- Same great story
- Amazing voice acting
- Odd design choices
- Lackluster facial animations
My return to Arcadia Bay has become one of the games greatest moments for me. I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy just booting up the game, watching picturesque vistas unfold before me, all set to games’ charming musical score. But after episode four, this (and everything else you hold dear about this game) has been ripped away. Due to the narrative taking such a dark turn, Arcadia Bay has become increasingly haunting.
In Polarized, episode 5 of the series, players pick up immediately where they left off. Max Caulfield, the time traveling teenager, is in deep trouble. After following the trail of clues alongside her troublemaking best friend Chloe, every action players have taken and choices they have made will come to a head. In using her powers to help those around her and searching for Chloe’s missing friend Rachel Amber, this duo has uncovered something insidious taking place in their sleepy town. Max has also found that even though she now has a working grasp of her powers, she still doesn’t fully understand the impact she has made on the world around her by using her powers.
This episode, however, begins with a torture scene that may or may not warrant a warning of some sort. The serial killer leaving a path of destruction across the town of Arcadia Bay, poses our heroine in sick bondage portraiture. However, what is supposed to be a chilling moment, is at times marred by the main villains stereotypical “let me tell you all about my plan, before I kill you” rant. Groggy and fearing for her life, we must aid in Max’s escape from his clutches. The rest of the episode plays out as a game of cat and mouse, in which some very early lines and moments of the series are re-introduced, this time with a brilliantly dark meaning. With the dark and frantic tone of this episode, similar to the last, I found myself compromising who I had played as in the past. For example, in my desperation to save Chloe once again, I ignored the pleas of a character begging for her life. Throughout every episode thus far, I had protected this NPC, and I found myself guiltlessly running past her in the fear that maybe if I took too long, the window of opportunity to save my- Max’s best friend would close. All of this being a testament to the real emotional attachment Dontnod can foster between players and characters.
One might think that by the final installment of an episodic series there might not be much experimentation, but Dontnod continues to attempt to push the envelope. Sadly, this attempt comes in the form of an easily manipulated stealth sequence. While many have discredited this sequence, I actually enjoyed it. The second act of Polarized takes on an Xfiles/Twin Peaks approach to storytelling, delving deep into the psyche of our main character. In these dreamlike sequences, we see the mind of a broken hero, a young woman who is desperately afraid but has no choices left except to continue for someone she deeply loves. In the first few episodes we faced tangible dangers, violence and scandal, but now we face internal fears. Max Caulfield is like any other young adult, filled with doubt and fear of failure. Delving into her mind produces some eerie and chilling sequences, but ones that are key to understanding who Max has become.
In a game about choice and consequence, there is bound to be a final choice that will challenge everything that players have come to understand about the story thus far. Life Is Strange delivers on that promise in ways other titles have not in the past (*cough* Mass Effect 3 *Cough*). Without spoiling anything, players are given the choice to sacrifice others, or their own happiness. Whichever you choose leads to a fulfilling ending, but the game will guilt the hell out of you for choosing yourself first. In a “choose your own adventure” style game, it feels unfair that I feel nudged towards one ending, which is coincidentally much more fleshed out.
Wonderful voicework consistent with the rest of the series helps make this entry as emotionally gripping as ever. Players can feel deep pain, happiness, and fear in these characters (despite some lackluster facial animations). When Chloe is crying, I believe someone is actually crying, when max worries, I can sense her deep seated fears. Life is Strange’s cast don’t feel like lifeless NPC’s but like actual people, with whom I have shared memories.
The music and art style have always played an integral role in this series, and just as familiar lines make a return in Polarized, previously heard tracks will help fuel an emotional arc that truly draws a reaction from the player. Some animation feels rushed, especially facial animation during intense dialogue.I found myself feeling more immersed in the narrative by reading the captions onscreen and listening to the voice actors, rather than watching characters’ faces.
Life is Strange: Polarized is in no way perfect, but it is as wildly ambitious as it’s predecessors. A charming cast of characters and a deep connection between them will make you, the player, just as attached. Somehow, between the sleepy yet sometimes angsty score, and the small town visuals, Dontnod has captured what it is to be a young adult. They have perfectly wrapped up the bombastic and the ethereal, the fantastic and the mundane to create something unique. By challenging real world issues such as suicide and rape, and creating empowering female characters, Life is Strange proves that games are not simply toys, but true narrative tools. All in all, Life is Strange is a title that reminds me why I love videogames. This series is definitely worth your time, money, and at least a few playthroughs. Goodbye Arcadia Bay, and thank you.