Welcome back to Arcadia Bay. Seven years after the original episodic narrative game Life Is Strange took the gaming world by storm in January 2015, Deck Nine has remastered this nostalgic journey that weaves together a heartfelt coming-of-age story with a dark, mysteriously twisted drama.
While the original game received overwhelmingly positive feedback for its story, characters and charming style, one fatal flaw the game suffered was its lack of characterisation when it came to animations and models. For a game so highly focused on story-telling and its visuals rather than gameplay… Well, it certainly needed enhancements that would breathe new life into the story. So, Deck Nine took over from Dontnod and brought our favourite partners in crime and in time back for one last rewind. All in one neat bundle.
STORY – YOUR CHOICES, YOUR STORY
Meet Maxine Caulfield. A young adult with a passion for photography who moves back to her hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon with her polaroid camera in hand to attend Blackwell Academy. A couple of months in, she witnesses her childhood best friend get shot in the girls’ bathroom and unexpectedly discovers that she can reverse time, saving Chloe’s life. Before Max returned, however, Chloe was left alone. Suffering from loneliness and trauma, she meets Rachel Amber, who changes her life before mysteriously disappearing.
At first, we play as Max, who is quite awkward and timid. She is accompanied by her best friend Chloe Price, the loud-mouthed polar opposite. They take us on a journey to uncover the secrets of Arcadia Bay and the disappearance of Rachel Amber all while exploring what their bond truly means to one another and to you, the player.
It’s a touching tale that presents you with the responsibility of reality-altering powers and life’s consequences. In this story, you have the power to change everything. But does this really change life in your favour? Overall, it’s an immersive journey filled with intense decisions and heart-wrenching moments. It truly packs an emotional punch. The feel-good moments definitely balance out the darkness deep within, and you’ll quickly fall in love with the two main characters as they traverse the most insane week of their lives.
Experience The Duo’s Past
Travel back in time to Before the Storm Remastered where we play as Chloe and explore her relationship with Rachel Amber. While this story is good at detailing the past and showing just how much Chloe was emotionally hurt, it does lack a lot of what the first instalment had. Its pacing is rather slow and it doesn’t quite have the same impact.
As a standalone game, it wouldn’t be one that would massively interest new players. So, playing Max’s story beforehand is definitely for the best if you’re jumping into this world for the first time. This will allow new players to appreciate the prequel a lot more. It still has a wonderful little story to offer for those who are left needing more after finishing the first instalment.
GAMEPLAY – THROUGH A VIEWFINDER
Most of the time, you’ll be making decisions in what your character says and does in cutscenes. It’s almost like an interactive TV show in which you get to pick what happens next. Outside of cutscenes, you control your protagonist from a third-person perspective. You’re able to move around freely in your environment, interact with certain objects or people and even find the optional collectables hidden in each episode. You can also find spots to have a moment of calm to relax and take in the beautiful visuals of a reimagined Arcadia Bay.
One great thing about the game is that it rewards players that do a little bit of extra exploring to learn more about the characters in the story. It allows you to make more informed decisions in crucial moments. The game feels nicely balanced between cutscenes and gameplay, reminiscent of The Walking Dead Game‘s style. Players with more interest in the characters can investigate more, and those who just want to progress the story can go right ahead and complete whatever task is necessary.
In Life is Strange Remastered, you can use your rewind power almost whenever you want. This allows you to go back and change the decisions that you’ve made to see what another outcome would be like. This way, you can choose which way you want your story to go. Although, as with other similar choice-based games, these outcomes are occasionally a little disappointing. It’s a really fun tool to use though and offers a whole new way to play a choice-based game.
Her comments on the world around her are often quite geeky, filled with pop-culture references and sometimes, rather anxious monologues. Hearing inner thoughts such as these is always quite a nice addition to narrative games. Even when they tell you absolutely nothing about the plot and just give insight into the characters.
In Before the Storm Remastered, Chloe does not have a superpower. Unless you consider her ability to backtalk people into getting her own way a superpower. This mechanic allows the player to get what they want from other people through careful attention to detail in what the opposing character says. It’s a fun little gimmick. Though, it’s nothing compared to the ability to rewind time itself.
Chloe’s comments on her environment are more linked to her internalised anger. Typical of a moody teenager. Except this one has been through trauma where she is trying to navigate a world that she barely wishes existed. You can also inscribe messages or drawings with her marker on various occasions. This is Chloe’s way of humouring herself and letting her anger out in more mellow ways. You can really see the difference between Max and Chloe as protagonists in their own games.
GRAPHICS & AUDIO – NEW AND IMPROVED?
Where the original faltered with its lack of facial animations and poor lip-synching, the Remastered Collection takes care of that. Seeing Arcadia Bay and its beloved (or not so beloved) characters fleshed out with their distinguished facial expressions feels almost game-changing. It adds another layer to a story that I’ve always believed could benefit from such enhancements. As well as this, the exterior environments are even more stunning than before, with new lighting, textures and actual grass. Blackwell Academy especially springs to life in 4K graphics and HDR.
Even with all of these improvements, the game still retains that classic Life is Strange feel. Deck Nine didn’t go for ultra-realistic graphics and they didn’t make the game something it’s not. I’m glad to see this still intact. I personally think that the developers have done a brilliant job in this area. The only problem I currently see with it is the occasional interior lighting issues, such as being too dark. Sometimes it switches lighting tones too abruptly when entering a new room, too.
Unfortunately, there are countless bugs at the time of writing. Some of these can even make the game feel unplayable according to some players. I was lucky not to have encountered any that hurt the overall experience. There is also no 60 FPS on next-gen consoles just yet. It is coming in a later patch, however.
If you want to get the most out of this game, I’d maybe wait a few weeks or so for all the most significant patches to roll out. This is very disheartening. Without these issues, the game would be the ultimate way to experience the Arcadia Bay saga.
The soundtrack was very carefully crafted and selected. Acoustic indie mostly sets the theme of the story. A mix of an original score composed by Jonathan Morali for the first game as well as carefully selected licensed songs from artists such as Alt-J and Local Natives. Daughter composed the tracks for the prequel and provides many songs for its licensed songs list. Playing these games again has truly reignited my love for the indie/rock genre and I’ll no doubt have the playlist on repeat for the next few weeks.
Life is Strange Remastered Collection was reviewed on Xbox Series X.