who’ve yet to play Episode 4, but the truth is that if you’re reading this review then you’ve likely already done so. If not, then colour me confused and get on it.
Polarized picks up shortly after its predecessor’s blindsiding conclusion, although that’s almost a given. And, after spending hours investigating her way into the dangerous dark room underneath the Prescotts’ barn, Max now finds herself as its latest victim. Duct taped and in peril, she’s staring at the lens of a camera which is in the possession of a madman. A photogenic madman who plans to kill her once he’s had his shutter-based fun.
This is what everything has led to: Max’s ambition, heroic nature and need to help others has put her in danger herself. Now, her only hope is what helped get her here, that being her mysterious time-bending superpowers. Will they be enough, though?
Honestly, saying anything more about the plot of Life is Strange: Episode 5 – Polarized would practically be sinful, and I’d feel awful if I spoiled the ending for anyone. Rest assured that there’s a lot of layers to things, and expect more than a slight mindfuck as you play your way through this relatively lengthy conclusion. The shit definitely ends up hitting the fan, and things get really messy.
While Polarized gives Life is Strange a fitting, emotional and memorable send off, it doesn’t do so perfectly. In fact, there’s a definite issue with the design of this particular episode, and it’s something that wasn’t a problem with the previous four. That is, an identity crisis, which sees the chapter struggle with wanting to be cinematic and needing to be a game.
Given that this is a narrative-focused experience, one should not be surprised by a wealth of cinematic content. However, Episode 5 takes things a step too far and doesn’t give the player enough control. Sure, we do get to go hands-on with Max quite a few times throughout the two hour-long finale, but these moments are too spread out. As such, there’s a lot of watching and waiting, as the mindfuck develops.
It also takes time for things to really hit their stride here, and it makes me wonder if the developers were maybe a bit unsure of how they wanted to end things. That, or whether they tried to cram too much into this episode. Either way, it definitely could’ve benefitted from a bit of editing and streamlining, as well as a more cohesive gameplay experience that would’ve let the player feel more in control.
All in all, though, Life is Strange: Episode 5 – Polarized works as a fitting and solid end to a great episodic series. It’s not perfectly construed as a video game, and suffers from a bit of an identity crisis, but DONTNOD’s ambition is definitely something worth applauding.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Polarized may have trouble determining whether it wants to be a movie or a game, but it's still a solid ending to a very good episodic series. There are definitely high points to applaud, and memorable moments, even if things get a bit too convoluted at times.