After completing the entire series, I can honestly say Life is Strange isn’t my favorite episodic adventure game. Heck, it probably is my least favorite episodic adventure game since the genre became popular with Telltale’s The Walking Dead back in 2012.
However, I always believed Life is Strange managed to do one thing better than most of these episodic games, and that was to provide the player with a true sense of agency. Choices mattered in Life is Strange, and there were so many of them, both big and small, that it truly felt your playthrough was in some ways unique.
So imagine my utter and complete disappointment when I found out that Life is Strange – Episode 5: Polarized, the final episode of the season, takes that sense of agency and throws it to the wind.
As is always the case with these episodes, we find Max right where we last left here – in the clutches of an insane killer with a flair for photography. From that point onward, Polarized is a series of loosely tied sequences of Max jumping back and forth between alternate timelines, undoing or changing everything she and Chloe did so far.
Basically, this means the story stops dead in its tracks and even starts to move backward as you experience bits and pieces of past events all over again.
If that’s not enough, the game even includes a length nightmare sequence that is really a nightmare to play through.
This episode is also the first one to be a completely linear adventure. In past episodes, events unfolded always as a result of the player’s choices, and while the story did progress in broadly the same way, each player experienced it a little different.
Here, the story goes only one way. There will be no split paths, no meaningful choices to make, no going back and forth between two possible outcomes as you’re unable to decide which one is better. Up until the very last minutes of the episode, every player will go through the same experience, no matter how they played the season so far.
The only big decision you’re going to make is at the very end of the game, and although I personally think the ending to be a complete cop out, I won’t discuss it any further.
I will admit that despite the overall poor quality of the episode’s narrative structure, the first couple of chapters are maybe some of the best in the entire season.
As I mentioned before, Max is now trapped in the Dark Room at the mercy of a killer, whose identity we discovered in the previous episode. Bounded and drugged, Max must rely on her captor’s photography to constantly jump back in time and make small changes or leave behind clues that will eventually let her escape in the present.
This part actually works really well, and seeing the dramatic results of Max’s actions is surprisingly gratifying. We get to see a “what if” scenario that appears to be perfect in every way, but also a few nasty outcomes that Max immediately regrets. It all culminates in an intense fight scene where Max needs to constantly rewind time to figure out the best possible way to bring down the killer.
Unfortunately, this part is over way too soon, and the rest of the episode is nowhere near as creative or well-written as those opening moments.
But even this segment is slightly marred by the characters, especially that of the killer. I’ve gotten used to Max’s… unique take on inner dialog, and she’s even pretty good at playing the part of the “final girl”, so to speak. The killer, however, is every cliche personified.
He talks about his “vision” and his “art”, about how Max is his greatest subject yet, and just how he is going to get away with it all. His ravings are so mundane, he almost comes off as a cartoon villain, only much, much more disturbed.
The rest of the cast actually manages to rise above their usual lackluster performance (with the exception of the ever-bored Alyssa). David Madsen, Chloe’s step-dad, deserves a special note, as we get to see a different side of him – one I found easy to sympathize with.
Once again, Life is Strange’s strong point, and the episode’s redeeming quality is the soundtrack. If the narrative and characters can’t do much to squeeze any sort of emotion out of you, apart from unyielding indifference, the music actually succeeds. I would say it’s a little bit cheap to use slow folk-rock songs with soft vocals to induce a slight sense of melancholy, but it works.
The music fits perfectly with the atmosphere the developers were going for, and helps drive home Max’s feelings of loss, hopelessness and sometimes even careful joy. If there’s one good thing about the season as a whole, is that you get to listen to some great songs, and that’s always a plus.
And as a whole, Life is Strange is a mixed bag. What first appeared to be another rehashing of the tired time-manipulation gimmick turned out to be a fresh take on a familiar concept with some very clever puzzles thrown in.
As the episodes progress, you start using Max’s powers to solve more and more complex problems, and there are plenty of those “Ah-ha!” moments to be had. Where the series falls short is the narrative and characters that, at least for me, invoked very little sympathy.
I still believe some episodes are worth your while, and if you’re into the whole “time traveling hipster” thing the game has going on than you will probably enjoy it more than I did.
Life is Strange – Episode 5: Polarized doesn’t do the series any favors. It hosts both the best and the worst moments of the season, but ultimately the bad outweighs the good. The lack of freedom and any meaningful choices drag this episode down, and the poor performance by the series’ ultimate antagonist doesn’t help much either.
The ending is probably where the episode, and the entire series, takes the biggest hit, more so considering all previous episodes had such good ending that always left you eager to start the next one.
However, the presentation itself, particularly the soundtrack, can still change the episode around for those of you who can appreciate such things. Bottom line, you can decide not to let Polarized ruin Life is Strange for you, but I for one wish I could go back to a time when that god-awful nightmare sequence never happened.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.