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‘Life is Strange: Episode Five’ starts rough but ultimately sticks the landing

‘Life is Strange: Episode Five’ starts rough but ultimately sticks the landing


Life is Strange: Episode Five–Polarized

Developed by Dontnod
Published by Square-Enix
Available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

As the clock ticked down on this years most exciting and inventive episodic title, it was tough not to feel a sense of trepidation and fearfulness in the wake of its finale, and while Life is Strange hasn’t shirked the ending problems that were faced by other choice-based series like Mass Effect or The Wolf Among Us, it has certainly learned from their mistakes.

Right from the get-go, something feels really off about this last entry in the saga of time-traveling teen Max Caulfield and her funky-punk hella-best friend Chloe Price. While previous episodes were content to experiment around as they picked up the pieces from the previous episodes cliffhangers, Polarized doubles down on the crazy in a way that is definitely going to be a shock to players systems.

If The Dark Room‘s cliffhanger wasn’t enough WTF for you, than get ready to take your fill of that and more as Polarized opens with a recurring nightmare of Lovecraftian proportions. Though the initial section, along with its subsequent changes and variations, initially feels exhausting and anti-climatic (as though everything that fans had feared about the series finale was coming true all at once) it does eventually turn a curve that brings it back from the edge.

Strangely (I know, I know) what it really takes is for players to get used to and accept what’s going on in this final section before they can get on board with what DONTNOD is doing in Polarized. What it boils down to is that Life is Strange‘s writers get it, and they got it long before we came to this point. They know that they can’t deliver a final solution to all of the games myriad mysteries, and that, even if they could, it would only serve to separate and weaken the involving story they had crafted up until this point.

Instead Polarized opts for a deep dive into its own lore, and surprisingly it works. Somehow a game that players have only spent 8-10 hours with, and very recently for that matter, manages to pull off a nostalgia-tinged finale that takes its audience back over a journey they’re only just completing. It’s insane in the best kind of way, and there’s no way to avoid saying it, so let’s just get it out of the way: a lot of the shocking plot points are not going to stick around in the final timeline.

But let’s be real here: this is a game about time travel. What exactly did you expect? Well let me tell you, whatever it was, it wasn’t this. As Polarized marches on from the various is-this-it/maybe-it-is/what’s-gonna happens of its time-space paradox finale, there’s no arguing that it absolutely keeps you on its toes. As David Lynch hasn’t released a film in nearly ten years, I have no qualms about calling Polarized the most Lynchian thing I’ve borne witness to in a great long while. If you’re a fan of films like Mulholland Drive or television shows like Twin Peaks (heavy influences on Life is Strange) than this is going to be music to your ears, otherwise, my condolences.

As Polarized goes back and forth through time and space, the plot grows increasingly hard to decipher and the nightmarish touches continue to take over in a way that could place this final episode firmly in the horror genre, especially considering the subject matter of the less effective beginning portions. This is Life is Strange in its all-bets-are-off mode. The writers know you’ve stuck around this long, so they’re not going to hold back anymore, and even if some of the exposition for the Rachel Amber mystery falls a little flat, the explanation of the apocalyptic storm does not disappoint, especially as players are left to wander through it in the second half.

Finally, the endless callbacks to your decisions from previous episodes do work well, especially during a survival horror-esque stealth section that forces you to re-do a mundane task from a previous episode while being hunted by demonic versions of the men you’ve encountered thus far, hunting for and calling out to you in the abyss. Did I mention that this episode was insane?

However, all the backward-talking shenanigans and endless hallways in the world wouldn’t make a lick of difference if the true ending(s) didn’t live up to players expectations. As expected, it does ultimately boil down to one final choice that will remain the same regardless of what you chose in previous episodes, but whether those ending moments are enough for you leading up to the credits or not, don’t be even a little bit surprised to see Life is Strange in the top 10 of nearly every year end list.

This one’s a keeper.