You step into the shoes of Alex Chen, and while I certainly went through the emotional wringer in True Colors, it was nothing compared to Alex. After spending the past eight years being kicked to and from foster families and government institutions, Alex reconnects with her older brother Gabe and moves to the idyllic mountain town of Haven Springs after telling her therapist that she’ll be just a “normal girl in a normal town,” which couldn’t be further from the truth. Alex is an empath — she has the supernatural ability to see and feel another person’s emotions and hear their most vulnerable thoughts. While that sounds like a pretty awesome superpower, Alex considers it a curse as she can feel these emotions so strongly that they overwhelm her and become her, sometimes with dangerous consequences. Sadly, a tragic accident kills Gabe, and soon after, Alex has to use her power to investigate and uncover what really happened to her brother.
Deck Nine has taken Life is Strange back to a rural, small-town setting, which is where I think LiS works best. The long and arduous road trip in Life is Strange 2, with its many different locations, is out, and we’re now exploring a singular town that’s nestled snugly between the mountains. Haven Springs is beautiful and is a genuine pleasure to get lost in while walking its streets as Alex. Main Street is filled with flowers, birds chirp in the air, and it feels like it could be a real place with real people. Deck Nine has done a superb job in making Haven look the part and crafting a sense of community within the town. You’ll find people you can interact with in most places: milling about the streets, birdwatching, perusing records in the record store — there’s even an app akin to Facebook where people from the town banter back and forth. All of this makes Haven feel like a genuine place brimming with authenticity, which only sucks you in further, making you feel more immersed. All of your time will be spent here instead of hopping from location to location like in LiS 2. In the second chapter, Haven opens up, and you have free reign to walk its streets and check out the various stores. The town offers a sense of freedom compared to other entries into the series, which is a nice change, and transforms over time for events like the Spring Festival, immersing you further.
True Colors does away with the staggered episodic approach of previous LiS games, with each chapter available to play from the off. Sure, I’ll miss theorizing between episodes and comparing my choices with others, but not having to wait for what feels like an eternity between chapters really allows the story to flow. What hasn’t changed is the series’ explorative gameplay that we all know and love. Your time will be spent interacting with objects, solving simple puzzles, and talking with other characters, learning more about them and making those crucial, gut-wrenching decisions that ultimately shape your playthrough. However, there is one chapter in True Colors that is absolutely wild and is totally unlike anything else in a LiS game from a gameplay perspective. I won’t say too much because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but the game completely flips genres, offering an awesome turn of pace and something very different. When it happened, I was pleasantly surprised, and it quickly became my favourite part of True Colors.
With Alex’s superpower, characters who are in an emotional state are highlighted with a coloured glowing aura. She can use her power to get an insight into their mind, read their thoughts for new information, and unlock new dialogue options that will take you down a different path and ultimately affect the ending, for better or for worse. It’s an interesting mechanic that thematically blends well with the game’s overarching narrative and offers a touch more insight, exploration, and context. While her power starts off subtle, it can be used to quite a devastating effect in the later chapters.
Thanks to some superb writing and impressive voice acting, you’ll want to make sure that you interact with every character as each one is interesting and lives long in the memory after the game is over. I’ve seen fair criticisms that dialogue in previous LiS games is a little… out of touch, but it’s certainly not the case here. The writing is thoughtful, humorous, and wonderfully crafted. It’s also delivered to a higher standard than in all other games in the series. Usually, there are a few voice actors that don’t quite hit the mark, but I can’t say that for True Colors — the voice acting is a real treat. The writing and performances from the voice actors combined really make for intriguing characters and an emotional story that’s filled with a shocking twist I definitely didn’t see coming. It maybe doesn’t quite live up to the heartbreaking story of LiS or Life is Strange: Before the Storm, but it certainly comes close. The only gripes I have with True Colors’ narrative is that the conclusion of the investigation feels a little quick — it could have maybe been drawn out a little longer to keep up the suspense. Although not integral to the plot, romancing one of the characters, I won’t say who, was also a bit of a letdown. While I was picking every flirty option available, it all felt a little lacklustre and was without the emotional weight of other romances in previous games. I didn’t quite get around to romancing the other character, so hopefully, that relationship is more satisfying.
The biggest and most notable difference when compared to Deck Nine’s only other entry into the series, LiS: Before the Storm, is the facial animations. I was blown away by the subtleties in each character’s face when they’re speaking. Alex’s eyes dart nervously around the room when confronted; Steph Gingrich, the returning character from LiS, lets out a wry smile when she’s up to no good. There is real nuance in the facial animations that allow characters to say things without literally saying anything. I can not stress how good these animations are, especially when you go back and look at the wooden faces from previous titles.
While a lot of work has gone into the animations and the wonderfully designed character models and town, True Colors, unfortunately, does suffer from a few technical issues. In my playthrough, I was hit with numerous frame drops while exploring Haven Springs, some of the textures are pretty bad, and a few of the glowing auras weren’t loading properly and displayed a large black rectangle behind the character. Load times are also quite long. Playing on an Xbox Series X, the game would take a fair while to load when entering or exiting a store, which is something I haven’t come across in any other game while playing on the latest hardware. I’m sure all of this will be fixed in patches down the line, but these issues definitely detract from the overall experience, which is a shame.
At the time of writing, the achievement list wasn’t viewable, but I did unlock several in my playthrough. For the first time in a Life is Strange game, the achievements aren’t just related to completing a chapter or picking up collectables. Sure, those do still exist, but I found maybe three or four so far that require you to do certain things, like helping a man who has lost his dog or using your power to figure out how many jelly beans are in a jar to help another person win a prize at the Spring Festival. These are pretty straightforward achievements to unlock, and from what I can tell so far, True Colors will likely be an easy completion.
With its emotional gut-punching story, memorable and wonderfully crafted characters, and a beautifully designed setting that immerses you deeply into its world, Life is Strange: True Colors is a superb entry into the Life is Strange series. While the game’s conclusion does come just slightly too quickly, and some technical issues spoil the show, you won’t regret experiencing Alex Chen’s story. Simply put, Life is Strange: True Colors is a must-play.
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