Square Enix, Dontnod, and Deck Nine have worked to release a remastered two-pack of Life is Strange Remastered and its prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm Remastered. Packaged in the Life is Strange Arcadia Bay Collection, we can now experience all of the emotion and drama of these two titles on the Nintendo Switch.
I loved Life is Strange when it first came out almost a decade ago, and while I never got to play the prequel Before the Storm, I absolutely loved the later sequel Life is Strange: True Colors. To this day, I feel it was a genuine masterpiece alongside its DLC prequel, Wavelengths. But now that the OG young angst simulators are back, how’d they hold up? Well, lets look at them individually starting with…
Life is Strange: Remastered
The original Life is Strange was groundbreaking when it first came out. It was a narrative game whose choices were so wild and so difficult it turned half of 2015 into an online support group as everyone posted things about their choices. Mostly to the tune of “made that big choice about Chloe, need to talk to someone”. I won’t spoil what the choices are though, don’t worry. I know it’s old news at this point but I’m certain not everyone has played it, just like I know I could ask you five questions about Catcher in the Rye right now knowing you MIGHT get 60% correct.
The story follows a young girl named Max as she goes off to Blackwell Academy, a school so white that its only black student is voiced by Nik Shriner. During her time in this ridiculously art-obsessed school, she stumbles onto an event so traumatic that it triggers time travel powers within her that allow her to become somewhat of a hero.
Playing this 2015 game in 2022, after the pandemic, after Trump, and after every other equally bad thing in the time between then and now though is a bit of a jarring time capsule. The slang was outdated in 2015 so hearing someone say they’re “super cereal” in 2022 felt like my old man telling me something was “radical”. But the pièce de résistance of outdated lines happens to be this. A line so powerful that when played for anyone you’ll see them make faces you’ve never known them capable of. I played this for my wife, and her face became unrecognizable to me though I’ve known her for over two decades. Behold.
Unfortunately, the dialogue isn’t the only thing that hasn’t aged well. While Life is Strange was groundbreaking at the time — the field of narrative games ranging from Firewatch to Beacon Pines have pretty much nailed what can be done with the genre — going back to the beginning is a SLOG. It took me about an hour to get from Max’s classroom to her dorm room. And as games weren’t sure if they could turn a game into just a story, there are a lot of weird forced puzzles here involving figuring out how to get something from a high place using time travel, or how to turn on a stereo by invading someone’s privacy.
Another thing that becomes apparent in 2022, and this is not going to be a popular opinion, but when this game first came out, I never noticed that Max and Chloe are both major assholes. Like, I get it, I know that Chloe was the internet’s girlfriend for a good long while, but let’s not forget that it was HER truck we first see parked diagonally across two handicap spots. Chloe saw the only two handicapped spots in Blackwell Academy and thought “mine.”
And Max? Oh, little sweet Max. Max caught criminals. Max saved lives. I’m not taking that away. But you spend a large amount of time also using your powers to be remarkably fake. Do you want to pretend you care about someone? How about a moment where they ask if you even know their last name, you botch it so you go back in time to guess the correct thing to make it appear like you’ve cared about anyone beyond yourself. Or hey, remember when you didn’t know the answer to a question in class so you let the smarter kid answer and then went back in time and stole their answer? I don’t care how terrible that person is with the answer, you just committed mental plagiarism and you should be ashamed.
Graphically the game is pretty rough too. The strange filter they put on the game to smooth out the old jaggies makes the game look, I don’t know, syrupy. Like everyone’s hair and clothing are made out of fondant. And while they redid the mouth animation to actually make it better match the words, it still looks strange because they retain the same speaking animations which loop whether they’re the ones talking or not. Watch their bodies during this exchange of dialogue that is absolutely not what humans really sound like.
Another rough bit about the graphical filter is that while the game is partially a celebration of the beauty of photography, most photographs look like doodles in MS Paint and the filter drives that point even home.
Also, Chloe’s stepdad totally looks like a caucasian version of a Reboot character. Look at that head.
In summation, if you’ve never played Life is Strange, this might be a worthwhile visit as it’ll be fresh. But if you’re coming into the game as someone who played the original and knows what’s going to happen, there really isn’t enough to keep you interested here — unless you are somehow heartless enough to choose a path where you do bad things. And in that case, you’re an absolute monster. It’s a slog. The story still has some creative twists and some truly interesting but dark moments, but the incredibly long stretches of time filled with massive rants about the world in general is tough to get through a second time.
Now, let’s check out the prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, on the next page and see how THAT faired!