I’ve been meaning to write about this since I finished playing but just didn’t have chance until now.
There are spoilers here, but I’m assuming you’re coming to this having played all 4 episodes yourself. Read at your own risk! If you don’t want spoilers, don’t read this post.
Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know how much I have loved this series and Episode 5 is no different. Before I started playing, I knew from the trailers and the end of Episode 4 that this episode was going to be hard going, after all you start by waking up in the dreaded ‘Dark Room,’ awaiting torture and possible death.
The start of this episode feels very similar to other episodes: making choices, rewinding time when things go badly and trying again to make things right and leap to an alternative timeline. I knew this episode was too good to be true when it seemed that my torturer had been caught, arrested and I was on my way to a photography exhibit for the Everyday Heroes competition in the first fifteen minutes or so. Like other episodes in the series, you begin this episode expecting one narrative and you end up with another. This isn’t a bad thing. At least it kept me on my toes.
It turns out that this episode is all about self sacrifice and whilst it may feel good to bust a criminal and reap the rewards, the apocalypse that has been looming over the game for all previous four episodes comes into play now. You have to sacrifice your own success and make changes to the timeline in order to attempt to save Arcadia Bay and your friend Chloe.
The second half of Polarized is innovative in its approach and moves into Twin Peaks territory with it’s surreal scenes that are twisted versions of past events of the last four episodes. I particularly loved the P.T. style corridor scene where every door you step through returns you to the beginning, only with subtle scene differences and the scene in the school hallway where everything is backwards.
However, I was disappointed that the torturer and mastermind of the Dark Room, Mr Jefferson, turned out to be a cliched one dimensional villain. He may as well have been wearing a pencil moustache and laughing with a sinister ‘MWAH HA HA!’ as he spilled the beans about his previous murders and how he had framed Nathan for them. There was also some exposition where he very quickly explained that he had killed Nathan. Given Nathan was meant to be a significant character, I felt a bit short changed here. Besides, if he had killed his scapegoat, then surely it was pointless framing him in the first place? Way to go criminal genius! It felt as though this part had been rushed through to quickly get to the apocalypse.
The final choice between saving Arcadia Bay or sacrificing Chloe has very literally polarized opinion online, with gamers complaining that their choices in previous episodes amount to nothing in this episode’s final moments. But I think they are missing the point.
They are correct. It doesn’t matter what choices Max makes.
In the end, your choice whether to water a plant or report someone having a gun are meaningless. You cannot change the future. It will happen regardless of what you do. (As someone who suffers with an anxiety disorder, this makes perfect sense to me!)
I do understand gamers frustration at lack of player agency in the first half of the episode though. A lot of time is spent watching cut scenes rather than exploring your surroundings and interacting with it. I can’t help wondering if this episode was rushed by developers to satisfy player demand or whether more cut scenes were included to have more control over the player experience for this finale.
I know that some people also had issues with unresolved storylines. It is never explained why Max can suddenly turn back time. For me this wasn’t an issue (I’ve ready plenty of books where the reader has to just accept the status quo – The Road being a notable example) but it is worth mentioning that this is never resolved.
Despite these flaws none of this ruined my opinion of the series and I agonised for some time before making my final choice at the end of the game.
I have to say looking back on the series, Life Is Strange is without doubt my favourite game in years, despite the cheesy dialogue. I will miss the anticipation of waiting for the next episode to be released. I love the immersive world of Arcadia Bay and how this game took risks with narrative and genre. It has had some of the best cliffhangers that I’ve seen in a while (Chloe in a wheelchair at the end of Episode 3 – jeez!) and I think the episodic nature of release has worked to the game’s advantage. I would also replay this game, something that I very rarely do.
It may be over but hey, at least there will finally be some official merc. Hands up who wants a Hot Dog Man t-shirt! 😉