Life is Strange‘s unique brand of time-traveling teenage debauchery and its hella misuse of teenage slang quickly made it a fan-favorite when Dontnod Entertainment launched the episodic adventure game in 2015. Square Enix quickly realized it had a hit on its hand and had Deck Nine Games put out a prequel just two years later called Before the Storm. Now both games, which had already been released on PlayStation 4, have received the remastered treatment with Life is Strange Remastered Collection. Sadly, the bundle isn’t the surefire package for fans that it should’ve been and is quite a mess.
Life is Strange Remastered makes a terrible first impression. During the prologue that sees Max walking to the lighthouse while the storm rages on, I started seeing vertical orange lines on the right side of the screen. A few minutes later, they were joined by horizontal blue lines that constantly popped up during gameplay, cutscenes, and dialogue sequences. No matter what Max was doing in the game, she had encountered a new and very unwanted power: graphical bleed.
If it was just one issue, then it’d be a disappointing black eye that will likely be fixed soon, but instead, it’s just the first bruise of many on Life is Strange. The subtitles constantly stopped working at points throughout the story, which is a major accessibility flaw and disappointingly sloppy work for a feature that many people need in order to enjoy the narrative. It’s clear this needed more development time and quality assurance testing done on it and it’s embarrassing to ship in this state after already being delayed for several months. There are also many issues due to the intended enhancements that the game now sports as part of the remaster process, which includes more detailed characters, motion-captured facial animations, and new lighting.
The updated character models are usually quite good, although some NPCs that didn’t get work done stick out when put next to the new and improved main characters. Some even look like creepy caricatures. This means that the graphical look is much more uneven than the original release as Max and Chloe look great but they’re often talking to strange-looking, potentially malformed citizens of Arcadia Bay. Meanwhile, the facial animations never match what Deck Nine did with Life is Strange: True Colors and falls short and right into the uncanny valley. As a viewer, it’s far more jarring when a character is nearly matching the realistic movements but noticeably not quite nailing it. The original, on the other hand, had no intentions of being considered realistic. Character models are also jarring as a new glitch features Max moving up and down during cutscenes instead of standing still or sitting, which can ruin the punch of what are supposed to be dramatic, emotional moments.
Additionally, a lot of the scenes now look hella dark compared to the original and takes away from some of its charm and quaint personality. Oftentimes, the lighting is just applied unevenly and makes it hard to investigate the areas. With all of these issues and the mixed application of the intended improvements, I’d rather take the look of the technically limited but charming original. After all, a story revolving around superpowers and friendship never needed to look realistic in the first place.
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More worrying than the glitches are some of the changes made to the original Life is Strange that impact Dontnod’s artistic vision. Rather than the aforementioned prologue going straight to Max waking up in her classroom in an abrupt cut that underlined this as a premonition or dream, there is instead a loading screen that lessens the impact to a significant degree. It’s ultimately a small detail, but when considering that the cut was an artistic choice in the original that Dontnod went to great lengths to work in every version of the game, it’s super disappointing. It doesn’t just stray away from the original intent; it also adds in loads that weren’t there.
There are other changes throughout the games that either hit, like adding more bottles to its junkyard puzzle (which many struggled with), and adding tears to the funeral scene at the end when it was meant to portray hope rather than sadness. With Dontnod not involved in the remaster, we got Deck Nine’s interpretations of these sequences rather than fleshing out what was originally intended and that’s a problem at its core. Additionally, the credits sequences at the end of each episode have been removed (but only from the original game), which is an odd decision as it gave players time to reflect on the cliffhangers and what had just happened rather than going straight to the statistics on their choices.
There’s always a fine line to walk when a studio remasters another team’s work with regards to respecting the original vision and pushing into new territory. And while everyone’s heart was assuredly in the right place with this remaster, some extra care or consultation was clearly needed. Life is Strange Director and Co-Creator Michel Koch has even weighed in on these changes and gave context as to why the original scenes were laid out in the way that they were.
This one bothers me so much 🙁 We struggled a lot 7 years ago to have the instant cut work even on a PS3, but it did work!
— Michel Koch (@DONTNOD_Michel) February 2, 2022
The funeral for us was even there to show glimpses of hope, with the butterfly as a symbol of Chloe always being close to Max now in a way. 2/2
— Michel Koch (@DONTNOD_Michel) February 5, 2022
Life is Strange Remastered‘s many issues make it the main point of discussion within this bundle and part of that is because there isn’t as much to say about Before the Storm Remastered. Due to it being originally developed by Deck Nine, the remastering process went without any noticeable issues. The prequel not only runs well but also has all of the DLC costumes for Chloe (including the hilarious Hot Dog Man tee) and an adorable bonus episode of Max and Chloe as kids pretending to be pirates.
Fleshing out Rachel Amber as a character also continues to be one of the series’ highlights in this version and hasn’t diminished in the years since. The events even have more weight after True Colors got me to care about the character of Steph even more, which is another benefit of revisiting this entry. It didn’t necessarily need the remaster treatment, but Deck Nine touching up a few things (without adding the inconsistent facial animation from the other remaster) certainly hasn’t harmed it any.
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However, both titles in the Life is Strange Remastered Collection both suffer from missing content, which hurts the chances of either being the definitive offering. Before the Storm is missing its Mixtape Mode, an admittedly inessential feature, but a cool way to listen to the game’s soundtracks and chill alongside Chloe. The bigger loss is in Life is Strange as the developer commentary mode is gone. The commentary by Michel Koch, Raoul Barbet, and Luc Baghadoust was actually quite insightful and provided an interesting look behind the curtain. The omission is even more notable as commentary is sadly quite rare in gaming (with several Valve titles and The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series being notable examples) and it sucks for it to be absent from this version.
Updates might be able to get Life is Strange Remastered up to where it should’ve been at launch, but that’s no guarantee and it’s beyond ridiculous that a remaster needs a “patch roadmap.” Regardless of if these fixes actually arrive, the Life is Strange Remastered Collection is already a tough sale if you’ve played the games before, as the changes in the original are far from meaningful and sometimes detract from the intended work. Before the Storm fares better, and the stories of both games hold up quite well, but the butchering of the original is really damning as that was the core selling point. Both games deserve a more lovingly crafted package as they can’t be called the definitive editions with a variety of new graphical issues and glitches.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 3.5 equates to “Bad.” Due to significant issues, this media feels like a chore to take in.