Life is Strange: True Colors is a new story in the familiar style of the acclaimed series of graphic adventure games. It’s a melodramatic story mixed with supernatural undertones and decision-making gameplay. It is at once engrossing and yet a relaxed experience that may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
As a reviewer, I have an awkward relationship with the Life is Strange games. I’ve played all sorts of games over the years, most of which are rehashes of one another or so heavily influenced they may as well be. Unique games are few and far between and when they do arrive, they are usually more quirky than actually interesting.
The original Life is Strange by Dontnod Entertainment was an intriguing title for me, as I seem to be one of the few that actually enjoyed the French developer’s previous game, Remember Me. The protagonist of Life is Strange, Max Caulfield, has the ability to rewind time but is not some sort of super-hero, just an ordinary person trying to live her life. This is a theme that is common throughout the series- otherwise ordinary people thrust into usual situations due to supernatural abilities.
The games rely on the story and the characters resonating with the player more than the actual gameplay. Whilst the particular design style and concept appeals to me, the characters are not immediately ones that I can identify with. Stripped to their core, however, they are characters that we can all really draw something from. Who hasn’t felt an outsider, just looking for somewhere to fit in?
The original Life is Strange was released as an episodic affair, followed up by a similarly episodic prequel, Life is Strange: Beyond the Storm. Whilst Dontnod concentrated on the full sequel, Life is Strange 2, publisher Square-Enix tapped Deck Nine for Beyond the Storm.
Deck Nine returns to the franchise with a new story, new location, and new characters for Life is Strange: True Colors. Unlike previous entries, True Colors has been released as a whole complete game, although still divided into chapters.
In Life is Strange: True Colors, players take on the role of Alex Chen, a new arrival in the mining town of Haven Springs, Colorado. The beginning of the game, sees Alex leaving a home to be with her brother, Gabe, whom she has been separated from for eight years. He lives in Haven Springs, Colorado.
The game gets straight into introducing the town’s colourful characters and the soapy melodrama that serves as a backdrop for the events to come. When a tragedy occurs, Alex must use her special power to dip into peoples’ emotions and get answers.
Throughout the game, Alex gets to feel the characters’ emotions and listen to their thoughts to decipher the cause of their anguish. At certain times in stepping into their feelings, Alex can locate the events that are triggering the emotions of others to help them. In doing so, players can start to piece together exactly what is going on in the town and the residents’ lives.
The gameplay is a modern update to the point-and-click adventures of old, as with previous titles in the series. It’s still a pretty unique gameplay experience, its closest peers being the Telltale adventure games of a few years ago, like The Walking Dead games. It’s not a hard game, being more of an interactive story than a traditional adventure game.
True Colors uses a similar method of characters remembering the actions of the player and adjusting their behaviour. The moral choices that the player makes affect the game. At the end of each chapter, the player’s choices are compared with those of the global player base. Looking at the different choices available to players, it’s very clear that no two players’ experiences with the game will be the same.
There are a few mini-games for players to have a go on. Alex’s apartment and the bar downstairs have a couple of classic arcade cabinets that can be played, including Arkanoid! Chapter three also sees the principal characters acting out a live-action RPG, complete with health bars, spells, and attacks.
The game is a very slow burn, with the first of the five chapters just setting the scene. As the story progresses Alex learns that her ability, far from being a curse, can also be used as a force for healing.
The character of Alex is one of the most fleshed-out characters I’ve come across in a game. Her backstory is heartbreaking, but it’s great to watch as her character grows during the game. Certainly, her characterisation helped me stick through the game, despite its up and downs.
Of the five chapters, only a few really gelled with me. The plot sometimes takes such a backseat to the everyday lives of the characters that the game feels unnecessarily long. The story is full of filler which may or may not be your cup of tea. Whilst I found huge sequences of the game a bit mundane, at the end of each chapter I still wanted more.
Overall, it’s a good tale. The multiple branches of the story make for a potential replay value for players wanting to see different outcomes. Individual scenes can be replayed to obtain trophies that were missed on the first playthrough without altering the story. Whole chapters can be replayed, changing the events in the game but saving them to a new file.
As with the previous games, True Colors has got a great soundtrack. The game isn’t shy of breaking out into a musical interlude. Whilst I wasn’t familiar with all of the artists, I really like the soundtrack, to the point that I’m listening to it now on Spotify!
Being the first game in the series developed natively for the PlayStation 5, True Colors looks amazing. The game retains the same almost painterly stylised look that is the series trademark but now much more refined and crisper, with ray-tracing to boot.
Players wanting to stream the game can do so via Twitch with their community able to make the choices in the game. The Square Enix Twitch plugin is required, but the game is all set up for interactive streaming, with an option to switch off licenced music to avoid copyright takedowns.
Life is Strange: True Colors is for players that enjoy games that are a little different. It has an intriguing story that unfolds at a leisurely pace, perhaps a bit too leisurely for some. The unique characters are well fleshed out and it has interesting locations to explore, with a touch of the supernatural.