When a studio looks to remaster an older title from its repertoire, the absolute minimum expectation is that the new version looks and perhaps plays better than the original, making the most of modern hardware and, where appropriate, integrating new features to align with modern gameplay sensibilities. Granted, the results have often been quite fluctuating; on one side, you’ve got astounding works of art like the Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, which arguably improves on the original games in every conceivable way, but on the other there are examples like Silent Hill HD Collection that undoubtedly serve as reminders of why some games should just be left well alone.
Life is Strange: Arcadia Bay Collection sits somewhere in the middle. It showcases two strong entries from the burgeoning franchise — Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm — in their entirety, but its release on Switch does little more than highlight both games’ shortcomings, primarily in terms of presentation and visuals. It’s a collection that’s honestly difficult to recommend if you’ve already experienced Don’t Nod’s creation. If you’re completely new to the franchise, then this is an adequate way to experience two solid narrative-driven games.
For the uninitiated, Life is Strange stars Maxine "Max" Caulfield, a seemingly normal 18-year-old who returns to Arcadia Bay after some time away. At the start of the game, Max experiences a vision during class, after which she discovers that time itself can be manipulated at will, enabling her to revise certain decisions and events that don’t go quite as planned. Max tests her newfound powers out by saving an old childhood friend, Chloe Price, from certain death, kickstarting a story of friendship that’s not afraid to tackle dark subject matter.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm, on the other hand, takes place before the events of the first game and stars a 16-year-old Chloe Price, focusing on her relationship with schoolmate Rachel Amber. At three episodes (plus the bonus DLC episode 'Farewell') compared to the slightly bulkier five in the first game, Before the Storm is undoubtedly a more streamlined experience, cutting out some of the more monotonous puzzle-solving in favour of conversations and dialogue choices. Instead of rewinding time, you’ve now got the ability to ‘backtalk’, which might not be as immediately appealing as time manipulation, but it’s a fun way of playing with the various dialogue choices available to you, and the concept arguably suits Chloe’s more volatile nature quite well.
Both games’ narratives have their high and low points, but we’d be tempted to say that Before the Storm just about edges the first one merely thanks to its shorter length and the resulting focus. The first game contains multiple instances where you’ll need to find specific items or solve puzzles, and these honestly do nothing but bring the whole pace to a slow crawl. Before the Storm contains these sections too, but they’re thankfully fewer and far between by comparison.
In terms of presentation, going back to the first two Life is Strange games after playing through Life is Strange: True Colors can be jarring. While there are certainly aspects of the presentation that have been updated and improved, the Arcadia Bay Collection simply doesn’t feel like a premium 2022 release for the Switch. Textures often look muddy, assets pop in and out of existence, and load times are ludicrously long; you’re looking at an average of 30 seconds every time you move from one scene or location to the next. 30 seconds doesn’t sound offensive on its own, but the frequency with which it occurs makes for an incredibly frustrating experience.
Looking at the character models — Max and Chloe specifically — these have been altered enough that they still look like the original characters, but there’s just something a bit off about them, almost like when you see an actor and their stunt double standing side-by-side. They look impressively similar, but at the same time, not the same. It's an odd spectacle to behold, but one that we imagine most people won't notice unless you're comparing the two side-by-side.
Similarly, lip-syncing and facial motion capture for the first game was another aspect of the remaster that Square Enix put a lot of focus on in the run-up to release, and while it’s definitely been improved to a certain degree, it’s still nowhere near the quality demonstrated in Life is Strange: True Colors. There’s an ‘uncanny valley’ feel to the whole thing, where the animation mostly follows the dialogue quite well, but there will be frequent instances where it falls out of whack, pulling you out of the moment.
Having said all that, the actual moment-to-moment gameplay is fine for the most part. The frame rate isn’t perfect, but it runs fairly consistently throughout the game. The audio remains as strong as it ever was, with excellent music choices and dialogue that, while in need of some TLC in terms of the actual script, still works well; you really feel like you’re getting to know the protagonists on a pretty deep level thanks to both their internal monologues and dialogue exchanges.
Ultimately, while Life is Strange: Arcadia Bay Collection is billed as a full remaster of two pretty strong games, it doesn’t feel like it a lot of the time. It makes us wonder why remaster developer Deck Nine was tasked with this when it could have easily just ported the games across in a more straightforward manner and put more of its resources into making something entirely new. With the remastered games launching on other platforms earlier this year, the time it’s taken for them to finally arrive on the Switch feels a bit wasted. If you’ve not played these games before, the Switch version is a valid option if you can put up with the loading times and visual quality, but we came away from it disappointed.
Life is Strange: Arcadia Bay Collection is an odd release in that it doesn't really feel like the games have been remastered at all. Certain aspects of the presentation have been improved, such as the lip-syncing and overall colour tone, but at the same time you've got some pretty unforgivable presentation drawbacks like texture and asset pop-in, muddy environmental visuals, and absurdly long load times. Considering how long it's taken for this collection to arrive on Switch, we honestly expected better. Nevertheless, these games are worth experiencing for the narrative alone, so if you've never played either and you have no other way to access them, this still comes with a light recommendation.