And here we are, at the end.
This is going to be review of the entirety of Life Is Strange as well as the final episode, Polarized. Unlike my previous reviews, it will be as vague as possible and will contain no spoilers. Swing back over to the episode one review to get an explanation of the general plot and gameplay, and then read on to find out if it was all worth it in the long run.
…I mean the answer to that is “yes”, but read the rest anyway.
At the end of episode 4 Max and Chloe found themselves in a precarious situation, having just solved the big central mystery of the series. At the beginning of the final chapter Max is once again forced to rely on her time travel powers to try and make things right, but in the process she’ll have to face up to the reality she’s been desperately running away from all this time: sometimes you just can’t fix everything. Life is always sad and painful (and, yes, strange), and the best we can do is do the best with what we have.
Episode five has proven to be polarizing (joakes); prior to playing it I found myself fretting over descriptions like “train wreck” and “hot garbage”. Now that I’m on the other side I’m kind of baffled by those reactions. I found that the ending wrapped everything up in a satisfying way, paid off all the big emotional beats that had been building for the last four episodes and tried some daring new directions as well. Pretty much the only thing that isn’t addressed at all is the actual origin and nature of Max’s time control powers (the characters even pointedly talk about how they’re never going to be able to solve this mystery), but I had stopped expecting the game to provide any answers on that front a long time ago. That’s just not where Life Is Strange’s priorities were, and I’m okay with that.
If episode five has a flaw it’s that it tries to do too much in too short a time, but then that’s not surprising because over-stuffing itself has been the game’s achilles heel from the start. Looking back over the full breadth of the story, it’s clear now that it tried to juggle far too many characters and plotlines when Chloe and Max should have been the sole focus. Even though previous episodes took ample time to give us the two of them interacting and expanding their relationship, I still found myself wanting more, and episode five was no exception. Yes, game, it’s cool that you’re taking these unusual tonal shifts and playing with the gameplay mechanics in interesting ways, but that’s not really what I’m here for.
My opinion on the game comes with a heavy amount of personal bias, I’ll freely admit. I identified heavily with Max as a character. Like, heavily. This is maybe the first game I’ve ever played where I felt as though I was essentially playing as myself, and as it turns out that kind of emotional connection can paper over a lot of flaws. The character animations are weird and stiff? Don’t care. The over-stuffed nature of the plot leads to some rushed pacing, sometimes at critical moments? Shrug. The teen-speak was cringe-inducing? Whatever. I just wanted to spend more time walking in Max Caulfield’s shoes. Everything else came second.
(And actually I started liking the teen speak eventually)
There is probably a better, leaner version of Life Is Strange that cuts down on the plot complexity and dials things back to focus more heavily on the central relationship. Does part of me wish we got that game instead of this one? Sure, a bit. But what we got is flawed, beautiful, moving and artistically interesting. It’s exactly the kind of game I want more of, and just because it doesn’t work perfectly doesn’t mean I’m not going to applaud it.
You might not agree. There’s a good chance you won’t, in fact– while the reviews for the previous episodes weren’t as all over the place as they were for episode five, there’s no denying Life Is Strange has received a distinctly mixed reaction. But for me it represents something special and personal, warts and all.
Hella thanks, Dontnod. I’m glad you got to make this game.