The Life is Strange: Arcadia Bay Collection invites you to re-experience two of the best narrative games ever made. Better still, the Switch port performs well with only a couple of hiccups here and there, meaning it's a solid platform to experience the story of Max and Chloe on.
In 2015, Square Enix released a game by Don’t Nod, one that would set a precedent for future narrative-drive games. The game in question is Life is Strange, and I have no problem admitting that it had a profound impact on me years ago, which I continue to feel the effects of to this day. The story of Max Caulfield and Chloe Price has stayed with me, living rent-free in my head.
So, you can only imagine the excitement I felt last year, when not only did I discover that Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm are being remastered in one collection, but that they would be coming to Nintendo Switch, though I can’t deny that my heart broke little when Square Enix chose to push back the release of the Switch version. I was (and still am) ecstatic at the news of the collection’s arrival, as I’ve long thought those games deserve a place on the hardware. The fact that they’re together, and looking more beautiful than ever, is just the icing on the cake.
However, it’s not just my enjoyment that excites me about this release. It’s the thought of two incredible games getting a chance to shine in front of a new audience. Of course, many people know about the Life is Strange series, but that doesn’t mean everyone has played it. In fact, Last year’s Life is Strange: True Colors is an introduction for some, leaving them to wonder about the game’s roots.
Well, those people, and Switch players in general, can finally learn how it all began first-hand. For me, The story surrounding Chloe and Max is something special, and while I’m not a game keeper by any means – everyone should play what they want – this is the only game that I genuinely feel all people should play.
The Life is Strange games aren’t for everyone, but they do convey powerful messages, and that’s especially true for the first title in the series. So, that’s where I’m going to start. As much as I’d love to dive straight into Before the Storm (Chloe is my favourite character, after all), I feel I should begin with Max’s story.
Firstly, let me say that Life is Strange is one of my favourite games of all time, and being able to revisit such a gem with its newfound beauty is a pleasure. However, I’m not going to lie and say all I felt was happiness when heading back to Arcadia Bay, because that simply isn’t the case. Instead, I laughed, cried, and went through the motions, just as I did all those years ago.
The game begins as you take control of a teenage high school student known as Max Caulfield in the middle of a storm tearing through Arcadia Bay. Soon enough, she wakes up, safe and sound, in the middle of her photography class. However, as if that dream isn’t stressful enough, the teenager is about to discover something incredible. She has the ability to turn back time. Her newfound gift reveals itself after a certain event takes place, one that brings her childhood best friend back into her life, the one and only Chloe Price.
You see, that’s what this story is about, two former friends reconnecting, coming back together in an unforeseen way that has a clear impact on the pair, especially since the girls aren’t the same people they were before. Still, the two embrace this turn of events, as Max longs to make amends for the way she essentially cut contact with Chloe after moving to Seattle, while the blue-haired punk could do with having someone in her corner.
Ultimately, the bond they still share leads them to solve a mystery plaguing Chole’s life – where’s Rachel Amber? A girl that went missing from a party at Blackwell Academy six months ago, who also happens to be best friends with the blue-haired punk, Rachel picked up the pieces of Chloe’s life a couple of years after Max left (more on that in Before the Storm).
Life is Strange has it all, and the mystery at its heart has so many twists and turns that you need to embrace your inner Sherlock to solve it. Of course, Max’s powers are vital to this and serve as a core part of the gameplay, as does her love of photography. The game is split into five chapters, all of which require you to get creative with your time-bending capabilities.
For context, when Max reverses time, it’s only her that knows that. Well, perhaps it’s more accurate to say it’s only her that remembers, given Chloe is aware of her gift and tests it extensively. Throughout the game, you can converse with various characters, each offering different choices. To learn something valuable, you may have to repeat the conversation, using what you know to progress and discover something new.
When it comes to gameplay, you guide Max around various locations throughout the respective chapters. These include Blackwell Academy, the Two Whales Diner, Chloe’s house, and an assortment of other areas that I don’t want to divulge for story reasons. But, no matter where you are, there are secrets to uncover, feeding you information that might alter your perception of those around you. Or, you might come across a perfect photo opportunity – Max is a blossoming young photographer, and her passion plays a pivotal role in the game’s narrative.
Throughout the journey you face some difficult decisions, which is part of what makes Life is Strange brilliant yet brutal. You feel the repercussions of your choices. Each one forces you to question whether or not you did the right thing, and, well, it’s tough to say whether you did or not. Honestly, I don’t think there are many cut-and-dry decisions within this game, and that means working out what’s right and wrong is always open to interpretation. Is there even a bad choice? I don’t think so – life is full of tough decisions, and how you handle the consequences truly determines how ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ you are.
However, I should say that some heavy stuff occurs in this game, and, while Don’t Nod handles it beautifully, it can be triggering. As such, I must stress that you take care when you reach chapter four, as the first half revolves around the idea of whether or not to help someone take their own life. It’s a sensitive topic, one that I don’t intend to touch on any further.
The way in which Don’t Nod makes you care about these characters when facing such difficult situations ensures your heart breaks no matter what. However you choose to play out this story, you’re bound to experience emotional whiplash and perhaps question your moral stance. If that isn’t enough, you can also dive deep into how Max feels through to her journal. Each time anything of significance happens, she writes about it, detailing her emotional turmoil.
On top of this, various characters text you throughout the game, which allows you to hone in on Max’s relationships. Relationship is a significant word in this title, given that you have the choice to pursue one with Warren or Chloe. For me, it’s always been a no-brainer. Years ago I chose Chloe, last year, when I replayed it, I picked her, and now, with the remastered collection, the punk still holds my heart.
As for Arcadia Bay itself, the town in which the game takes place, it’s a lovely location, what with its panoramic ocean view, bustling streets, and lighthouse that’s oddly cathartic. Yet the events that transpire in the game tarnish this image, as more lies and deceit rise to the surface, diminishing the beauty you initially perceive the town to have. However, this is the perfect time to mention how aesthetically pleasing the game is to the eye. I understand that the art style may not be to everyone’s taste, but I think it works perfectly.
Do you know what else can make powerful moments and beautiful scenery much more impactful? Music. Well-chosen soundtracks always add a certain spark to a game, and trust me when I say the music found in Life is Strange captures everything beautifully. One of my favourite tracks featured is Mountains by Message to Bears, and the way Don’t Nod uses is only further strengthens the already impactful scene it accompanies. Other notable artists include Foals, with their song Spanish Sahara, which I can’t listen to without seeing a scene that haunts me (one I never willingly choose).
The sound design is second to none, as the notable songs are meticulously placed to play a crucial role in the scene, and are somewhat of a catalyst in terms of what emotions you’re likely to feel as it plays out. Even the original soundtrack that accompanies the game matches the mood perfectly, and this is evident from the second you fire up Life is Strange and head to the main menu.
Honestly, there’s so much more I could say about Max’s story, but I’m sure you want to know what the prequel has to offer. So, does Life is Strange: Before the Storm produce similar dilemmas? Not exactly. At least, not on the same scale as the first game. As the name suggests, this title serves as a prequel to Life is Strange and takes place a couple of years before Max returns to Arcadia Bay.
You take control of Chloe this time, and, while she might not have the means to turn back time, she’s far from helpless. As you come to learn in the first game, Price is fiery, strong-minded, and has a sharp tongue – all of which help you to navigate through the problems she faces in Before the Storm. Much like Max’s story, this title tests your resolve, morals, and tenacity through various situations that can play out differently depending on the choice you make.
As for the characters, if the first game had you wanting to know more about Rachel Amber, you’re in luck, as she features heavily in this story. It offers a deeper insight into her friendship, and possible relationship (depending on your choices) with Chloe, though it’s undoubtedly intense no matter how you approach it. The narrative covers how the girls meet, and how this is the catalyst for the changes in Chloe’s life. Do you want to know how she becomes the blue-haired punk you know and love from Life is Strange? Here you go. This is your chance to find out.
I really enjoy going back a couple of years to see what she was like before in order to gain a deeper understanding of her character. She’s so full of hate, distrust, and negative emotions all around, and now you can understand why, as Before the Storm shows you just how badly her father’s death impacts the teenager. You get an intense look into her psyche, and frankly, given everything she’s been through since the age of 14, it’s nothing short of a miracle that she’s still around come the events of Life is Strange.
However, it’s not just the more profound look at Chloe that appeals to me, but the ability to get to know Rachel Amber. The girl is practically an enigma in the original game, yet it’s clear to see she’s had a heartfelt impact on Chloe. Above, I mentioned that the relationship between the two girls is intense, and that’s partly due to the circumstances surrounding the previously mysterious girl.
The story of Before the Storm revolves around Rachel and a family secret that threatens to tear her and her loved ones apart. An unlikely friendship between the two girls leads them to discover things that could have ghastly consequences. Much like the first game, the gameplay involves you taking control of Chloe as she navigates various locations from Blackwell Academy to the Junkyard, and her own home. Admittedly, it’s not quite as impactful due to the lack of time travelling, but it does allow you to take a deep look at a troubled teenage girl and how one other person manages to bring her back from the brink.
Okay, so I’ve covered how amazing the games are. Both of them provide phenomenal experiences that I think you should experience at least once. However, is Nintendo Switch the platform on which you should visit Arcadia Bay? In short, yes. The world looks incredible thanks to its art style, and the gameplay is pretty smooth, with only a few minor hiccups such as the odd bit of blurriness and rare frame rate drops. Neither of these are a game changer, and it’s a small price to pay to play two of the best narrative games ever made on the go.
In case it isn’t already clear, I cannot recommend the Life is Strange: Remastered Collection enough. It’s an incredible trip down memory lane for existing fans and equally serves as an amazing introduction to the series for new players. To this day, I’ve never experienced something quite like Life is Strange. Sure, True Colors has an impact on me, but even that doesn’t leave a mark quite like this.
However, if there’s one thing all of these games have in common, it’s that they teach you to live life your own way, and to never apologise for it. Life is strange, but there’s no need to live with the what-ifs. So take the plunge, and enjoy the ride.