Anyone who knows me knows my love for the original Life is Strange is far beyond what some would consider healthy. I played it nearly seven years ago, yet it lives in my head rent-free for its memorable characters, strong decisions, and a twist in its fourth episode that is easily my favorite twist in any video game. That’s also why it’s in my top five games of all time with ease. So when I saw a remaster was in the works, I was excited to see what the team would improve. But does Life is Strange Remastered Collection truly live up to the game’s monumental legacy? Find out in my review of Life is Strange Remastered Collection!
Life is Strange Remastered Collection is currently available on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms, with this review done on the PC version through Steam.
The Absence of Necessity
Life is Strange, for those otherwise unaware, follows 18-year-old Max Caufield as she returns to her hometown of Arcadia Bay to study at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. As she’s in one of her classes though, she heads to the bathroom and, through a student nearly being killed, she discovers she has the power to rewind time. Throughout the game, Max helps those around her using her newfound power. But said power proves to cause more problems than she could’ve ever imagined. Oh, and a conspiracy at Blackwell regarding missing girls and a strange video just adds icing to the cake.
Now as I made quite obvious in the intro, Life is Strange is a game that I have a deep passion for. It’s because of that, that I’m saddened to say that Life is Strange Remastered falls short of what it could’ve been. To not start us off on the wrong foot though, let’s begin with the good.
As advertised, Life is Strange Remastered has gone through some improvements compared to its 2015 counterpart. Namely, the team pushed forward new facial animations and stronger lighting, and I’m happy to say that for the most part, this works well. Some of the facial animations made by the characters more accurately portray their emotions, and that is a great thing in a game that relies on the emotions of its characters to keep players engaged. The lighting changes also better bring out the mood in scenes, furthering their effect and realism. As an added touch, character design aspects such as hair, and especially Max’s hair, look much cleaner under the remaster’s changes.
But you may have noticed my use of the word “some”. While some areas are improved by these changes, some are arguably made worse. Only some of the character’s facial animations were improved upon, leaving those that weren’t changed feeling awkward and out of place. In fact, only key story beats seem to have had their facial animations upgraded. Along with that, darker scenes are made quite difficult to navigate due to the new lighting techniques. Take the night school section of Chaos Theory for example, where often parts of the school may feel more accurate of their setting but are near impossible to see as a result. To top this all off, pre-rendered cutscenes are still stuck at an archaic 30 FPS, which feels almost taboo considering modern-day performance improvements.
But worst of all, this part of my Life is Strange Remastered Collection review suffers from a strong absence of necessity. I understand I went into this knowing this remaster was likely a few years too soon, but it’s much more noticeable when playing. The best thing I can say about this remaster is that it’s faithful, and that’s because it simply opts for touchups rather than stronger makeovers. And while that isn’t always bad, there are plenty of areas where the game doesn’t feel changed enough (don’t get me started on the facial hair that appears drawn on with crayon). Because of that, this heightened price tag of $50 feels just a tad unnecessary. It’s such a shame because, despite its relatively young age, there was so much more that could’ve been done to improve the game.
Before the Storm
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is the second part of this remastered collection review, putting us in the shoes of Chloe a few years before Max’s return to Arcadia Bay. This mini-prequel game sees Chloe meet many familiar characters we got to know during the original game such as Nathan Prescott, Frank Bowers, and a surprisingly focused appearance from Rachel Amber herself. Dealing with both characters’ drama, the game gives a deeper insight into Chloe and her feelings surrounding her father’s death a few years prior. And with a mystery afoot, there’s plenty of chaos to go around.
Now I’ll admit that when originally playing this, I felt that it was an alright addition to the main story that gave some decent backstory to help the main game. And while I still partially feel that, upon replay I find myself appreciating it for the sheer emotion put into each scene. I was much younger and plenty more immature, so the various emotional scenes didn’t hit quite as hard. Upon replay though, I’m happy that Dontnod brought Deck Nine in to have their hand in a story like this. Especially because it later lead to Life is Strange: True Colors which is great in its own respects.
But you’re here for a review of Before the Storm Remastered, not a retrospective. As far as improvements go, there isn’t much to talk about here beyond what was good and bad with the first game’s remaster. While there are some minor changes, sure, again they simply aren’t enough to have the remaster’s release make sense. Though one thing I can’t say I saw coming was for Before the Storm to arguably look better in the remaster than the original game’s remaster when both are part of the same package.
As one example, the facial hair that I mentioned above is leagues better here than it is in the first game. Where facial hair in the first game appeared to be drawn on with a paintbrush, the facial hair’s been upgraded here to be much more distinct in a way that doesn’t take away from the game’s signature style. Alongside this, a bevy of other textures are quite improved. But while those were improved, again there were plenty of textures that appeared almost laughable out of a remaster. That’s not deliberate obviously, but they stand out much harder than they did due to other improvements. It’s a jarring inconsistency, one that leaves you utterly confused as to what was happening behind the scenes. I’m not going to complain about the improved textures obviously, but it makes you wonder what could’ve happened if that quality level was replicated in some of the weaker areas. I suppose we’ll likely never see that reality though.
Verdict: Life is Strange and Before the Storm will forever sit in my mind as a wonderful combo and true masterclass in narrative storytelling, resting among some of my favorite games ever. That’s why it breaks my heart to be unable to recommend these remasters over simply playing the original games. Sure, you could argue that these versions are better than the originals in some respects, but these changes are both wildly inconsistent and nowhere near enough to make a strong impact on players. In the end, Life is Strange Remastered Collection has an incredibly difficult time justifying its premature existence.
- Facial animations get a decent facelift
- Lighting vastly improved
- Hair appears much more realistic
- Dark areas are quite difficult to see in
- Only some facial animations were changed
- Many changes were made in some areas, not in others
- Struggles to justify its premature existence
- Pre-rendered cutscenes stuck at 30FPS