Review: Life is Strange Episode 5: Polarised

 

The past four episodes of Life is Strange have been a blast. Atmospheric, fun, and packed with nerdy references, the story of time travelling photography nerd Max Caulfield and her best-friend-maybe-girlfriend Chloe’s attempts to find a missing girl and save the town of Arcadia Bay from a tornado has captured a rapt fandom chomping at the bit for the final instalment. The story is unique, the characters complex and interesting, and the indie soundtrack lovely.

In the finale of the episode four, the game raised the light on a big reveal, and left us on a cliff-hanger that had me squawking ‘NO!’ and wanting to hurl my controller at the screen.

Skip forward a few weeks. I download the final episode at one minute past midnight on the release day. I open it up, suck down some coffee, and see Max, tied to a chair in the clutches of the main villain. I was ready to be blown away.

Then I found I wasn’t doing a lot of playing in this episode. Life is Strange is already focused on the character and story more than the gameplay, and that’s usually fine by me. Yet, with the sheer amount of exposition in Polarised, you might find yourself just listening to monologues, waiting for the game to remember you’re still there. Combined with the spontaneous stealth section, it feels like you put in Metal Gear Solid by mistake.

That said, the subplots of minor characters are resolved very nicely here, particularly the morally grey David Madsen. Life is Strange’s mature and sensitive treatment of the issue of PTSD in war veterans is definitely not what I expected from this game, but I’m still very pleased.

The episode’s strongest section is definitely the nightmare sequence. Creepy, weird, heart-rending, playing with both audience expectations and game mechanics to be very effectively creepy, atmospheric, and, when the need arises, hilarious, but…

Well, the sequence doesn’t go anywhere, and it’s a jarring departure from Life is Strange’s usual tone and gameplay that it feels out of place. Thanks for showing me this demo for your upcoming stealth-horror game, Dontnod. Very good, let me know about the release date, but can I play Life is Strange now?’.

“With the sheer amount of exposition in Polarised, you might find yourself just listening to monologues, waiting for the game to remember you’re still there. Combined with the spontaneous stealth section, it feels like you put in Metal Gear Solid by mistake.”

And unfortunately the game ends with one of the cardinal sins of video game writing; the one that made a million Mass Effect fans scream.

After stressing the importance of autonomy and player choices all the way through the game, allowing you to carefully cultivate relationships with characters, the game holds out two options and goes:

“Okay, so which ending do you want?”

So what was the point of all those decisions you made, if you just pick one of two options at the end? If you’ve been doing your best to choose well so you get the happiest ending for these characters, this is a total rip-off.

Overall though, Life is Strange has still been good fun. It’s done some exciting things – a cinematic direction, heavy focus on female characters, and quirky time travel mechanics – and that makes it worth at least a look.

Just steel yourself for a let-down ending.

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