The fourth episode of developer Dontnod’s episodic, time-traveling teen adventure game Life Is Strange ended in such a shocking and surprising way that it made me forget that this was a series about temporal manipulation, so I couldn’t really expect those developments to stick.
That doesn’t lessen their impact, however, and Episode 5, Polarized, puts you in the unenviable position of saving a town while dealing with the consequences of all that rewinding, resetting, and retconning you’ve been doing all this time. Slight spoiler: consequences exist, and they’re weirder than you’d think.
Polarized is out now for PlayStation 4 (reviewed version), Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, and it brings the series to an epic conclusion that still manages to be highly personal. You really don’t want to miss this one.
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What you’ll like
The uses of the time-travel concept are interesting (and slightly crazy)
I’m referring more to how Max’s powers show up in the story here; it still limits you to the ability to rewind while you’re playing. But Polarized takes the main character’s secondary ability to transport herself years into the past by using photographs and goes nuts with it.
Max goes back in time, has jumps within jumps, fixes mistakes, creates new ones, has to go back to fix those, gets stuck, and has to deal with the unpredictability of jacking with the time stream. It makes for a great story, and it feels like the developers sat in a room, came up with a list of awesome time-travel stuff, and then found ways to fit them all into this episode. If you’re as interested in this area of sci-fi/fantasy as I am, you’ll find a lot to nerd out about here.
As for you, playing the game, you have a little less to do, but the stakes are so high at this point that every mini-puzzle feels important. Every time you rewind, you’re saving lives (not just your own), and so while these segments aren’t quite as interesting or clever as the ones in previous installments, they always carry weight.
No choice is the ‘correct’ one
This could go either way, really, especially if you’re an habitual second-, third-, or fourth-guesser like I am. But when Polarized throws down a critical decision point, you can always weigh the good and bad of either option. It ultimately comes to one major decision, and I’m not going to ruin it here, but what felt like “the right thing to do” while I was playing presented more problems when I thought about it afterward.
This episode will rattle around in your brain long after you’ve finished it, and it makes you want to go back and see how things might have turned out otherwise.
You feel the weight of your actions
Like Tales from the Borderlands before it, Life Is Strange wastes no opportunity in its final episode to show you how you’ve affected the world. And I’m not just talking about that poor plant that I drowned a few chapters back; I mean that I had people die here that I had no idea I could have saved. Max made sure to comment on “her” mistake so that the guilt could really hit me, and that just made me want to go back and fix everything.
That’s really the emotional component of time travel, and Life Is Strange nails it for both its characters and the real-life people controlling them.
What you won’t like
Time travel has a way of deadening reactions
I mentioned in the intro that the shocking conclusion of Episode 4 made me forget that time travel was a free pass to undo everything, but I remembered quickly enough. And Polarized has so many temporal shenanigans, with Max hopscotching back and forth across the timeline that by the end, that it gets a little hard to see the urgency in anything. Sure, you have important things to do, but you also have as many tries as you need to get them right. And any time Max returned to the present with a horrifying new reality, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I would be resetting the continuity once again.
Of course, I was assuming that everything would turn out alright in the end, and it didn’t have to. But if you step out of the moment-to-moment events of Polarized, you might get a little time-jaded.
Life Is Strange’s conclusion is as effective and powerful an ending as we could hope for. It’s been an emotional, haunting, and often ridiculous time following Max and her friends on their timey-wimey quest, and I’m going to miss them.
Life Is Strange, Episode 5: Polarized is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. GamesBeat purchased its own PlayStation 4 copy for this review.