Life is Strange: Episode 5, Polarized – Review

Grand finale? That’s not the word. Uneven finale? That’s more like it.

Life is Strange has been a really weird series, not just in how it’s played, but also how myself and the rest of the gaming world have reacted to it. I’ve seen it called “Game of the Year for sure”, “a moving masterpiece”, and “one of the greatest games ever” (I jest not). So why do I feel like I’ve been playing a different game to everyone else?

The Life is Strange I’ve experienced has chronic pacing and dialogue issues, as well as paper-thin characters and a lousy protagonist to boot. I’ve read essays on how the series has dealt with “mature themes”, but I’ve only ever witnessed a series that describes mature themes, not outright deals with them.

The series coming into Episode 5 certainly had its highs as well as deep lows. The revelation of Rachel Amber’s body at the end of Episode 4 certainly made for an interesting set up, as did the discovery of Mark Jefferson as the evil mastermind. You may notice I left out Chloe’s apparent death, because if you actually thought that it would remain permanent in a series with time travelling, you’re a fool.

The beginning of Episode 5 absolutely fails to capitalise on any momentum that the previous episode had going for it. Jefferson rants completely out of character like a Bond villain from the 80’s (it’s almost as if developer Dontnod didn’t have him as the villain of the series from the beginning), before David Madsen turns up and an infuriating puzzle ensues, which is far too easy to get wrong without having any clear sense of what you’re supposed to be doing.

After Max leaves the Dark Room, the episode really goes on an acid trip. I won’t describe the entire thing, but Max proceeds to jump around alternate realities, screw things up, and attempt to set them right again. They all have very little bearing on the entire episode, but the final stealth section in particular really threatens to entirely destabilise the episode, resulting in giving me an unfulfilling experience with the majority of the content.

The climax of Episode 5, when everything truly matters, is when the episode chooses to pull out the big guns. The player has to decide whether to go back to the very beginning and leave Chloe to die, essentially cancelling the chain of events that lead to the storm, or leave Arcadia Bay to its fate, sacrificing everyone you’ve encountered over the course of the five episodes.

This final bit really did provide me with some emotions, which is surprising considering it’s a series that I’ve often felt had terrible writing and downright bad characters. Perhaps it’s more of a testament to how great of a character Chloe has become over the time we’ve known her, and she might just be one of the main redeeming factors of Life is Strange for me.

Fantastic choice-based conclusion aside, the episode really was a let down in other areas. In one section, Max can make her way down a road during the storm, choosing whether to stop and save some of her fellow students at Blackwall. This is yet another example of how Life is Strange fails to capitalise on promises, as in the back of my mind I couldn’t help thinking we’d be out of this alternate reality just as soon as we found Warren, therefore rendering saving everyone useless.

I won’t say I’m glad to see the last of Life is Strange, but I also can’t say I’ve been enamoured by it on the whole. The episode was a great reflection of how the series has had plenty of promising moments along the way, but has somehow managed to whiff on nearly all of these moments. The conclusion was a pretty amazing moment, but it couldn’t save a series plagued by thin characters and extremely poor writing.

Score: 6/10

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