We all knew at the end of Life is Strange: The Dark Room, we’d be in for some sort of fucked up, twisted, partially unpredictable conclusion to the epic five episode saga. I will admit, there were a couple of times where I stood up and screamed, “I KNEW IT!” But, that never bothered me – everyone had different decisions, different theories and predictions, and while some things were obvious, the way you got to those things were not.
The community surrounding the game on social media and Reddit has been alive throughout the whole thing, providing comfort for those who opened up because the game helped them cope with something, discussing serious matters (like bullying, after Episode 2) and coming together to talk about the emotions their Life is Strange experience initiated.
Part of me never wanted Life is Strange to end, in fear of the ending being complete crap, or questions never being answered. Without spoiling too much, as expected, there is more than one ending. Due to playing this late last night, I chose one [versus going into my second playthrough], and looked up the other on YouTube. Both are incredibly well done, and both made me cry (a lot). Although some people will argue there is a “good” and “bad” ending, I disagree and say it’s more of a “positive overall” and “negative overall.”
[alert type=”green”]Minor spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.[/alert]
The game opens up right where we left off with the previous episode, in the Dark Room. This episode as a whole, and this particular portion of the episode, are not for the faint of heart. Jefferson’s dark side is something that makes American Horror Story look like unicorns and rainbows. The way he speaks to Max, the way he speaks to himself, and about himself, are truly disturbing. Derek Phillips, Jefferson’s voice actor, does a phenomenal job nailing different pitches which signify the character’s different personalities and moods. From there, the game only gets deeper, and darker.
Polarized is a unique experience, and by far my favorite episode. Something I don’t want to spoil completely and as little as possible, I want to address the bigger picture. The game has been a bit of a mindfuck the whole way, but the conclusion was a mindfuck like I had never before experienced. If you took a little P.T., mixed in some of those Animus puzzles from Assassin’s Creed: II and Brotherhood, and sprinkled the nightmares from Mass Effect 3 on top, you’d get Polarized.
Towards the end of the episode, you’re put in a very stressful situation, which legitimately caused me to panic. My heartbeat escalated, I began to sweat, and my breaths were short. I had to take my headphones off, and step away for about ten minutes. The game had gotten to my head in a way not even movies have, and I needed to stop, breathe, and remind myself everything was okay. It made you think of everything you’ve done thus far, and relive it in every way possible – both the good, and the bad. I have only played through once, and I counted a total of six different timelines.
After finishing Life is Strange, I realized it’s not about DONTNOD being able to produce a good video game. It was about teaching life’s hardest lessons in a medium widely-accepted by the world. That there is a very, very big difference in doing something for the greater good of your own life, and the greater good of those around you. That no matter how shitty a person may seem, everyone can be vulnerable, and everyone can forgive, and be forgiven. Through the various timelines, you interact with characters in ways you would not have, given the original circumstances. David, Nathan, and even Principal Wells have soft sides, and the potential to be good people.
There are many consequences to changing time repeatedly, Max learns. Things that are changed for selfish reasons can cause harm to so many others. This isn’t the first time we are taught this lesson, but it is more powerful with each appearance. As Max sat at the booth in the Two Whales Diner, she tells herself, “Max, give yourself a minute to do nothing.” I realized we, as stressed-out people, do not do that enough, and need to more often. It was that moment I realized if I had the ability to change time, and save my grandfather, it may have caused so much more pain in my life. It was that moment I realized I wasn’t just playing a game anymore – I was being a told a story of what can happen if we don’t appreciate ourselves, those around us, and become more altruistic.
A lot of people found the middle episodes weak, and some didn’t want to play past the first episode. If you are one of those people, and hesitant about completing the series, I recommend you pick it up and finish. While some gameplay elements may not be perfect, the story’s conclusion and message is. With a soundtrack so on-point it hurts, mind games that leave you in a trance for a while, and some of the most relate-able characters we’ve seen in gaming, Life is Strange is my game of the year for 2015.
This review of Life is Strange Episode Five: Polarized is based on a digital copy for the PC which was paid for out-of-pocket.