Whenever a new game in the Life is Strange universe is announced, I always get extremely hyped because I know that I’m in for a treat and whether it is from Dontnod or Deck Nine, the developers will deliver. The announcement of Life is Strange True Colors was no different and I was excited to get my hands on the game. This time the development responsibilities fell on Deck Nine, previously responsible for Life is Strange: Before the Storm, hence why the title is also not a numbered entry.
The Life is Strange franchise is known for its everyday type of storylines mixed with superpowers and an amazing soundtrack. Max from the original game had the ability to manipulate time while Daniel from LiS 2 had telekinesis. These definitely go into the realm of superhero abilities, which is further reflected in the age of the characters, their daily lives, adventures and their surroundings. Life is Strange True Colors however shakes this formula up a bit. Alex Chen, the protagonist has powers of Empathy. Coming from the time manipulation of Life is Strange and basically, Force-wielding of Life is Strange 2, Alex’s powers of Empathy, sensing and possibly impacting what emotions others are feeling, are a huge departure from what fans of the franchise are familiar with. This may not sound that special but given today’s day and age, I’m sure the world could use that power of empathy.
If you have seen the announcement trailer of Life is Strange True Colors, you already know the basic premise of the game. If you haven’t and are going in blind just on the name value of Life is Strange then I won’t spoil the specifics for you. True Colors basically puts Alex in the middle of an “accident” turning into a murder mystery. However, unsurprisingly that is murder mystery is just one part of the game and the overall narrative is a lot deeper and more poignant. The familiar themes of wanting to belong and being part of communities that we have already seen in previous Life is Strange games make a return but this time they are dealt a lot more maturely. That is obviously due to the fact that, unlike previous games where you played as teenagers Max Caulfield, Chloe Price or Sean Diaz, Alex Chen is an early 20s adult who has not only seen the rough side of life already but is also well familiar with her powers and has been for quite some time.
Not to discredit any of the previous games, they are some of my favorite narrative-driven games of all time, but they definitely came across as somewhat cringe-y at times but that is better chalked off to actual good writing as you are in the shoes of teenagers doing dumb teenager things (I’m sure every adult feels the same way when they look at kids these days). Since True Colors isn’t shackled by those things, you get to experience the game through the eyes of an adult, Alex, who is a lot more mature for her age due to the struggles in life she has been through, constantly moving between foster homes until she gets in touch with her long-lost brother Gabe and moves to the small town of Haven Springs to live with him in a new community.
The first chapter of the game serves as an introduction to the community of Haven Springs and all the people you will interact with. Only a few minutes in, I was smiling at every character and how they were introduced. These were people I wanted to get to know more and hang out and not a single person was instantly dislikable (well there was one but it’s a bit complex with him) and since the game takes place in this small community, you know there won’t be a rotating cast of characters like Life is Strange 2 so you can get to learn more about all these people.
People are indeed the central focus of LiS True Colors. There is no big super element here like the main numbered iterations of Life is Strange. No town to save from a storm, no running from the law while guarding your telekinetic brother. Life is Strange True Colors is a much more personal and grounded story, similar to Deck Nine’s previous work with Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Throughout the game, you can roam through the main street of the town engaging with not only the central cast of characters but also other residents of Haven Springs, getting to know their lives and struggles and possibly even help them.
That is where Alex’s power of Empathy comes in. As I mentioned before, she can feel the emotions of others around her as auras; joy, sadness, anger and fear. Going deeper into the aura reveals their thoughts to Alex so it serves as sort of a mind-reading power. If the auras are strong enough and should Alex chooses to interact with it, they can even have a bigger impact on Alex. In a sort of Batman Arkham-style detective view, Alex can piece together pieces of someone’s thoughts using the emotional auras they have left behind while interacting with objects. This leads to some great storytelling and world-building which is further enhanced by some top-notch voice acting and animations to further sell the emotional aspect of every character’s life.
You find out at the start of the game how Alex has been sort of an outcast her entire life due to her power, even thinking of herself as a freak which is reflected in the dialogue choices. Over the course of the game, you can help her come out of her shell and feel like she belongs with this community of loving people. As she interacts more and more with these people, becomes a part of their lives and absorbs their auras, she herself starts to change and feel normal as if she is finally among family.
As I mentioned before, the citizens of Haven Springs are instantly likeable and a big part of that is the voice acting. While the previous games had really decent voice acting too but the emotional side of things sometimes just didn’t sit right and in no place was that more apparent than when it came to Sean’s voice in LiS 2. Thankfully, the little grievances I did have all been fixed in True Colors and every character sounds phenomenal and further solidifies how great the narrative and performances are.
Despite being an amazing game, I do however still have some minor grievances with Life is Strange True Colors. Thankfully these are just some minor issues and a few of them might be fixed by launch through a patch or could be isolated incidents in my case only. The biggest issue I would consider, and this is mainly just nitpicking and me wanting more, is the length of the game. LiS True Colors ditches the episodic format of previous games and as a complete journey in its entirety (although there is a Steph-focused prequel DLC: Wavelengths, scheduled for release at the end of September).
While previous games delivered 5 episodes over the course of roughly a year, True Colors is divided into 5 chapters all of which can be played at launch. In a classic case of “you miss things once they are gone” I did somewhat miss the wait for a new episode, tension being ramped up due to the cliffhanger ending of the previous episode. On top of that, True Colors feels as if it was created as a full game and then further divided into chapters because of the sudden way some chapters end, none more so than the ending of Chapter 3. Obviously, as I mentioned before, this is just nitpicking from my side and not everyone will feel the same way. I would however like for the developers to continue experimenting with their release format, perhaps weekly releases like Tell Me Why so that the drama has the players on the edge.
Another issue related to the release format is the length of the game. While longer games don’t necessarily mean better ones and by no means does True Colors suffer due to its length, I did however feel that it was a tad on the shorter side. To check further I decided to go to my Steam library and see my gameplay hours on the previous games and was surprised to learn that I had finished the game, with every collectible bar two in a chapter, in just 10 hours!
I’m definitely not someone who rushes these games and took the time out to interact with every character, enjoy every Zen moment and listen to all the music opportunities. Still, True Colors ended up being the same length as Life is Strange Before the Storm, which was a 3-Episode story while the original Life is Strange and Life is Strange 2, both from Dontnod Entertainment, clocked in from 13-15 hours. This isn’t really a downside but I just wish I could have spent more time in the game world. Thankfully, there are enough major choices in the game to make me do a second playthrough for a different ending.
While performance isn’t something that matters too much in games like these, there were certain points in Life is Strange True Colors where for some reason my frames dropped to below 20 when I had to use my powers. Originally I thought it might have been my resolution and settings but turning them down didn’t fix the issue either. Hopefully, there is a patch on launch day to fix this minor problem.
All in all, I would say Life is Strange True Colors is an amazing step forward for the franchise and delivers yet another emotionally moving story, great performances and top-tier soundtrack. Alex Chen’s powers are a welcome addition to the growing roster of Life is Strange characters and she might actually be my favorite one so far. I can’t wait to get my hands on the Wavelengths DLC and eagerly await the next installment of the Life is Strange franchise while keeping my fingers crossed for an Avengers-type event where all the powered individuals from LiS universe come together. Not too much to hope for is it?