Review: Life is Strange Episode 5
Kidnapped and trapped in The Dark Room, Max must tap into her deepest resolve to fix the past, present and future, or risk the collapse of everything she knows.
Approximately 3 Hours
October 20, 2015
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Price: 4.99 (or 19.99 for 5 entire season of 5 episodes)
The games are over and all the cards are on the table. Max is churning in lethal waters now, having exposed several truths about the residents of Arcadia Bay. Chloe is out of the picture and now Max must tackle The Dark Room alone. In doing so, she risks pushing her Rewind power to its breaking point. As the anticipated super-tornado finally enters the scene and all of her problems are converging into one ultimate oblivion, it seems she might not have a choice in the matter. The mettle of both Max and the player are tested in “Polarized,” this final installment of Life is Strange.
Here it ends. “Polarized” did what most stories do that involve time-travel or time-manipulation. It inevitably throws everything into utter chaos. Humor takes a back seat in the series finale, as every conflict we’ve known up until now is either dwarfed by the new, encroaching terrors, or directly feeds into them. Max must tackle deception, loss, defeat, uncertainty, and fear from all angles. These are not things that can be fixed or combated with a simple rewind. To give Jefferson the justice he deserves, Max has to fall back on some ludicrous maneuvers, going so far as to Inception her power upon itself, weaving through multiple flashbacks in the hopes that she can hold out long enough to create a future where everybody makes it out alive.
“Polarized” explores several new settings. Rather, it takes all of the old ones and corrupts them into serendipitous, nightmare versions of the ones with which we are familiar. We must navigate the girl’s dormitory from several different points-of-view, the halls menacingly dark and scrawled with words of hatred. The locker rooms have transmuted into a maze where any lights that shine on us threaten to destroy us. The Two Wales diner is filled and surrounded with the hundreds of souls we failed to save from destruction. So on and so on.
Not to mention the hideous existence of The Dark Room, which doesn’t even need a “nightmare” rendition to leave an impression of terror on those familiar with its history.
Character development is a tricky subject in this installment, because things can happen in so many different ways. Romantic developments can be prompted for both Warren and Chloe. Professor Jefferson deepens our already keen understanding of his sick sociopathy. We discover the fate of Nathan Prescott and exactly how he feels about everyone he’s been involved with. Chloe refers to her step-father for the first time as a step-father, without treating him like a beast, mostly because he steps up to the plate and receives more character development in this installment than any which came before it. Then of course there’s the staple relationship between Max and Chloe, which can go a couple different directions, but all of which deepen their emotional personalities. Chloe especially can transform dramatically as she learns of herself in the alternate reality and all of the things Max has endured to try and keep Chloe alive.
The pacing is breakneck, with twists and turns around every corner. Even when there’s not a lot of action, the tension is maintained through profound anticipation and uncertainty towards a character’s fate. This is predominantly observed in talks with Jefferson during our stay in The Dark Room.
Surprisingly, “Polarized” might be the least vulgar episode of the entire series. That being said, there’s still more profane words and hateful statements than most other items we’ve reviewed. Not only do characters frequently degrade and curse at themselves and one another, but there are entire scenes in which hallways are scrawled in statements like “Go to Hell” and “You’re a b***h.”
There’s a hearty amount of violence and death in Episode 5, not all of which is intentional on anybody’s behalf. The apocalyptic storm alone can be responsible for several deaths which Max might help prevent, including people getting crushed by debris and electrocuted. Several people have the opportunity to get bludgeoned or shot. During the “nightmare” sequence, we can witness the initial jump of somebody falling to their deaths, though they fall into light so we never see their end.
Regarding sexual material, there’s almost nothing outside of The Dark Room. In this location Max is drugged, sprawled out half-conscious, and subject to the perverted musings of her professor and assailant. As in the previous episode, The Dark Room has several vague photographs of previous victims, some of which are sexual in nature, others of which are just generally disturbing. Besides The Dark Room, there are options for Max to kiss both a male and female character later in the story.
The only showcases of drug-related paraphernalia are in staged flashbacks from previous episodes where Chloe talks about smoking, and an old mission from Episode 2 where Max needed to collect beer bottles in a junkyard. There’s also the same sedative as seen in Episode 4, which is used to keep Max docile during her stay in The Dark Room.
There’s no outstanding spiritual content in Episode 5. The only relevant material would be the clinch revelation on one character’s part that we can’t escape our fates. It is not our place to play God.
In terms of other negative material, players should be aware of the sheer amount of accusatory remarks in the game. During the nightmare sequence, Max will receive various text messages from people both dead and alive who blast her for the decisions she’s made. They are not gentle remarks, and I found myself as the player feeling distress at how unfair and cruel the comments were. In another scene, Max is harassed by the souls of everyone “destined to die” because of her rewind power, and they make Max doubt her fundamental character and decisions.
Positive material is probably thicker in this final episode than at any other point in the series, as it is the part of the story where conflicts are resolved. Consequently, there are many moments where immorality is defeated through Max’s efforts to thwart her enemies. Some characters die, while more are apprehended by authorities. Max is given the opportunity to compromise her safety to protect and help people endangered by the super tornado. Chloe is able to overcome hatred for her father and realize the selfishness she’s displayed throughout the entire narrative. Themes of determination, compassion, and other benevolent actions pervade the final installment.
In direct opposition to its lack of use in Episode 4, the player is called on to make excessive use of the Rewind power to move the story forward. Combined with a more advanced hide-and-seek mechanic like those we’ve seen in previous episodes, Episode 5 is perhaps the most reliant on gameplay that isn’t point-and-click. During the impending storm at the end of the episode, the player is given several challenges to try and rescue people from danger, most of which require intelligent use of the power in order to save everybody.
Let’s begin with the bad. Firstly, the lip-syncing never did catch up with what I’d considered to be a decent standard. Through all five episodes, this trait has always been lacking. However, this time it was less noticeable, as the voice-acting took an abysmal fall into cheesy territory. Most of my complaint here is regarding the hyper-emotional way in which Max talks to everybody. This is compounded when she’s talking to Chloe, who uses much of the same tonality and feverish, dramatic romping.
Now, that aside, the visuals of this game are at an all-time high. The sheer creative direction of the entire nightmare sequence is outstanding. The art gallery scene in one possible “dimension” is riddled with various artistic renderings, including a neat (if not arbitrary) neon light sculpture. The manipulation of light was used especially well in this episode, granting every setting precisely the mood the writers wanted out of their story in its rapidly changing scenes.
Musically the game is much the same, though more darker tracks are present to account for the settings. One of the ending sequences does possess a new Syd Matters song though, and it is terrific in its ability to encapsulate every thought and feeling the player might be experiencing as the game concludes.
Once presented with what I knew would be the ultimate choice of the whole series, I chose what I believed Max at her core would have chosen: the option which made the most sense with the story and possessed significant poetic appeal. Let me say, I was floored. It was a superb, emotionally fluid method of concluding the series. That being said, I looked up the alternate ending and found it lacking, so I can’t help but feel the writers had my original choice in mind as the “canon” path for the players to take.
All in all, I am satisfied. I was not expecting the series to be as enthralling or whimsical as it was, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to be surprised. While the content concerns throughout the series were a bit excessive, they also added a lot to the flavor of the story. I hate to say it made the narrative more “realistic” because I don’t want to suggest that supplying crude things to a story will always create that result, but in this case it worked in the developer’s favor. Life is Strange had a distinct vibe maintained throughout the whole game, which set it apart from its contemporaries, and that vibe was made whole through all of the content, even some of the darker, meaner stuff.
If you have not begun, I suggest you at least think about playing this game. It does not have stellar gameplay and the crass subject matter might turn some away, but when you peel off those pieces, you are left with a golden story packaged in color, love, and creativity. You are left with something a little wonderful. A little startling. A little strange.
God bless, be strange, and always remember to smile.
(Life is Strange may only be purchased through download and is not available in stores).
+ Low price
+ Narrative fluidly evolves in logical ways
+ Several new environments creatively repackaged
+ Decisions from past episodes still have an impact
+ Delivers on foreshadowing from previous episodes
+ Emphasizes the immense power and ramifications of Max’s Rewind ability
+ “Nightmare” sequence provides more room for actual gameplay
- Several content concerns
- Lip-syncing is still appalling
- Voice acting is uncomfortably dramatic
- Music and scores are recycled with only a few new tracks