The episodic game format has grown in popularity in recent years behind critically acclaimed series like The Walking Dead, and the relatively new developer Dontnod Entertainment jumped onto the scene with one of the biggest surprises of the year in Life is Strange. Combining a very well crafted and mature story with very unique time rewinding mechanics has been a recipe for success so far, and now the conclusion has arrived with Life is Strange: Episode 5 – Polarized.
Life is Strange saw the release of its first episode back in January by introducing players to the journey of Max Caulfield, who seemed to be just a somewhat awkward teenager at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. However, her life changes very quickly upon the discovery that she can rewind time, which propels the story forward in many different directions. Just like every past episode, the ending to Episode 4 featured a major cliffhanger, which leads into the fifth and final episode.
Dontnod Entertainment has really done a phenomenal job at building up the story within Life is Strange gradually throughout each episode. However, this was not done in a completely linear fashion, as the time rewinding mechanism really allowed for unique storytelling elements that even saw time travel come into the mix. Numerous plot strings have been woven throughout the episodes, which all come to a head in Episode 5.
The ending to the previous episode finally revealed who the sadistic keeper of the Dark Room was, which was pretty shocking. The follow-up episode takes this unassuming normal character from before and shows just how messed up he can be, which felt very natural in the way it was done. This character worked very well as a villain, especially when getting to see a few different sides of him through time travel.
Previous episodes of Life is Strange utilized the time rewinding mechanic a lot, with time travel really only coming into play back in Episode 3. However, the final episode actually moves away from using it quite as much. There are still a number of areas where it can be used to warn somebody of an incoming object or to get more details within a conversation with the villain, but it doesn’t feel like it’s used at the level of the past episodes, especially in a puzzle sense.
With time rewinding itself taking more of a backseat in Episode 5, time travel takes center stage here in the final episode, as Max has to use time travel in a few different ways. These are not without major consequences though, which have been alluded to in past episodes. This is handled very well for the most part, but there are some elements that could be seen as somewhat of a cop out. Luckily, these are mostly just swerves along the way in the finale, but it all leads to a major decision that is without a doubt one of the toughest to make in any game within this genre.
The final decision within Episode 5 asks the player to make a big choice between two options, with each completely changing the ending to the game as a whole. In some ways, this could be seen as nullifying some of the previous decisions, but Dontnod handles this well. Without going into spoiler territory, this final choice really encapsulates the story that has been presented so far and gives two distinct choices that drastically affect not just the present, but possibly the past as well.
Almost fitting in how the concluding episode of Season 1 has released right before Halloween, Episode 5 – Polarized actually introduces some horror elements in a few parts, which surprisingly fit in very well. The aforementioned villain brings a level of fear to the series that has not been seen prior, with Max being victimized again and again. As the mysteries begin to unravel. there are a number of mindbending moments that feel like they were almost from a different game entirely, but they still manage to feel right at home in this mostly grounded game.
Even more important than the story, character interactions are paramount in Life is Strange. The relationship between Max and her best friend Chloe has really defined this series, showing how important friendship can be to a person, especially in their darkest hours. That feeling is still just as central here with Ashly Burch and Hannah Telle’s chemistry as Max and Chloe respectively continue to shine through. The key moments between the two are also very effectively revisited here in a variety of different ways, especially near the end of the episode. Episode 5 also provides the most human interactions of all between Max and other characters like Warren, which feel incredibly genuine.
Episode 5 is truly a culmination of the Life is Strange journey
Life is Strange has been very successful in their use of indie music throughout each episode as a great complement to the characters and setting, so there was little doubt that Dontnod wouldn’t continue that in the finale as well. The regular background music is great as always, but the licensed music choices is top notch here once again, perfectly fitting into the emotional state of the game.
While the character interactions and dialogue have been top notch, albeit a little corny at times, one of the issues that plagued the early episodes of Life is Strange were downright pitiful lip sync issues. These often made watching the scenes a chore in some ways, but they have gradually gotten better in subsequent episodes, and Episode 5 has seen even more improvement in that department. The lip sync isn’t always perfect, but it is for the most part just fine now and is no longer the distraction it once was.
With time rewinding being such a core piece of Life is Strange, the controls for doing so need to be top notch, which was the case for the first three episodes. However, for some reason there was a big glitch at release for Episode 4, where the time rewinding was forcefully rewinding way too far at times, while otherwise not letting you use the speed up button. This issue has thankfully been fixed this time around, as the time rewinding mechanic is back to working just as it did within the first three episodes, which in tandem with non-stuttering movement makes for a very smooth experience in the final episode of Life is Strange.
Life is Strange may have released with little fanfare earlier this year, but there is no doubt it has left its mark from beginning to end. The final episode concludes the story of Max Caulfield in a somewhat predictable, though still beautifully written way. Time rewinding may not be as important, but time travel adds new layers to the character interactions throughout that conclude with a final choice for the ages. Episode 5 is truly a culmination of the Life is Strange journey that provides a very satisfying ending to this really special game that must not be overlooked.