Life is Strange: True Colors demonstrates Deck Nine and protagonist Alex Chen’s empathetic powers through its skillful storytelling and characters.
There was nothing quite like Life is Strange when it was first released. It was a point-click adventure modelled after the Telltale games where players interact with their surroundings to reveal information, and the plot is often driven by enthralling characters rather than by action. It focused its attention on the lives of teens and the trials and tribulations they often face, but with a twist: Max Caulfield was gifted with the ability to rewind time. Though its reviews were just “generally favourable” at the time, gamers’ love for Life is Strange aged well, eventually calling for a prequel, a spinoff, and two more main installments. Whenever a game is so strongly adored, it’s easy to let expectations rise, only to be disappointed that it’s not quite the same experience. Perhaps Life is Strange 2 was somewhat plagued by this, but now, Life is Strange: True Colors delivers a similarly emotional and cathartic experience but packaged in stunning graphics, fluid gameplay, and heartfelt dialogue.
This time, players step into the shoes of Alex Chen, a young adult who’s been in and out of orphanages and foster systems since she was a teen. While her brother was able to escape and disappeared, she struggled to find a permanent home because of her powers. Alex is an Empath and therefore able to tap into another person’s emotions. But while she sees this as a curse, unable to control the negative feelings when they’re overwhelming, her powers ultimately become a gift that everyone around her recognizes, as she uses it to help them deal with her brother’s death.
Alex joins her brother in the small town of Haven Springs, a town so perfect it’s almost surreal. With dense flowers overtaking every corner and appearing in nearly every shop, a sun ever-peaking over the mountaintops, and deer drinking from a river running through the main street, the picturesque location might feel more like heaven than a real place, such as the dingy room players find Alex sitting in during the first moments of Life is Strange: True Colors. Not to mention that the place is named “Haven.” And the folks might seem to match this same beauty inward and outward, but some will begin to show their true colors after Alex’s brother Gabe dies in a tragic accident when she’s only just reconciled with him.
There’s no doubt that Life is Strange: True Colors is the most cinematically gorgeous game the team has released so far, but the ways in which Life is Strange has grown since the first game are more than apparent. Possibly the biggest gripe of the first game was awkward dialogue, unnatural facial expressions, and, in some rarer reviews, unlikeable characters. But with True Colors, characters are arguably the strongest element of the game, animation has never been better, and the acting is more realistic thanks to full facial motion capture. Unfortunately, the haptic feedback provided by the DualSense PS5 controller doesn’t add much to the experience the way its many complex and amiable personalities, art direction, and soundtrack do.
After Gabe passes, the town is wrought with turmoil. He was close with many of Haven’s residents, except for Alex, whom he was only beginning to reconnect with. Now, Alex tasks herself with the impossible—not just finding the truth behind his death, but helping everyone deal with their grief. While other Life is Strange titles explore death, grieving, and their variations, none of them has explored the immediate aftermath so intimately and realistically as True Colors. The death of a loved one kick starts an array of complicated emotions, especially when the loss itself is complex, and Life is Strange: True Colors tackles it head-on and accurately. There’s no one “right” way to deal with loss, and True Colors shows that. Similarly, it saves the essence of other Life is Strange games: there are seldom correct answers to every problem.
Each character in Haven Springs is lifelike and complicated, and Alex must use her superpower of empathy to understand what they’re truly feeling. Some will feel rage and hate, while others will feel sadness and pain. Some residents will be quick to point the finger and blame or get defensive so they don’t seem like the villain—all very normal emotions when struggling with the loss of a loved one. But as Life is Strange: True Colors will show, how one chooses to cope with those emotions is what really matters, which is why certain personas truly shine throughout the game.
If characters are the stars of Haven Springs, then Steph and Ryan are front and centre as some of the most well-crafted. Alex can choose to share a romantic relationship with one of them by the end, but ironically, the player might find themself falling in love just as well. Steph has only evolved from her nerdy dungeon master in Life is Strange: Before the Storm. She’s passionate and hot-blooded, pouring herself into everything that she does. And if Steph is chaotic good, then Ryan would be lawful good, a kindhearted outdoorsman overflowing with dad jokes. But ultimately, he cares about the people around him more than anything.
When it comes to spending time with the folks of Haven Springs, no chapter could have been too long. In fact, players might be a bit jarred by how short the overall experience is, though its length is similar to the other Life is Strange games. But it’s worth considering that while the length remains the same, the price point has increased. Until now, a Life is Strange game has never been more than $40, including the Remastered Collection. Now, Life is Strange: True Colors has a tag of the regularly seen $60 but with the same number of play hours. The trade-off is the generally much more impressive graphics and animations.
Each chapter is brimming with emotion and love, especially Chapter 3, begging players to peek around every nook and cranny. Fans of Steph’s Dungeons and Dragons session from Before the Storm are in for a real treat when they reach the LARPing. They’ll find many typical activities that one would find in typical fantasy action adventures. It hits the nail on the head of RPGs but is still easy and still enough that gamers who don’t typically play games with heavy combat will still enjoy the experience. It’s childish, but seeing the happiness it provides everyone is infectious. At its core, Life is Strange: True Color is a feel-good slice-of-life game about the friends Alex makes during her time at Haven Springs. Until it isn’t.
Life is Strange 2 changed up the formula quite a bit. Players don’t control the kid with the superpowers and it’s not so much of a mystery as it is a harrowing road trip, even if players don’t really know what’s waiting for them at the end of the line. But True Colors brings the series back to its roots. Life is Strange was a thriller with unexpected twists and turns, even splitting away from reality to finally break the cycle, a tactic that True Colors uses as well. For a long time, Alex is comfortable in this haven, getting to know this new world and all of its charming perfection. Its residents, who all have good hearts. She becomes comfortable and happy with her new life. But it’s too good to be true. The truth of Haven’s history is sinister, but only by understanding what others feel can Alex come to an understanding of what really happened to Gabe and why.
If Life is Strange: True Colors suffers from anything, if at all, it might be that Alex’s choices sometimes ring a bit hollow. While there may be a total of 6 various endings, they seemingly all lead down the same path with the same culprit. Yes, Alex’s decisions play a part in the final scenes, but it’s difficult to imagine how different those moments could possibly be, unlike Life is Strange 2’s many bittersweet endings. However, within those endings, players will find consequences of their actions and successes in their triumphs, such as how they choose to deal with Charlotte’s anger or Pike’s fear. These decisions will influence the final moments but will not change the conclusion the way Sean and Daniel Diaz’s story does. Some players might be somewhat disappointed by this lack of control. Instead, how Alex chooses to use her Empath powers will make often only subtle differences in other people’s lives, but it won’t make or break anything. The same was said about Life is Strange.
The writers from Deck Nine and DONTNOD have demonstrated that their gift is not unlike Alex’s. They have an empathy and understanding of the struggles that humans face. Life is Strange: True Colors builds on what the first instalment did well and does it even better. No game in the series so far has reached this height of catharsis, and by the end of it, players will be heartbroken to leave the imperfectly perfect town of Haven Springs.
Life is Strange: True Colors releases September 10, 2021 for PC, PS4, PS5, Stadia, Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Read our policy.