There’s a real rawness to the emotions I feel as the final episode of Life Is Strange comes to a close. I’ve made countless decisions over the five instalments that have led to this point, some of them trivial, others that decide someone’s fate, and yet I’ve been powerless to stop the story from spiralling out of my control.
For all the serenity of Arcadia Bay’s coastal town and the warm glows of the autumnal sunshine, it hides a dark and disturbing secret that finally came into view over the course of the fourth episode, with Dontnod masterfully delivering yet another in a series of heart-wrenching moments. Yet, with the ability to rewind time, it’s only Max and you, the player, who has all of these moments as memories.
Over the course of the series, we’ve seen Max’ abilities morph. While initially met with an element of glee, as the bedrock of a rediscovered friendship between Max and Chloe, they were soon undercut with a sense of fragility as well as the severe and wide-reaching consequences that they can have. Ultimately, the finale explores one last aspect that is so common in time travel fiction: futility.
Time and again, Max is able to manipulate time from the unsettling and perilous situation that she found herself in at the end of the fourth episode, to reach back in time and try to alter events. Yet for every attempt, another avenue is cut off, another series of cataclysms and unforeseen consequences comes to the fore, and all in the darkening shadow of the vast tornado that Max’ very first vision of the future foretold. It leans heavily on science fiction tropes and existing ideas on time travel, certainly, but the time manipulation serves as a very effective crutch to the characters, their relationship and the story that Dontnod have woven.
Throughout the five episodes, they’ve dealt with a lot of difficult and mature topics, both in terms of how we face mortality, but also within the very real daily lives of teenagers at college or university. Every time, they’ve handled them in an accomplished fashion, while supporting them with the emotional impact that they deserve, regardless of how your choices impact the events.
The finale sees many of the decisions that you made along the way bear out in both major and minor ways. Characters may or may not appear, they might have something to say about how the railway had to be shut down for example, or might extend an olive branch to resolve a more antagonistic relationship. However, it’s not just you that has been making decisions. You may have been able to pick and choose and alter the way that the story has flowed, but much like a stream that grows into a river, you cannot alter the overall destination.
In trying to rewrite history so drastically, both your decisions and the underlying choices and interactions that Max had with other characters along the way come to be viewed in a very different light. Max’s deep-seated uncertainty and insecurity over who she is and her actions only serve to amplify the introspective look back at the journey so far. Not all of it hits home, especially as one or two moments stall in order to present you with some admittedly imaginative puzzles, rather than drive the story forward, but when the story has been spread out over the course of nine months, it still does well to build up to those climactic moments.
The fifth episode has the exact same flaws and problems as the first though. The game’s art style features a wonderful painterly effect, that’s subtly ironic given the fixation on photography as Max’ chosen line of artistry, and while some of the camera angles are excellently placed to capture the environments, when they do need to come in and focus closely on the characters, there’s a distinct lack of nuance to the facial animation and their mouths are distractingly out of sync with the lines of dialogue that are being delivered.
It’s a shame, because this is quite easily the most emotionally charged episode, and this is only strengthened by the typically excellent soundtrack. Tempers flare, tears stream and voices wail, and the faces and lips just don’t do enough to back them up. Thankfully, though it is occasionally distracting, it does little to detract from the story as a whole and the key choices and decision making that you have to go through. If Dontnod are to create a follow up, as they have said they would like to do with a fresh cast of characters, this is one of the key areas that they will need to improve upon, and hopefully with a larger budget so that they don’t need to make compromises elsewhere.
- A fitting finale to an outstanding season.
- Those last few heart wrenching decisions.
- Another clever exploration of time manipulation and causality.
- Excellent soundtrack that underscores emotions.
- Dodgy lip synching.
- A handful of slower moments sap some momentum.
The fifth and final episode of Life Is Strange is a satisfying ending to what has been one of the best examples of modern storytelling within games. The elements of time travel have ben a fascinating and interesting hook that has allowed Dontnod to explore several characters and relationships, to the backdrop of a college campus that’s steeped in mystery. It has its weaknesses and flaws as a game, but this is a deeply impactful game that shouldn’t be missed.
Please note that this score reflects Life Is Strange as a whole.
Version tested: PlayStation 4
Great game, got the Plat last night. Its been a joy to play. Where games such as Walking Dead have lost my attention, this one has had me waiting for each episode with a high level of anticipation. This story is done but I hope Dontnod come back with another tale to tell.
I’ve been waiting for the series to conclude before diving in, just wish it was on Vita.
It was great for the first 3 episodes. Then the first part of episode 4 suffered from a common time travel problem which shows up again at the end of episode 5 (depending on which ending you want, I guess). And the reveal at the end of episode 4 was one of those horrible “yes, it all technically makes sense now, but you’d never have worked it out and everything was pushing you towards a different theory anyway”.
Would have been a 9, but half of the final 2 episodes (including 1 ending) drag it down to an 8 at best. Possibly less. Except even those bits I didn’t like had their good points.
Still absolutely worth playing though. And one of the optional photos (that give you trophies) in episode 5 appears to not work. Until you realise why. Then it’s a wonderful little bit of logic.
Sounds intriguing! I tried the demo on PS3 and it showed promise, but was too short. So I’ve been waiting on an offer for the complete series before jumping in and giving it a go (I’m too tight to buy ep1 then the season pass which ends up being the most expensive option)
Never quite understood though why Sony don’t give away episode 1 of a series as part of the IGC each month, instead of the usual indie pixel rubbish that they do… they cost less than most of the indie games, and if you like it then they’ve got an almost guaranteed sale of the season pass.
Can you imagine the complaints Sony would have if they gave 20% of a game? And for once, the complaining would be quite justified.
As it is, it’s £15.99 for the whole 5 episodes. And they’re a bit longer than some other games released in a similar manner. Took about 2.5 hours yesterday to play the final episode (plus a bit longer to go back and get some trophies).
It’ll be on sale again though, I’m sure.
I’d prefer it over indie games, but you’re right about the raft of complaints they’d receive for giving less than a full game.
If an episode takes you at least 2 hours then that’s probably longer than most people have played the other games they give away combined!
But you’re right – Sony can’t win whatever they do. People complain about all the indie games now. They’ll complain if they give ep1 because it’s only part of a game, and they’ll complain if they give a AAA title because it won’t be to everyones liking – like Knack, Killzone4 or something. Makes you wonder why they bother at all.
That is of course true, but as far as I can see, there is nothing holding them back in putting together a deal where each episode is released as part of the IGC each month (for example).
Obviously you would want to do this once all episodes are out of course, as these things traditionally have a habit of letting their release dates slip.
That’d cause just as much uproar, if not more as it’d be taking up a slot in the IGC for the next 5+ months so if it’s not your type of game you’ve got even less chance of seeing something you like.
Surely that’s no different to not downloading the various indie crap they have been shoving out for a while now though?
I would say that for at least the past 5 months there has been at least one game that I just haven’t even bothered to download. Some months I haven’t bothered with any of it at all.
You are right though – Purely by the nature of us all having different tastes, they are never going to get it ‘right’ in everyone’s eyes.
Now I just need to wait for a physical release….or will eventually grab it in a sale.
My game of the year by far.
Don’t think I’ve come across such a mature storyline in gaming.
I certainly didn’t expect it either, thought it would be a light game, Mean Girls with time travel! Instead I got something much more in the vein of Twin Peaks or Donnie Darko, with some serious emotional impacts throughout.
Hard to decide whether episodes 2, 4 or 5 are my favourite (and I loved 1 & 3 too). I would definitely recommend this to anyone.
it’d be nice if they follow Telltale Games example and make the first ep free.
and a disc version would be great too.
of the whole series i mean, putting the first ep on disc for free wouldn’t be practical.
There’s a demo of the first episode, and they also sell two seperate season passes, one for Episode 1-5 and one for 2-5 at a reduced rate if you liked the first episode.
Go for it, it’s much better than the Telltale games have been!
This has been my game of the year. I was so entranced and moved from start to end. The amtosphere, characters, music and story all were amazing. I sat for such a long time debating my final decision and I think its really interesting seeing just how spread even the stat for that is and for a lot of the choices in the game. Mature. Zombie free. Character driven. Emotional.
Ive seen people post “oh that ending choice was predictable”. Well I found that part of the enjoyment was that ever growing fear and dread that you were being dragged further into a corner to make that decision. It made sure you had the absolute weight of the world on your shoulders. Unforgetable.
I never really understood that as a criticism of anything. If a story has been written well, endings are supposed to be predictable. Last gasp twists aren’t usually the hallmark of good writing after all.
There were plenty of surprises throughout the five episodes to reach that point too.
It’s my GOTY by far, and in numerous categories too, such as horror, drama, adventure and best story. I loved it from start to finish.
great, fair review and great game