Republished on Wednesday, 31st May 2017: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of June 2017's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Well, the moment is finally here. After nine months and five episodes, the first season of DONTNOD's Life is Strange has come to a close. We can pretty confidently say that we're not alone in hoping there are more seasons on the horizon, but for now, the story of Max Caulfield, Chloe Price, and the ensemble cast of Arcadia Bay has concluded. And boy, did we ever get a finale.
For those who are caught up on the season, episode four ended on some pretty revelatory developments. This review is going to avoid spoilers, so those who haven't caught up can safely read this, but let's just say that a lot happened. The new episode picks up right where we left off, with Max continuing on her quest to stop the tornado that she saw in her mind in the first episode - and several times thereafter - from obliterating Arcadia Bay. In the process of doing this, Max is going to find herself in a lot of familiar locations. She achieves this by using the power that she discovered at the end of episode three, which allows her to jump through time using photographs as gateways. A massive amount of the episode is spent doing this, almost to the point where it becomes overwhelming. It's not so much that it makes everything confusing - it doesn't - but rather, it feels like it interferes with the pacing a lot. We see one reality, then Max changes something, and everything we just saw no longer happened, and we start again - it starts to feel tedious after a while. Luckily, just when you may find yourself thinking that enough is enough with the time jumps, the game reels it in, and shoots off into a completely different direction.
While this episode may spend a lot of its duration jumping around time, it does still have one unifying factor: mood. Episode four was a rather dark and twisted affair, and episode five is no different. In fact, it may actually go to even darker places than its predecessor. Just about everything you do this time around - even mundane stuff - has an inexplicable feeling of impending doom tied to it. DONTNOD nails the tone of the finale, and had us hanging on the edges of our seats for pretty much the entire affair - and that was a long time. You see, the finale is also really long - possibly twice as long as any of the other episodes in the season.
In this lengthy stretch of time, we even see some of the events of episode one again, and something that stood out to us is just how far DONTNOD's writing has come in such a short span. The thing is that we didn't really like the first two episodes of the season; the writing came off as if it was trying too hard, and so it's subsequently fascinating to see examples of that again amidst the more mature, more natural writing of the later episodes. When you consider this change occurred within a paltry nine months, you can't help but be impressed.
DONTNOD's improvement is especially noticeable in some of the more emotional moments, as everything felt appropriately sombre, or happy, or natural depending on the situations. The finale offers many opportunities for the writing to shine through, and shine it does.
The writing isn't the only star of the episode, though, as the environments are also fascinating. Now sure, we said that you revisit a lot of locales, but without spoiling anything, just be prepared for some strange, almost David Lynch-esque developments. These segments even offer some of the game's longest 'real' gameplay components to date, with some fairly prolonged stealth sections.
The events leading to the conclusion are all well and good, but how's the ending itself? There are two major variants, and they offer satisfying conclusions to the story of Arcadia Bay. While there might be a variety of variable endings based on smaller events, the ones that we experienced did a great job of answering all of the questions that we may have had. Ultimately, the two major endings are both immensely satisfying in their own way, and at the end of the day, DONTNOD has delivered a satisfying finale to an already stellar series.
Now that we're at season's end, we do want to address two things that either went underappreciated or unaddressed in our reviews of the previous episodes. The first is the series' use of licensed music. The licensed tracks across the season have been not only excellent, but used to great effect to set the mood, and this was especially true in the finale, as it just might have provided the best slate of tracks. The other is an especially neat inclusion: a mode just for trophy hunters. The collectible mode is provided for players who want to go back and get the optional photos that they missed more quickly: it allows you to skip through a plethora of the in-game conversations, and your progress and decisions have no impact on your saves. Again, a very thoughtful addition.
Dating back to January of this year, Max's adventure has been quite a ride. After a couple of episodes that were pretty shaky, the French developer righted itself and delivered three consecutive home runs that absolutely blew us away, and this has culminated in a finale that delivers on everything that we could have possibly dreamed of. We definitely hope that Life Is Strange sees something of a second season, and we can't wait to see what DONTNOD does next.