Title: Life is Strange Arcadia Bay Collection
Developer: Don't Nod, Deck Nine
Release Date: September 27, 2022
Reviewed On: Switch
Publisher: Square Enix
The town of Arcadia Bay is an idyllic small town where everyone knows everybody, and nothing ever changes. That is until Max Caufield accidentally witnesses the murder of a young woman in the school bathroom. Panicked, she discovers that she can turn back time and decides to save the blue-haired punk from her doom. Unfortunately, this single altruistic action puts Max on a path of destruction and discovery as she and Chloe, her childhood friend, try to discover what happened to the missing Rachel Amber.
Life is Strange is defined mainly by its narrative, which players can roughly describe as a supernatural teen drama. This niche has charm, especially when the lens focuses on a few characters, like Max and Chloe, two friends reconnecting and solving a mystery the best they can. The interpersonal struggles carry the story more than the mystery of the missing girls and the behind-the-scenes drama of Blackwell Academy. The stakes are very narrow but gradually open up to involve the entire town in one big cataclysmic event that rests solely on Max’s shoulders.
My favorite scenes are with Max and Chloe talking and struggling to agree while keeping the chaos of their friendship together. I feel the narrative would have been stronger had it not added the big climatic ending where Max needs to make one last choice. The mystery of Rachel Amber and the dynamic between the two friends are enough to keep players invested in the temptation of abusing Max’s powers to hurt or help others. Before the Storm, the prologue story to the main campaign, does better at keeping the focus narrowed while providing insight into Chloe’s life before Max reinjects herself into it.
However, players invested in the supernatural elements Max brings to the table will be disappointed, as Before the Storm is primarily devoid of them. Instead, having Chloe yell and belittle people to get her way is an interesting way to have a unique talent that Chloe can call her own. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t land well and can make Chloe come off as an asshole who manipulates others to get her way instead of the person screaming for help that she is.
Besides launching on the Switch for the first time, this release also advertised graphical and puzzle enhancements from the original games. The models and textures of the initial release weren’t awful looking, but they had an almost clay-like quality, almost as if the world was stop-motion animation. The new models for Max and Chloe look better and can more accurately show emotions from their previous ones, but players will notice that other models don’t look as good. For instance, Principal Blackwell looks about the same as he did in the original, and any background characters look blurry or undefined.
If this was a stylistic choice, it clashes too much with Max and Chloe and makes the overall package look worse than it is. Add to this some muddy textures that seem to plague the campus and other environments when the camera pans, and it makes for a product that looks worse than the PS4 version released in early 2015 in some instances. These visual defects mar the fact that the game manages to keep a steady framerate with minimal loading needed, as the game loads an entire scene before letting players have complete control of the environment. This technique does lead to a more extended loading screen in the beginning but lets scenes progress smoothly, making sure players can go another forty minutes before needing to load again.
These defects make this the worst version of Life is Strange on the market right now, trading away some of the benefits of the remasters for portability. Of course, for new players and already existing fans on the Switch, these issues won’t matter. Still, for players with the remastered collection on any other platform, there is little reason to get the Switch version unless playing on the go is essential. Even so, it is still a good port for the Switch, and Life is Strange is a perfect fit for the console, even in this more compromised form.
Life is Strange is a charming take on a supernatural teen drama, and while the story can feel bloated with plot lines at times, there is a lot for players to like. While being a compromised version of the remasters, the Switch version is still a competent port that ensures that players will get the whole experience with as few compromises as possible. However, players who don’t use handheld mode or intend to game on the go will experience long load times and visual drawbacks without getting any of the pros that come with acquiring the Switch version over any others. Life is Strange feels at home on the Switch and is an easy recommendation for anybody who hasn’t yet played through this quirky adventure.
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