Article first published as PlayStation 4 Review: ‘Life is Strange: Episode 5 – Polarized’ from Dontnod on Blogcritics.Borrowing a gameplay mechanic from their last effort, developer Dontnod really created something special with their episodic adventure game, Life is Strange. Like TellTale’s 2012 Game of the Year adaptation of The Walking Dead, Life is Strange expands the adventure game genre. Both games are essentially classic point and click adventure games that explore mature themes. Released three years later, Life is Strange is without a doubt more technically robust. An authentically unique story for a video game paired with more gameplay, makes the game an essential piece of storytelling that more than deserves all of accolades it’s likely to receive.
Dontnod, and their publisher Square Enix deserve a lot of credit for keeping Life is Strange on schedule. The release of Episode 5: Polarized is actually less than ten months from release of the first episode, at the end of January 2015. Their main competition also just wrapped a five-episode adventure game series, but despite their long episodic adventure game pedigree and significantly shorter episodes, it took them over month longer to get them all out. That being said, Episode 5 is the shortest of the Life is Strange episodes and at least for me, it lacked the emotional punch of the previous installments.
It was really the ending of Episode 4: Dark Room that marked the climax of the Life is Strange series. Episode 5: Polarized is all about Max trying to fix that final moment of the previous episode, while trying to ensure a worthy future, in its aftermath. That means there is a lot of time jumping. Of course ever since the lighthouse visions, you always knew that things would get strange, and they do. The toll that time travelling takes on Max, along with some chemical assistance, puts a great deal of the final chapter in Max’s head.
Games like Life is Strange along with Telltale’s various series blur the lines between an interactive story book and a real video game. While the story is certainly engrossing, it’s important that you remember that especially Life is Strange does contain quite a bit of gameplay, and even doubles down on the stealth sequence introduced earlier. While this might seem incongruent, particularly if you’re accustomed to Life is Strange’s more pedestrian competitors. Personally, and as an indie game developer, I’ll take it, and argue that more interaction leads to more player investment.
Like previous episodes, Episode 5: Polarized offers a number of choices and a large number of the game’s puzzles are optional. It’s only your final choice that really changes how the story ends, and that’s unfortunate. Once you get going, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s going to happen, it’s just a question of how you’re going to get there. So, as a stand-alone episode, Polarized is probably the weakest of the five parts. Even if it doesn’t really have any punches left to throw, Episode 5 is still the long awaited end of the tale.
Easily the best traditional adventure game I’ve ever played, Life is Strange isn’t without its flaws. The storytelling is occasionally uneven, and some of the gameplay is confusing. Despite those small complaints, there is nothing else like it. Having played point and click adventure games for decades, I find this rapid evolution of the genre remarkable. The last three years have marked a significant evolution in storytelling in video games, and Square Enix and Dontnod’s Life is Strange is surprisingly at its pinnacle. If I could recommend only one new game this year, Life is Strange would be it.