Warning: Spoilers from Episodes 1 – 4 of Life is Strange to follow.
It’s been an interesting journey. We’ve witnessed a lot of change in Life is Strange over the span of nine months, with developers DONTNOD Entertainment hitting an impressive stride in delivering a story that’s encouraged feverous conversation and debate amongst players. It’s a shame, though, that the Life is Strange finale — titled Polarized — doesn’t live up to the expectations set by previous episodes in the series, leaving on an unimaginative note rather than one that was in line with Episodes 1 to 3.
Polarized begins just as Episode 4 left off, as Max finds herself in a precarious position following the reveal that Mark Jefferson — Max’s Art teacher — was in fact the one kidnapping not only Rachel Amber, but a handful of other girls as well. The reveal itself in Episode 4 was perhaps a little lacklustre given the strong focus on Chloe’s death, and that ideal transcends into this episode fairly significantly. While Jefferson’s an interesting character, his sudden switch to the ‘bad guy’ isn’t a strong one. His time on-screen and general character development had him pegged as the likeable secondary character that pops in and out every so often, and so the twist lost a lot of its shock value because I generally didn’t care about him.
For the first 50 minutes of Episode 5, there’s a lot that goes on that I don’t feel was particularly enjoyable or interesting. There’s also a lot of unnecessary exposition throughout these sequences, and that further lends to the lack of tension and suspense that’s regularly seen in finales. This is a general theme throughout Polarized; in a finale where things are supposed to be wrapped up it felt entirely inconsequential and lacked that major moment — bar the final 10 minutes — that the other episodes had. All of the events I’d gone through, all of the major choice moments, and all of the previous story beats that had some sort of impact on me emotionally felt more-or-less fruitless after the credits rolled.
It’s an unfortunate contrast, really, that after Life is Strange’s strong start its final two episodes let it down. In saying that, Polarized still does quite a lot right, and the final few minutes — if you chose a particular option — were a powerful and well-executed send off for Max and the gang. It didn’t feel quite like the emotional ending when compared to other episodic games out there, but it’s a definitive conclusion nonetheless.
Furthermore, the storm — which had been heading for Arcadia Bay over the span of the season — was finally a point of conversation and adopted a main focus throughout the episode. The sense of impending danger by such a force of nature was never really explored throughout the season, and so its appearance was one that didn’t really have an overbearing feeling of significance. I had originally pegged this in Episode 1 to be something to watch out for in later episodes, yet the almost rushed development of the storm left it feeling like a small beat in the game’s story rather than a major plot point, which feels like lost potential.
Nonetheless, there’s still a certain feeling that pertains to how you perceive Max and the change you’ve both undergone throughout her journey, and interacting with characters in the finale felt almost like a definitive wave goodbye. This is where Polarized is at its best: these scenes are grounded and feel like genuine exchanges between true friends and their families. It’s through these moments that Life is Strange, as a whole, is at its peak and most emotionally triumphant, and Polarized’s final twenty minutes are some of the strongest in the whole series because of this.
Life is Strange has been quite an adventure to journey through, making use of a handful of interesting plot devices and game mechanics in an attempt to differentiate itself from the pack. The first three episodes demonstrated that the rewind mechanic can be used effectively as a story device, although ultimately the following two episodes weren’t of the same standard. It’s been interesting to watch Max’s world play out around her as she learns to cope with such a powerful ability, and to watch her friends and family change throughout the many different scenarios and realities that inevitably pan out, but in the end I feel like DONTNOD’s insistence on having the focus on a high school-level mystery spoiled what would otherwise had been a really intriguing story. Similarly, the choice and consequence system that the game is built around doesn’t have any major effect on proceedings as a whole, essentially voiding any real sense of having your own story play out.
In saying that, Life is Strange is still an effective episodic adventure, and some of the exchanges and twists throughout the five-episode season were genuinely fantastic. The game is, ultimately, all about the friendship shared between Max and Chloe, and the grounded nature between that friendship will absolutely resonate with almost every player in one way or another.
Polarized, while a disappointing conclusion to what has otherwise been a great series, is still worth playing, especially if you’ve made it this far. If anything, the definitive conclusion and tying up of most loose ends makes for a good send off for Max and the gang. I’d just had hoped for more in terms of characterisation, repercussions from previous choices I’d made, and a more interesting story thread to end on. The search for Rachel Amber certainly made for an intriguing set up, yet having it as the primary focus when there were other thought-provoking narrative threads lurking around ultimately took away from the experience. If Life is Strange returns for another season it’ll certainly be interesting to see where developers DONTNOD go next, so consider me intrigued.
Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC
A review code was provided by the publisher.