Life Is Strange Remastered Collection Review: An Unnecessary Update
When reviewing a remaster, there’s always a question of whether to focus more on the game itself, or on what has changed from the original version. In an ideal situation, both will be excellent, and the two can be rolled into one. That’s not the case with the Life is Strange Remastered Collection.
The good news is that these are still mostly excellent games. As someone going through the full games for the first time, both of the Life is Strange titles here provide excellent stories, great characters, and a fully realized world to explore. They’re well worth your time, and despite some issues, that remains true of these specific versions of the games. The bad news is that there’s very little to separate these from the original releases and some of the changes are actually negatives.
Life Is Strange
Life is Strange tells the story of Max Caulfield. She’s recently returned to her hometown of Arcadia Bay after five years away in Seattle. Her return is due to her admission to Blackwell Academy, one of the best art schools in the country where she’s studying photography. Struggling to feel confident in her photography, despite the support of the school’s staff, Max visits the restroom and stumbles upon a student being blackmailed. Things get worse when the student being blackmailed responds by pulling a gun and killing his blackmailer.
That’s when Max learns she can reverse time, revealing the main mechanic of Life is Strange. Reversing time allows Max to stop this murder, saving the blackmailer, who turns out to be her childhood best friend, Chloe. Soon the two are inseparable, working to rebuild their friendship, and trying to find Chloe’s newer best friend Rachel Amber, a young woman who went missing months ago under strange circumstances. Their investigation will take them into dark and seedy elements within Blackwell that have been shoved into the dark but are fighting their way into the light. All the while, Max continues to have visions of a giant tornado wiping out the whole town in only a few days.
Originally released episodically, I have to imagine it feels different to play Life is Strange today than it did in 2015. Instead of waiting around for the next episode, you can jump right into the next part, changing the pacing a bit but relieving some of the extreme stress I’m certain I would have otherwise felt from some of the cliffhangers the developers put forth. It also helped me stick with the game after the opening chapter gets off to a rough start. There are good things, but the dialogue in that opening episode feels referential to a ridiculous degree, and despite strong voice acting, some of the things they have to say are just a bit much. The developers seemingly were able to course correct a bit by episode two, one of the advantages of an episodic release. You’ll still see stats of what other players chose to do in their playthrough as well.
A Game About Choice
The reason for that is because Life is Strange is all about choice. The choice to save Chloe’s life starts these two on their path, but you’ll make all kinds of decisions, both large and small. Some will change little more than a few lines of dialogue, while others will change the entire course of the story. The game tracks all of these choices through its five episodes, letting you feel true ownership of how things conclude in a deeply emotional ending. Puzzles are rarely overly difficult, though a few are a bit obtuse. Finding bottles in a junkyard, for example, isn’t hard, but they blend in and can take some real work to find. A few puzzles have minor updates, but these are fundamentally the same games they were originally.
As for the remastering itself, it’s a real mixed experience, as you might expect for a game that was already released on the same generation of platforms these remasters are releasing on. A PS5 or Xbox Series X|S release might have justified this more, but it’s very strange for the games to only be available in the same generation they already released in. It makes me wonder who needs these releases, especially when the original versions are often available cheap. It isn’t that there are no improvements. The new motion-captured animations are excellent and fix a real issue from the original games. The details on the characters, especially in their faces, are significantly improved as well, though the new smoother visuals have less of a style, and some details, such as facial expressions, have been lost. It makes the whole experience feel a bit artificial at times. There’s also the issue of these updates not being universally applied, with some scenes looking drastically better than others.
Despite this, the first Life is Strange still holds up. After a slow start, the mysteries of Blackwell Academy become an irresistible draw, and its wonderful characters get you emotionally invested. Despite having an idea what was coming, thanks to my time with the sequel Life is Strange True Colors, I wasn’t ready for it, not wanting to choose either option.
Before The Storm
Life is Strange Before the Storm is a prequel, telling the story of how Chloe met Rachel Amber and digging into a mystery involving her parents and background. Taking place years earlier, in the time when Max was off in Seattle, and she was dealing with the fallout of losing her father and her mother starting to move on.
While Before the Storm is a far smaller story, certainly with important moments but also without the world-ending stakes of the original, in some ways, the intimacy with these characters makes it a more interesting one. Unfortunately, it’s also a far less consistent title. With only three main episodes, and a bonus DLC one that has been included from the start this time, there was room for a tight experience, but we don’t really get that. Episode two is one of the strongest in either of these games, but the first episode is again quite slow, and unlike the first game, Before the Storm struggles to stick the landing. A lot of it just feels overblown or like it requires characters to make decisions that are quite out of character.
The time rewind powers of the first game are also sadly missing since Chloe isn’t magic. Instead, her mechanic is the ability to argue really well. At various points, you can engage characters in a war of words, trying to manipulate them. These sequences are boring and don’t do much to drive the story forward. They don’t even seem helpful in too many spots.
The updated visuals here look noticeably worse than the first game as well. They’re still improved, but some characters are rough. Still, despite some issues, Before the Storm still tells an overall interesting story which adds additional depth to the first Life is Strange as well. If you like the first game, it’s worth playing.
The Life is Strange Remastered Collection offers you an excellent game and another, which is a lot of fun if you’re invested in its characters. They’re well worth playing. The question is more about whether this collection is the way you want to do so. Despite the improved visuals and animations not quite making this the definitive version in every way, things are solid enough that if given any way to do so, I’d probably choose these versions. Despite that, this is a great example of titles that simply didn’t need to be remastered. For fans of the series, it offers nothing that makes them worth revisiting, or even upgrading from the versions that are already out there. If you have another way to check out Max and Chloe’s stories, just play those instead.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Xbox One (Reviewed), PS4, PC; Publisher: Square Enix; Developer: Deck Nine Games, Dontnod Entertainment; Players: 1; Released: February 1st, 2022; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Life is Strange Remastered Collection.