Review: Life Is Strange: Episode 5, Polarized (PS4)

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Title: Life Is Strange: Episode 5, Polarized
Format: PlayStation Network Download (3.25 GB)
Release Date: July 28, 2015
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: DONTNOD
Original MSRP: $4.99 (Single Episode) / $19.99 (Complete Season)
ESRB Rating: M
Life is Strange is also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Reviews of Previous Episodes:
Review: Life Is Strange: Episode 1, Chrysalis (PS4)
Review: Life Is Strange: Episode 2, Out of Time (PS4)
Review: Life Is Strange: Episode 3, Chaos Theory (PS4)
Review: Life Is Strange: Episode 4, Dark Room (PS4)

Due to this being the finale, this will be the most vague of my reviews.

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Gameplay:
Polarized opens just about where you’d expect but there are surprises right from the start.

Max is wearing an interesting death’s head moth t-shirt. It’s brown, the color of the earth. An ominous distinction? While this particular moth has given rise to superstitions surrounding death, the moth has some interesting characteristics such as its ability to squeeze air out of its phalanx and emit a loud squeak to frighten predators and it’s tendency to raid beehives for honey.

We have seen the developers of Life is Strange use moth imagery before but never like this. Perhaps this is an early indication that Max will not be merely reactionary in this episode but instead lead the charge against the seeming swarm of enemies with which she has had to contend to date. I have several plays-through to find out. And so do you.

Almost immediately we get that trope of the villain explaining his motive, but with the exception of specifics. Having played the previous four episodes and having talked with other NPCs, the blanks are easy to fill-in to a degree.

The feeling of helplessness which descends is great game-making. To deliberately engender the same emotions in the player as the character played is incredibly difficult, but achieve it DONTNOD has. 

… I feel like a participant …
To say that the time-rewind mechanic of this game is showing itself to be a brilliant tool for storytelling would be like saying the aeroplane made human flight possible. Duh! Hella duh!

I have never felt this powerful in a video game. Twist!

I am relieved and happy to report that any fear I had about a homophobic thread running through the game has been squelched. Examples of homophobia are important to show as long as the narrative shows them for the backward intolerance they are, particularly in a country where four times as many LGBTQ kids commit suicide than their heterosexual peers. And by the very way, why are any statistics regarding youth suicide not a call to arms about our nation’s kids?

This game deals with the lives of teens. Suicide among teens is a reality. So many teens play video games that the games can be a lifeline! I think Life Is Strange takes a tentative step in that direction. A strong but tentative step.
 
Again to the idea of taking just the right photo, which is a game mechanic and a theme in the game. As a reviewer who takes his own screenshots to include in the review, I feel like a participant in the same way I felt like a victim in the opening of this episode.

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Insert twist here. Also twist again, like you did last Summer. This episode is very twisty which is exactly what you want.

Due to the nature of this final episode I will not go on and on about it. Instead I suggest you play it. If you have been waiting for the whole game to be available, my advice is to start at the beginning. And play every episode three times as you make three different choices for three different game saves. Only then will you begin to grasp the complexity of the choices available to you.

… one can hear the fingers on the frets …
Visuals:
In Polarized, the game engine’s ability to work light and shadow is on great display.

Life Is Strange has always been a nice game to look at but in this finale DONTNOD seems to have really turned it up to eleven. There was a brief moment when one NPC looked almost photo-realistic.

Audio:
One slight disappointment is the use of the same voice actors from the main story for various NPCs in one populated scene where you have to engage numerous strangers. Unfortunately the actors weren’t experienced enough to vary their tone, timbre, and in several cases even the cadence of their speech patterns.

Glaringly, one stranger is voiced by the same actor who plays another character they are talking about while they sound just like that character! Perhaps few gamers will pick-up on that. But I sure did. It’s something a voice-over director should also have noticed. Sometimes they have the same accents! Like Joyce’s Southern accent.

The musical score is lovely. It’s mainly beautiful guitar riffs which were recorded live because one can hear the fingers on the frets. DONTNOD has truly labored over this series with such affection for their work.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online components.

… every character has been changed by the events …
Conclusion:
This game taken as a whole resembles a season of Angel or maybe Season Six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You begin right where you expected but by the end every character has been changed by the events. In true Joss Whedon fashion some characters just do not make it. Tara anyone? Fred’s dead… or is she REALLY?

The step Life Is Strange is able to take that filmed media can’t, or hasn’t yet, by virtue of it being a videogame, is that you get to use another save file to try again. You can save people! Just not everyone. Or CAN you?

There are several mechanics which influence the timeline. Rewinding time is only the most basic, but even that can have serious repercussions for the future. Max’s ability to focus on a photograph and enter the timeline in the past represented by the photo, yet retain her her cognizance of the present, will alter the present.

These two mechanics effect and affect the tumblers of time in such a profound way that by the end of the game the tornado has hit the fan and blown the blades asunder.

The game developers have achieved the impossible. The programming and flow charting and animating and writing dialogue for all the myriad choices each gamer makes as the episodes progress and interact with one another becomes progressively more maddeningly complex. And there are five episodes. No wonder there are five episodes. No wonder the release dates were flexible. No wonder it took from February to October to deliver this game one awesome piece at a time. Life Is Strange is a staggering achievement.

… something as profound as this …
There were only two games, until now, that I would say all lovers of video gaming and narrative must play. They were Journey and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. Life Is Strange enters that lexicon making a triforce. Yeah, play those too.

I know one thing. I hope that after I am gone from this timeline, I had the opportunity to leave something as profound as this.

I was in awe of the achievement made by The Chinese Room on Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture. I still am. I stand by that. This is a different kind of achievement for a different kind of gaming experience. They are apples and giraffes as far as comparisons. I also stand by my low grade for the penultimate Episode Four because that was my experience in my real-world timeline. But as this marvelous and groundbreaking game proves, the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. Mathematics just do not apply.

A word about my score for this game. I am well aware of the tizzy had by the Internet whenever a game gets a score of 10. The conventional wisdom is that it must be without the smallest flaw. That a “10 MUST BE ABSOLUTELY PERFECT IN EVERY WAY!!!!” Reviewers of video games across the web have been pushing back against that impossible achievement.

As close to perfection as possible. That is the PS Nation requirement for a score of 10 and that is what Life is Strange, as a whole, obtains.

Score:
10

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Keith Dunn-Fernández

Keith Dunn-Fernández

An actor/director and more lucratively an Administrative Assistant at a small paper company in NYC, Keith loves his games. And he loves to write. And he is a bit of a sarcasmo.

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