I’m a Life Is Strange die-hard and I have hella mixed feelings about the Remastered Collection
There’s no two ways about it: I’m a big old card-carrying Life Is Strange nerd. Seriously, I own some geeky merch to demonstrate my love for this series; up to and including, yes, the official Life Is Strange deck of playing cards. In other words, I am exactly the sort of fan the Life Is Strange: Remastered Collection is geared towards; so you may be surprised when I say that I’m not planning on picking it up anytime soon.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been wary of the remasters of the first Life Is Strange title and its prequel Before The Storm ever since the first stills were released. “Look how much emotion their faces show now!” was the boast, splashed across side-by-side images of Rachel frowning in the original vs Rachel smiling in the remaster, Chloe frowning in the original vs Chloe smiling in the remaster, Max smiling slightly in the original vs Max grinning widely in the remaster… perhaps you begin to see my issue.
I do feel better now that we’ve seen more stills and videos showcasing The Many Frowns of Chloe Price, but for me, it never felt like a fault of the game that there wasn’t always a huge amount of emotion to be viewed on the surface. These are games about repressed teenage girls, after all. Chloe and Rachel weren’t badly realised characters in the originals because they were unhappy people who defaulted to a slight scowl, just like Max wasn’t badly realised because she was an introvert with subtle facial expressions. The remasters feel like they’ve been designed around the assumption that bigger expressions always equal more realistic emotion, especially if you can see more teeth. I’m less convinced.
I’d be a hypocrite to claim that’s a deal-breaker for me, though; I will, after all, defend to the hilt The Dark Pictures Anthology, which for all its merits, is often a masterclass in the dodgy applications of facial mocap.
I think if I have a real lingering issue with these remasters, it’s that the originals have never felt low quality to me. Up until Life Is Strange: True Colors was released last year, the series was associated with a particular art style: soft, hazy, almost watercolour-esque in places, but far from lacking in detail. In fact, dev diaries from the first game’s release show designers carefully hand-painting the environments. The idea that up until now, Life Is Strange was just failing at being more photorealistic is frankly baffling me.
— Square Enix (@SquareEnix) February 1, 2022
That’s not a dig at True Colors, mind. Its central theme (and its release onto modern hardware) justified its jump to properly mocapped facial animations and more detailed textures. It all looked stunning and, just as importantly, served the story. But that doesn’t mean that the older games in the series suddenly need to have those things too or risk becoming irrelevant. A graphics upgrade might be nice to have, but to me it feels like it’s come at the cost of an artistic downgrade.
But you know, we live in downright apocalyptic times right now, and I don’t really begrudge studios for taking safe bets on beloved franchises as they try to ride out the storm. We’re seeing a lot of remasters, remakes and ports doing the rounds right now, and I’m not about to pretend that the timing doesn’t make sense in context. Heck, my GOTY last year was also technically another re-release.
That said, I also can’t wrap my head around why I’d want to buy the Life Is Strange: Remastered Collection when I already own perfectly good copies of Life Is Strange and Before The Storm, both of which are still entirely playable in their original state. Life Is Strange only came out in 2015, after all. That’s not that long ago in the grand scheme of things. I can see why newcomers who don’t own either game yet would be drawn to them – especially those looking to play them on console, which perhaps aren’t quite as easy to play as the PC versions these days – and the two together complete the franchise’s Arcadia Bay story arc, the only multi-game narrative in the franchise to date. Plus, even if you don’t already own the remasters via the True Colors Ultimate Edition, it’s still slightly cheaper to grab the new bundle than to buy the two original games separately when you take into account all of the remaster’s bundled DLC. Plus you get a remaster-exclusive shirt for Chloe! A nice bonus.
Like most people, I’ve got into some series via their remasters and obviously, I’m no less of a fan for that, and my experience of those games was no less significant. Full remakes can run the risk of completely stripping a game of its charm, but the worst a remaster can do is break a few interactions while looking very slightly different to the original, which is fully what I expect will be the case with this Life Is Strange collection.
Of course, further down the line, these versions will become the more accessible editions of the first two Life Is Strange games, and I don’t think that’s some terrible eventuality we should be warning new players away from. Ignoring any comparison to the originals, these remasters look… fine. If I’d forked out for the True Colors Ultimate Edition, I guarantee I’d have let go of most of my misgivings about preserving the original art style and the subtlety of withheld emotions about ten minutes in, because I wholeheartedly love these stories and I’d be all in for the ride once again. But for the time being, replaying the originals is as easy as booting up the very same system that the Remastered Collection runs on, and I’ve theoretically saved myself about 35 quid by not re-buying something I feel like I already own.
In other news: old woman yells at cloud. Uh oh, there’s actually quite a lot of clouds out there, now that I look. I hope those pesky teenagers aren’t messing with the fabric of spacetime again…