Post Script

Why Life Is Strange’s fi­nale proved so di­vi­sive

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The gam­bit was a bold one, but Dontnod clearly hoped that the cli­mac­tic de­ci­sion of Life Is Strange’s fi­nale would split play­ers – it did, af­ter all, call the episode ‘ Po­lar­ized’. The French stu­dio might not, how­ever, have an­tic­i­pated that the episode it­self would at­tract such op­pro­brium from cer­tain quar­ters, es­pe­cially af­ter such a warm re­cep­tions for both Episode 2: Out Of Time, and Episode 4: Dark Room. If you don’t wish to have any specifics spoiled, how­ever, re­turn to this page af­ter you’ve played the se­ries through to its con­clu­sion.

Still, Po­lar­ized has done ex­actly what its ti­tle threat­ens, di­vid­ing Life Is Strange’s crit­ics and player­base. Some of the crit­i­cisms are easy to understand. It’s hard to credit that any­one thought a forced stealth sec­tion, how­ever brief and sim­ple to com­plete, would be a good idea; like­wise, that an open­ing ex­po­si­tion dump was a suit­able way to ex­plain the rev­e­la­tion of Dark Room’s cliffhanger end­ing. Oth­er­wise, its per­ceived weak­nesses can eas­ily be in­ter­preted as strengths.

Take, for ex­am­ple, its dar­ing de­ci­sion to dis­em­power the player through­out. If Max isn’t trapped in some way or other, help­less to change what’s un­fold­ing in front of her, then her abil­i­ties are only prompt­ing neg­a­tive out­comes. More­over, none of th­ese have any tan­gi­ble nar­ra­tive im­pact, since it all comes down to a sin­gle ei­ther/or choice at the very end. To some, this fa­tally un­der­mined the strong sense of agency we’ve felt as Max. And yet it makes per­fect sense in light of Dontnod’s de­sire to ex­am­ine the phys­i­cal and emo­tional dev­as­ta­tion her choices have wrought. As the storm rips Arcadia Bay apart, we’re given the chance to wit­ness how the lives of its in­hab­i­tants have been changed – for bet­ter and worse – by Max’s in­ter­fer­ence.

The game does this in an un­usu­ally con­fronta­tional way. We’re usu­ally given to be­lieve that the choices we make in games are about do­ing what we think is right. As Max ar­gues with an alternate-re­al­ity version of her­self in the Two Whales café, we’re in­vited to con­sider that there are other con­trib­u­tory fac­tors at play. Here, the cam­era pulls in close to ‘our’ Max as the other one sneers: “Thought you could con­trol ev­ery­body and ev­ery­thing, huh?” while look­ing out of the screen as if ad­dress­ing us di­rectly. It’s a dis­com­fit­ing mo­ment that in­vites a cer­tain self-re­flec­tion; lit­tle won­der it left some feel­ing un­easy.

Per­haps more sig­nif­i­cantly, this se­quence presents an all-too-rare op­por­tu­nity to truly get in­side the head of a char­ac­ter. Max’s in­ner mono­logue has given us some idea of what she thinks about the po­ten­tial con­se­quences of her ac­tions, but sud­denly we’re af­forded an ex­tended glimpse into the in­se­cu­ri­ties, doubts and fears that helped drive those de­ci­sions. At times, this seems al­most un­for­giv­ably harsh on a char­ac­ter who never asked for the pow­ers she was in­ex­pli­ca­bly given – not least when she re­ceives a text from Chloe’s fa­ther, blam­ing her for his death. At the same time, th­ese night­mar­ish scenes are a valu­able – not to men­tion cre­ative and vivid – insight into the mind­set of a woman in­creas­ingly re­al­is­ing she faces an al­most im­pos­si­ble choice.

Mean­while, the time spent away from the cen­tral pair­ing is thrown into sharp re­lief when Max wan­ders through a se­ries of dio­ra­mas of key mo­ments be­tween her and Chole, an ide­alised per­spec­tive of their time to­gether. If what pre­cedes it was de­signed to show that life is more than just a se­ries of high­lights, then this might seem like a con­tra­dic­tion, but it’s a valu­able shaft of light in an episode that’s mostly shade, not to men­tion a de­vi­ous way of making that fi­nal choice of what to sac­ri­fice all the tougher.

Which­ever choice you opt for as Max and Chloe cling to each other in the face of the en­croach­ing mael­strom, it soon be­comes clear the end jus­ti­fies Dontnod’s means. The stats af­ter the cred­its told us the fi­nal per­cent­age split was 53/47. Po­lar­ized, in­deed.

While many choices are swept away in the fi­nal one, the cli­max does play out a lit­tle dif­fer­ently based on your bond

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