Review: Life is Strange: The Arcadia Bay Collection

The Life is Strangeseries is something that came across at about the perfect time culturally to tell a tale of being who you are and the Arcadia Bay-set entries started it off strong. Chronologically, Before the Storm is the first game in the series despite being the second one released and features a different tone than the original. Both Arcadia Bay games are character-driven tales, but offer an experience that makes you reflective in different ways for each adventure.

The original LiS is about Max trying to get to the bottom of a murder mystery with a giant storm looming over the area as a ticking clock. It’s an interesting dilemma because you want to get all of the information available, but do have to do so quickly in-game time to unravel things and figure out who did what. It’s a compelling narrative and one that has a supernatural element because Max can rewind time and freeze it to investigate something more thoroughly. The first game’s emphasis on the chemistry between Max and her longtime best-friend Chloe is something that builds up throughout each chapter of the story and deals with things like losing a friend, disagreeing with them in a big way, undergoing personality changes from moving around, and rejection due to a friend moving around. It’s an emotional journey and the first tale tests their friendship across different timelines and circumstances. It’s a fascinating tale and something that makes the player think in ways that most games don’t.

The canonical prequel allows the player to play as Chloe and showcases her bond with Rachel Amber, the first game’s victim. Playing in chronological order made the first game’s story ring even more true due to seeing Rachel’s personality unfold and see how troubled her life is before the original LiS. There, Rachel is more of a composite character who we don’t see a lot of even though she’s driving the plot because she’s missing. The prequel allows the player to get a real sense for what makes her tick and explains a lot about why she wound up in bad spots before the original game, while also showing why Chloe was so determined to find her with Max’s help in the original.

Having Chloe as the playable character in Before the Storm grounds things more since she has no supernatural powers like Max did in LiS. She’s just a back-talker who will say what’s on her mind and is perceptive — you’re not going to pull the wool over her eyes and she can talk her way out of most situations. She much comes off like more of a real person here than Max did in the first, where she largely did, but the air of the supernatural did change the realistic vibe the game was going for. The prequel is largely a series of events that could happen in real life, with more realistic scenarios and a lack of supernatural elements.

Upon playing through both games years ago, I found myself preferring Before the Storm’s storytelling and in going through them again here, that opinion hasn’t changed much although I did opt to play them in release order this time around to mix things up. The Arcadia Bay Collection is basically the PC and other console remastered collection when it comes to motion capture changes for faces and art direction, but with lower-end textures compared to other versions. It’s a disappointment since this is the first full portable version of the game for a console. The original game got a release on iOS many years ago, but nothing followed up after that.

This incarnation of the games is nice to have anywhere you are, but does fall short of what it could be. Textures just don’t look correct to the eye with how muddy they can be in both portable and docked mode and it hurts the experience. That’s with factoring in that the original games weren’t the greatest-looking things on planet Earth, but told a gripping enough story that it didn’t get in the way of things. Here, you can’t help but notice how muddy things look and when you’re exploring a world and waiting for textures to pop in that don’t a lot of the time. When they do load, it takes so long that it takes you out of the scene resulting in a less-than-ideal experience across the board.

If it comes down to never experiencing the games or experiencing them this way, it’s better to experience them even in a flawed format — but it is disappointing to see how poorly-optimized the game is given that at its core, you have something that could run on a PS3 and Xbox 360 with better texture work. Loading times are also a big issue, with every screen change resulting in about a twenty second load time that adds up a lot over the course of two full games. It’s clear that more time was needed to get these up to snuff and as someone who fell in love with the series on a whim, it’s truly disappointing to see the games in this state.

Thankfully, some parts of the adventures can’t be marred by technical issues. The body language of the cast still shines through nicely and the voice work is some of the industry’s best. It’s so rare to have a game’s vocal performance alone sell you on the emotions the characters are feeling, but with the Life is Strange games here, everyone plays things in a believable manner. Heartbreak and pain are etched on faces and everyone comes off like a character you could encounter in your day to day life. It’s a testament to how good the core games are that the iffy port work done here doesn’t cripple the experience — but does hobble it.

Closing Comments: 

At the end of the day, it’s tough to recommend Life is Strange: The Arcadia Bay Collection as it is near launch. It’s easily the worst-possible way to experience two classic games and not in small ways. The dramatic drop-off in texture quality and abundance of texture pop-in hurts the experience, as do long loading times. The foundation of what made the games so great is still present, but hampered. In hindsight, having it titled as the Arcadia Bay Collection was a tip-off that this wouldn’t be the exact same as the Remastered Collection that hit other consoles. This is a downgraded version of the experience in every way except voice acting and should only be played by those who must have it available on the go.

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