“You don’t get a photo op like this every day . . .”
* This review will contain spoilers for Life is Strange
For four episodes, Dontnod Entertainment successfully weaves a story together involving teen angst, tragedy, and time travel. Max’s journey discovering the meaning of her powers is full of twists and turns, which notably took a shockingly dark turn at the climax of episode four, Dark Room. Having learned the truth about Rachel Amber, Nathan Prescott, and Mark Jefferson, Miss Caulfield must find a way to save Chloe, Arcadia Bay, and herself. Life is Strange‘s greatest strength was its ability to create a profound, tragic, and supernatural story without abusing Max’s powers as a deus ex machina. Polarized unfortunately fails to wrap the excellent writing up well in nearly every area.
The episode begins with Max waking from the drugs she was dosed with. What follows is roughly two and a half hours of inconsistent, and sometimes nonsensical events. Granted, a teenage girl with superpowers is likely to make irrational decisions that aren’t well thought out. However, this ultimately creates an extremely unsatisfying and frustrating experience for the player in a time where the finale must come through strongly. Issues that could division amongst fans in the past, such as spending an episode creating an alternate timeline only to wipe it out, happen not once, but several times throughout Polarized. It develops a predictable pattern, causing players to see where things are going before they even have a chance to get moving. The helpless repetition overwhelmingly hints to a predictable ending as well.
The standout problem with episode five is that the writing seems to indicate that Dontnod completely overlooked the storm threat introduced in the first episode. Max and Chloe’s search for Rachel built up so nicely to the revelation about Jefferson that it overlooked other plot points that desperately needed more attention. It’s always been obvious that the bizarre occurrences and inevitable disasters are a direct result of Max’s disturbance of space time. Truth is, the butterfly effect, time travel story has been seen and done many times before. It is most disappointing that Life is Strange ended up relying on the same type of expected ending. What will depress players most is to find that, by the end, very few of their choices ever made any impact on the end result.
There were a few areas that the story was understandably trying to present. The fate and ultimate destination of those we care about is written in stone, and nothing we do can change it. In addition, when we try to change things for the “better,” we overlook the major theme of the game – every action has a reaction. The issue in a game full of choices is that gamers do not feel rewarded or as though they had any part to play. I found myself not caring at all about the final choices in the game, as I had accepted that none of it really mattered. Dontnod did, at least, give us answers regarding the characters we questioned all game such as David Madsen and Nathan Prescott, but failed to answer more important questions about the whole cause of the game’s events.
In addition with narrative issues, the game continues to rely on time reversal puzzles that tack on an unfortunate amount of unenjoyable playtime to the experience. It is simply not enjoyable to click through option after option, to rewind and rewind, only to reach yet another dead-end. There is also a sneaking segment in the last hour, which, while not frustrating, is completely bizarre and felt totally out of place. It crushed any hope of developing a quicker pace to roll us into the finale.
It is incredibly unfortunate that an otherwise enjoyable, well-written series was so badly tainted by a predictable and unsatisfying ending. Where other episodes built up to exciting and emotional moments, while providing thought-provoking character moments, Polarized stumbles to the finish line. Sadly, it forgot many other issues that needed addressing somewhere along the way.
Look forward to a review of the entire series soon.