Life is Strange by DONTNOD Entertainment (2015)
Episode 5 – Polarized (October)
Read – Episode 1: Chrysalis
Read – Episode 2: Out of Time
Read – Episode 3: Chaos Theory
Read – Episode 4: Dark Room
********Warning: Massive Spoilers Below********
Polarized ends the Life is Strange series on a low note, falling short of a truly satisfying ending. Bogged down by disconnected timelines, only a small fraction of the actual episode had any impact on the “true” timeline. The ending uses a clean-slate technique that makes every decision you’ve ever made irrelevant to future events. So after being told repeatedly that “the consequences of all your game actions and decisions will impact the past, present, and future”, suffice to say I am a bit disappointed after it all got washed away.
Despite its lack of timeline continuity, Polarized manages to lay out out a cohesive explanation for the mysteries surrounding Arcadia Bay. The shock of Mr. Jefferson being the ultimate mastermind behind the disappearance of Rachel Amber was well executed, with only a few keen observers ever suspecting the stylish teacher. The lack of any solid evidence made for a dramatic reveal in Dark Room, only to have it lose steam immediately after with the huge storm turning the whole murder-mystery into somewhat of a non-issue. Mr. Jefferson even signified a sense of finality to the mystery with his cliched monologue explaining his dastardly deeds. Once that mystery is closed, the rest of the episode tries haphazardly to set the stage for Max’s emotional dilemma.
This leads to the most unnatural portion of this episode where Max is dropped into a maze of what I can only guess is her own subconscious. Presented as the only real puzzle in the entire episode, you have to maneuver your way through this maze while avoiding hostile versions of Arcadia Bay’s inhabitants. Meant to signify Max’s guilt for changing the future, thus causing the devastating storm, a literal metaphysical space is created for Max to consider her final decision: to save Chloe or to save Arcadia Bay.
The final choice, whether to save Chloe or Arcadia Bay was an easy decision for me, but not for many others apparently as the record shows an almost 50-50 split in player choices. Personal opinions aside, it presents an interesting dilemma, forcing players to choose between the needs of the many over the needs of the few. While this makes for a dramatic ending, I asked myself ‘what was the point of saving all of those side-characters, if everything is re-written in the end anyway?’. In a game with action and consequence, it can have many multiple endings that fit our choices or one simple ending that disregards all previous choices. Life is Strange opts for the latter choice giving only two possible endings.
Aside from the technical improvements, animation bugs, NVIDIA graphical bug, etc., the Life is Strange series could have done with a bit more story editing for a more streamline experience. While all of the extra detail certainly enhanced the immersive qualities of Arcadia Bay, the overabundance of background characters (Alyssa, Juliet, Zachary, just to name a few) and their lesser side-plots distracted me from the true conflict of Max struggling to overcome her guilt of altering the timeline. A guilt that isn’t even necessarily well-deserved since no reasonable person could blame themselves for causing a hurricane by travelling through time.
Life is Strange has been a roller coaster of emotions and production quality ranging from the excitement of Chaos Theory (3) and Dark Room (4), to the dull filler in Out of Time (2). Shaky ending aside, the journey was a truly unique experience that incorporated the challenging game mechanic of active time travel to tell its story. Its atmosphere was masterfully created by just using simple, effective graphical designs accompanied by an appropriate indie soundtrack. While I may gripe a lot about its faults of continuity or time travel mechanics, I will remember Life is Strange for its more human discussions on suicide, bullying, depression, and friendship that resonate throughout the earlier episodes, providing the most emotional events of the series.
Life is Strange is also available on both PlayStation and Xbox.
A BIRD’S EYE VIEW