Developer: Deck Nine
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 10/09/21
Platform: Reviewed on PS5 (also available on PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Stadia, and PC).
By the end of of first chapter, I knew that Life is Strange: True Colors was going to be an unforgettable experience. The series is well known for being emotional rollercoasters that tackle heavy themes, but True Colors might just be the series’ most powerful adventure yet.
Like prior games in the franchise, True Colors is a story driven experience that’s light on gameplay. The crux of the game is that the choices made throughout can affect the direction of the narrative, including what characters think of you. Let’s get into it.
The game follows Alex Chen who, after having a troubled past and being split from her brother while in foster care, finally reunites with him after many years in the town of Haven Springs. However, Alex isn’t just a regular woman, she can feel and interact with the emotions of others, which can be both a boon and a curse. Unfortunately, her time with her brother is cut short after a tragic ‘accident’ kills him. Frustrated and confused with the details surrounding Gabe’s death, Alex begins to investigate with new-found friends, Steph and Ryan, to uncover the truth.
For a game like this, the story is so crucial to get right for the player to feel invested and engaged till the end, and Life is Strange: True Colors succeeds with finesse. There is just so much that I could talk about to explain why the narrative is so good, but I’d then be spoiling it. To put to simply, the game weaves an emotionally compelling tale which will leave you heartbroken one moment, and then filled with utter joy the next. A story of finding one’s self as well as learning to grieve and move on. It deals with so many difficult themes (some that hit quite close to home this year), but it does this with such maturity and nuance, that I was left spellbound by the end. The fact that your actions/decisions have an impact on the story and its characters, it only acts to further strengthen that emotional stake and sense of player agency.
The characters are just brilliant, and getting to know them and their personal struggles is a true highlight. Alex is a brilliant lead character. Watching her go from someone so unsure and in conflict with herself and powers, to an empowered and confident individual, is beautiful to witness. Steph and Ryan are so different from one another but compliment each other well. Even the side characters like Riley, Eleanor, Duckie, etc, are all so well written and memorable.
If there is one downside, I wish it was a bit longer in all honesty. I wish I could have spent more time with these characters in more detail. I do feel as if the the whole ‘investigating’ aspect of the narrative builds and ends too quickly. I was hoping for it to have a bit more depth and longevity, but it ends up being slightly rushed in a way. Despite this, the story will stick with me for years to come and it ultimately ends in a perfect way.
Life is Strange: True Colors is fairly simple in its gameplay, but it does have some nice aspects to provide a bit of variety. Most of your time will be spent walking around the town and buildings, interacting with objects and people to either progress the plot, gain some extra information, or some dialogue. Some of the chapters are more open for exploration, which is a nice change of pace from previous entries. You also have a phone that gives access to more story and background context to the town and its inhabitants, in the form of texts and a social media style platform. This is a nice touch, as it provides a nice believability to this world and characters, while drip-feeding narrative beats in a different way.
Chapter 3 might be my favourite in the game, mainly for its change in gameplay. You basically take part in a LARP (live action role-play), where you need to complete some tasks while fighting ‘enemies’ in turn-based combat. It’s a brilliant section of the game and leads to some sweet and endearing moments. But it’s the choice-based gameplay that forms the core identity of the experience. At many points throughout, you’re given choices in how you respond or act in certain situations. These can have major repercussions for the path the narrative takes or what characters think of you going forward, especially in the final chapter.
The Power of Empathy
It wouldn’t be a Life is Strange game without some weird and wonderful power. As mentioned earlier, Alex can feel the emotions of others, allowing her to better understand others around her. This adds some additional layers to the game in small and big ways. While walking around, a number of NPCs will have an aura around them to signify you can engage with their emotions. This basically allows you to hear what they are thinking/feeling. This lets you glean some extra information from them and potentially lead to new dialogue options. There are even some collectibles and side-quests that use this to find and solve.
However, during pivotal moments in the main story when a character’s emotions are at a heightened state, Alex can take on this emotions and truly understand what they feel and are going through. It’s here that you can use those powers for good use, giving you the ability to connect with the character and help them deal with their problems. In some cases, you are even given the option to take away those extreme emotions, with all the narrative consequences that might come with that. While it might not add much to gameplay, it does bring an interesting spin on the storytelling and theme of empathy.
An Uneven Presentation
There’s both positives and negatives when it comes to the visuals in Life is Strange: True Colors. Let’s start off with what’s good. I love the art style they’ve gone with, and it’s a noticeable improvement and evolution from the prior games in the series. The vibrant colours and contrast give the visuals that striking look. While they aren’t particularly impressive in a traditional sense, there’s still so much clarity and personality, especially in the character models.
Unfortunately, performance is a surprising issue. While playing on a PS5, frame rate is capped at 30fps. Not only that, but there is noticeable stuttering throughout, and it can be quite distracting. It’s disappointing when a game that’s not graphically demanding can barely hit a stable 30fps on next-generation hardware.
Another thing that does impress is the brilliant soundtrack. It really captures the essence and emotion of the game, with all its twists and turns. Even quiet moments when Alex is perched by the lake, the music provides the perfect accompaniment for a contemplative time-out. It’s excellent.
Life is Strange: True Colors isn’t a game I could recommend lightly. It’s often an emotionally harrowing adventure, filled with heartbreaking themes. But it’s also seeping with joy, fun, and beautiful moments. It encompasses the full spectrum of emotions and juxtaposes the extreme of both ends in a complex and thoughtful way.
It can be rough around the edges and feel a bit rushed in parts, but this is a game I feel everyone should experience at least once in their lives at some point. A compelling and reflective adventure that will leave you both satisfied and wanting more. Its message of empathy and thinking of others is something many could stand to learn in the real world.