Life is Strange was released as a collection of episodic narrative adventures developed by Don’t Nod featuring Max, an 18-year-old time traveler. Despite not being a highly anticipated blockbuster title, the game was released to great reception both critically and commercially and quickly became a cult hit. I personally was hooked on it due to its unique blend of fantasy and highly realistic themes, incredibly well-told story, and highly endearing characters Life is Strange: Before the Storm is the second game in the series that serves as a prequel and, while flawed, succeeds in contextualizing the Arcadia Bay saga. Square Enix has now remastered and released both games for the Nintendo Switch in one collection dubbed Life is Strange: Arcadia Bay Collection, which in simple terms, is far from perfect.
For those unfamiliar with the first game, it follows Blackwell University freshman Max Caufield who, after a series of events, finds herself with the ability to rewind time which she uses to save her childhood friend Chloe Price from death. The story steadily becomes more intense and complicated from then on as the pair deal with both supernatural and social college issues.
Life is Strange’s story is perhaps one of the most interesting, emotional, well-crafted journeys I’ve experienced in a game and is still memorable today.The gameplay on the other hand is highly simplistic. Players control Max in several linear areas in Arcadia Bay and use her powers to unlock areas and acquire items, sway conversations, solve puzzles, and avoid danger in specific scenarios, in order to progress the story. None of these activities are particularly challenging, which is typical for most narrative-driven games.
As for presentation and performance, I must admit that the Life is Strange Switch remaster is sorely lacking and is barely an improvement on the original versions. The first issue I noticed immediately after launching the game was the constant frame rate cuts and lags between each scene that plagued the original version. This often affects the subtitles, too, by making lines of text stay a bit longer than they need to. Additionally, the stiff and slow movements are still present and frequent but are a bit different this time, as while the models are slightly better, the face tracking is still off, awkward, and barely emotive.
And while the character models are cleaner, the background models and environments lack detail and have frequent texture pop-ins. Lastly, the load times are outrageous, which is especially more noticeable as a game with many scene transitions. However, I will admit that this is more of a reflection on the console than the game.
On the other hand, Life is Strange: Before the Storm serves as a prequel that takes place a few years before the first game. It follows Max’s childhood friend Chloe who, while still processing her father’s death and Max leaving Arcadia bay for high school, meets the mysterious and rambunctious Rachel Amber and their adventures together before an inevitable tragedy. A nice aspect of the prequel’s story is how it almost effortlessly blends and follows the first game, so much so that anyone can pick it up before or after the first game and not feel jarred at all.
My only issue with the narrative, however, is that it lacked direction compared to the first game. It mainly serves as a fan service game showing Chloe, Rachel Amber, and Max’s earlier years and experiences through the bonus episode. It’s also significantly shorter than the previous game at only three episodes and the aforementioned short bonus one, which I feel supports my last point.
Gameplay-wise, the game follows the first game’s structure almost religiously; as players will control Chloe in linear sections. Replacing the rewind mechanic is the Backtalk mechanic, which lets players talk their way in and out of certain situations by listening to dialogue and responding appropriately. It provides a different level of satisfaction when executed well.
In terms of graphics and performance, the Before the Storm remaster triumphs over the previous game in almost every way. The backgrounds and models are much more crisp and detailed, and the game features significantly less awkward cuts and dips between scenes. Additionally, the frame rate is quite stable, and the soundtrack for both games still holds up. The load times are unfortunately still atrocious, but again, I feel the blame should be put on the console.
Overall, Life is Strange: Arcadia Bay Collection is a mediocre remaster and Switch port of two great games in the series. While the saga still holds up narratively, and the collection sports a lot of content for players to enjoy, the gameplay experience is unfortunately greatly hindered by several issues that have surprisingly not been ironed out yet. I also found it frustrating that the collection excluded Life is Strange 2 as I felt it would be a perfect chance to have the trilogy all in a collection for every console. That said, unless you’re dying to play the game and only own a Switch, I’d advise you try the collection on a better-performing platform.
Life is Strange: Arcadia Bay Collection is available now for Nintendo Switch
Life is Strange: Arcadia Bay Collection
Life is Strange: Arcadia Bay Collection is a mediocre remaster and Switch port of two great games in the series. While the saga still holds up narratively, the gameplay experience is unfortunately greatly hindered by several issues.