The final episode of Life Is Strange is out now and you can read our spoiler-free review here. We gave it top marks and it is sure to factor pretty high on our game of the year list when it comes time for all that, but the series being what it is and especially given this is the finale – to really discuss what happens requires a BIG. FAT. SPOILER WARNING.
WARNING: Major spoilers follow for episode five of Life Is Strange. Do not read if you have any intention to play the game.
The coming of age genre has provided me with many of my favourite films: Stand By Me; The Breakfast Club; Dead Poet's Society; Superbad; and more recently The Kings Of Summer. It's a genre video games have rarely tackled, but Life Is Strange has with wonderful results.
Despite the murder mystery, the time-manipulation and alternate realities, Life Is Strange is ultimately about a girl growing up, finding her friends, discovering who she is and fighting her demons. It's this which is at the heart of the finale, Polarized, and not the culmination of a murder investigation.
Chloe has been the series' best character to date, but Polarized lets us better understand Max, with all her doubts and insecurities. Perhaps the best sequence in episode five is the nightmare sequence, in which Max becomes dislodged in time. It's this scene which lays bare her self-doubt and what she hates most about herself. It leads to a conversation between the two sides of Max which only reinforces the understanding of the character we have created for ourselves.
Max gives everything to do the right thing by her best friend, but at the end she must decide between her and the fate of an entire town. It's the ultimate decision of Life Is Strange.
I chose to go back and let Chloe die in the bathroom where it all began. It's not just what she wanted, but the ending that I think the story deserved. The other ending is good in itself – twisted and morbid in a way few video game stories are - but my choice led me to the ending I felt most comfortable with. Others who chose differently may feel the same, and that would only be to the game's credit. the ending I selected seems however to be the ending Dontnod preferred, as the alternative is fairly short where it could have explored just how dark it is.
The final choice is also a decision between wiping out all of the decisions you've made or keeping them. I chose the former, and that may anger some players who don't want their work undone, but that's precisely why the other option is there. Whether or not your decisions mean much comes down to another decision.
Even then, if you eradicate all that happened, Max still has the memories of her renewed friendship with Chloe that she wouldn't have had if she had not once saved her life. She will also carry with her the blessing Chloe gave her to do what she did.
Polarized begins with a wonderful fake-out as Max successfully escapes the Dark Room by - as everyone predicted – using a photograph to go back in time beyond the reach of her immediate rewinding ability. I wondered if the Jefferson murder mystery might have been tied up too neatly, but it soon becomes clear that isn't the case.
This is where one of the episode's two problems occur. Max very easily forgets about the storm, only learning of it once she is in San Francisco at the Everyday Heroes gallery. Perhaps she thought saving Chloe would stop the storm, but that perhaps was a little too much of a leap. Also, later, when Max explains her powers to Warren, he accepts it all far too easily – even for someone so hopelessly smitten.
These are minor points overpowered by the scenes that surround them. We see Max succeed, fail and constantly using her powers in pursuit of a perfect ending – the kind of which binary decision-led games use as bait – but such an end isn't possible and never was. Max has the ability to save people, but not everyone, and certainly at a great cost.
The episode does well to keep Chloe's eventual appearance at bay. Every scene the two share is brilliant and touching. I wanted to save her but the dialogue at the end convinced me to do what Max wouldn't have wanted to do, but which my Max would have done at her friend's request – just as she had helped her slip away in the alternate reality. In fact, when it occurred, that decision was the toughest of the series. I went back and forth for ages, which made this final decision simpler.
On the way to her reunion with Chloe, Max finds closure with David, telling him she knows he's a good man, Frank, acknowledging the love he had for Rachel, and Warren, giving him a final goodbye kiss. All of which could have turned out differently for different players.
The romance was brilliantly understated in Life Is Strange but works whatever the outcome. I never intended Max and Chloe to be in love, I always thought of their relationship as friendship and nothing more. Whether a romance there undermines what should be kept platonic I don't know, I just know I'm happy with my choices.
It was clear early on that there shouldn't be a perfectly happy ending, and along the way I made choices I came to regret, but they carried me to a conclusion I loved for the story being told. There are two very different endings and each player's distinct journey to the conclusion will inform their agonising decision. That's why Life Is Strange succeeds.