Life is Strange Episode 5: Polarized review

I’ve enjoyed the Life is Strange season so far. It’s hard to believe that it’s now coming to an end, since it’s initial episode release in February. It has taken an age to conclude, yet it’s with some regret that this is the last in this season. Let’s dive in and hope for a spoiler-free event.

The opening scenes will remind you of the past four episodes and reality comes flooding back for Max as the enormity of her situation becomes apparent. The storm is raging, Max isn’t in a position to get to safety and you’re left wondering how you’re going to get to safety. You’ve got limited mobility at this time and Max’s ‘Focus’ ability to enter photos will come into play. It all goes a little bit ‘Inception’ on us from here and realities get more and more intertwined. You play out a conversation with the only other person in the room to set up a sequence of events to allow you to dive into a picture.

This became a little bit of a drag after the 2nd or 3rd attempt, but persevere and you’ll get there. Once you’ve got those in the right order, Max has a number of tasks to try to complete in the confines of those photos and the puzzles are pretty straight-forward to begin with. There are photo opportunities to grab throughout this sequence too, to give you some more gamer points, and I know I’m going to have to replay the whole season again as I know I’ve missed a boat-load of them.

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The story here takes a bit of a bizarre twist. As Max goes from photo to photo, altering time, saving friends and dropping others into the mire, the focus changes as each sequence completes. These show how Max’s actions have changed history for the residents of Arcadia Bay, but the storm is still approaching.

This section, if I’m honest, feels a little like you’re being led around by the nose. Your path wasn’t necessarily linear in the previous episodes, but in Polarized, it’s apparent that this path is leading Max to a conclusion, for good or ill. Max is encouraged to ‘Focus’ on photos a few more times, in a desperate attempt to change the past, but the strains of Max using her power begins to take its toll and as suddenly as Max’s life looks to be taking a turn for the better, she’s back to square one.

The effect on Max at this point is plain to see and her actions are more born of survival and desperation in the choices on offer than anything else. These interactions are a combination of measured logical thinking and some blind luck in the interactive object spotting. There’s an altercation to be had and Max pretty much must beg for her life to start the chain of events that leads to her eventual rescue. Here, too, there’s a major decision to be had and this ultimately decides a major character’s fate.

After this scene, Max is left to her own devices, but missing a vital part of her inventory, and with the storm raging outside, her decision is to head towards familiar ground. Desperate to pass on some news, and to find one more photo to ‘Focus’ into, Max heads to the Two Whales Diner, where her friend Warren holds on to something that she needs.

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The journey to the diner starts by stealing a car, and after a Life is Strange, infamous Indie short musical interlude while she drives through the weather, Max pulls up a close as she can, being forced to walk the rest of the journey. This is not as easy as it sounds however. The wind howls around Max and the rain lashes against her. Here you’ll have to use Max’s time-bending powers to avoid obstacles and work out how to save some of the residents of Arcadia Bay. This section is again, a little disappointing as all of the opportunities to save the population are optional. The episode would have been better served to focus on this rather than something that happens much more towards the end of the Season.

Having battled your way through the average UK Autumn weather to the Diner, you need to think quickly in order to be able to get in. There’s yet another photo opportunity here, although quite why Max would take time out to snap off a picture in that weather is beyond me. Inside the Diner is Warren, Chloe’s mum Joyce and drug-dealer Frank, who looks inconsolable. You can talk to all three, with a minor choice to be made for Frank and Joyce, but it’s Warren who you’ll really need to talk to, to get your hands on that photo.

All of this culminates in Max finding Chloe and convincing her to carry out some instructions to finally alter the timeline for good, right? Here’s where the story takes an even stronger turn for the weird and again, it feels like you’re just being led around. There are flashbacks, some bizarre imagery and very few puzzles from here on in. The last quarter of this episode really does take you on a trip, in more ways than one, and I was left wondering if all this was simply a dream.

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There’s still a further plot-twist though, and the very final choice to be made. The ultimate choice that challenges Max’s beliefs and tests her mental resolve. It’s an emotional scene from Dontnod and it’s an agonising choice to make to round the Season off. The episode explores darkness and light, in more ways than the visual spectrum, and the play of shadow and shade on people’s lives.

Life is Strange Episode 5 rounds the season off in a rather bizarre fashion, and oddly, it didn’t appeal to me as much as the previous episodes. The gameplay seems to want to lead you around by the nose and the puzzles, when they do present themselves, are far too simple, or devilishly difficult. There’s no in-between. It’s almost as if the writers have wanted to tie up all of the loose ends in the story before they can be satisfied that this season is done and dusted. That’s fine, to a degree, but it made for a slightly more surreal than necessary ending to what has been an excellent foray into the life of a teen and the amazing powers that any one of them could possess. I’ve enjoyed Life is Strange greatly as an entire season though, and there’s certainly more replay value in the fact that I’ve missed so many achievements and would like to see what happens when I change my personal choices. Dontnod and Square Enix have a hit combination on their hands overall though, despite dropping the c-bomb in this final episode, and I can’t wait for Season 2 – hopefully we haven’t seen the last of Max and Arcadia Bay!

Thanks to Xbox and Square Enix for their support.

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