Life is Strange has never been perfect. Throughout the course of its five episodes it suffered from stiff animations, a solid amount of teen melodrama, and even the occasional very awkward piece of dialogue.
That said however, as imperfect as it is, there can be no doubt Life is Strange is in fact something special. And just in case the twists and turns of the game’s time-travel centered, surprisingly mature, heart-wrenching plot weren’t enough to prove it up to this point, “Polarized” drives the point home, offering a uniquely poignant look at not just making choices, but learning to live with the consequences.
Inspired heavily by the modern narrative and choice-centric adventure games from Telltale, Dontnod’s Life is Strange has delivered thoroughly on the idea of making choices, the ability to travel back in time and change those choices adding a fresh feeling of control and authority to the gameplay.
Episode 5 takes a step back from that formula however, as it transitions from making choices to seeing the consequences of all the ones you’ve already made. In this way, “Polarized” is the most linear and straightforward of the episodes so far, but manages to actually pack even more of a punch as it tells the surprisingly tight, dramatic conclusion to the series overall.
More than just holding me responsible for the clear choice-A-or-choice-B decisions I made throughout the series, “Polarized” made me feel responsible for all of my actions, down to how I played the game, and, in a shockingly self aware way, even how I thought about the game as a whole. It’s an experience no game has ever really given me and it’s the main piece of Life is Strange that will stick with me days and maybe even weeks to come.
As for how the final episode wraps up the story of the series, the majority of the finale mainly deals with the fallout of the rather horrific events and revelations of episode 4. Max is a deeply traumatized young woman at this point, and Dontnod doesn’t shy away from it. Simply put, the handling of the ramifications from episode 4 could have been both campy and awkward. Yet Life is Strange managed to take the truly disturbing predicament of Max and the other characters and not only tell an interesting story from it, but do so in a mature, clever way, pulling in elements and mechanics established throughout the series.
Life is Strange has, from the beginning, been about two friends, Max and Chloe, and Dontnod delivers on this premise, bringing the whole series full circle to focus on the pair. While the game has touched on everything from high school coming of age drama to murder mystery, tying everything around Max and Chloe’s friendship allows “Polarized” to present a touching through line for the game, exposing the two as the true driving force. While perhaps weak as a standalone experience, the finale episode is more meant to reemphasize the smaller moments and decisions from previous episodes, giving them new light as Max faces what to do next.
The fifth episode however, still suffers from many of the flaws of the game’s previous entries. A handful of animations still come off as stiff, and a quite a few pieces of dialogue still miss the mark. That said, the strength of the narrative overall still shines through, and if you’ve gotten this far, the hiccups are likely just as much a part of the experience now as anything else.
Where “Polarized” does misstep more prominently however, is in one segment near then end meant to explore Max’s mental state. This particular portion, while well done and interesting, drags on a bit too long, losing the episode’s momentum in the process. But regardless, thankfully, the emotional hit of the ending manages to overcome any lacking tension in the game’s final stretch.
The truth is, the majority of the appeal for Life is Strange’s final episode comes from playing artfully on the emotional connections the player has from the game’s previous episodes. If you tried Life is Strange but just felt it didn’t really click for you, episode 5 is not going to change any of that. It’s not going to make you suddenly fall in love with the game as a whole. But for those that took the unique, quirky, ‘strangeness’ of the game to heart, and looked past its faults to love the characters and the little town of Arcadia Bay, “Polarized” delivers wonderfully.
Life is Strange, despite its similarity to other games of the same genre, tackles subjects and emotions other games simply don’t. That, along with beautifully acted main characters, makes the game into something unique and delightful all on its own. In the end, the finale gave a fitting, emotional conclusion to Max and Chloe’s journey, and I’m glad I was along for the ride.