The original Life is Strange released back in 2015 and immediately changed how we thought about games. Released episodically, covering five episodes over the year the chapters delivered supernatural content, all in regards to the lead’s time manipulation skills. But more importantly, it dealt with human emotions and teen relationships in a small town. It very quickly grew a huge fan base, spawned another tale in Before the Storm and then threw out a sequel in Life Is Strange 2. Life is Strange: True Colors is now here to wow us once more, this time releasing as a full game from the start, ditching the episodic content. Many have been extremely excited about where True Colors would go. And believe me, if you are in that camp, you won’t be disappointed.
There are certain game franchises that are happy to just copy and paste the same old formula before putting it on the shelves. With this latest reiteration of Life is Strange though, the series has completely moved on, in terms of story, game mechanics, and the all-important world-building.
This story involves the lead character of Alex Chen, a young woman who we meet before gathering up the fact that she has had a rocky past path; one full of trauma and uncertainty. She begins her journey arriving at the pretty old mining town of Haven Springs, deep in the Colorado mountains. She is looking to be reunited with her brother Gabe after five lost years. You see, Gabe arrived here looking for their lost father, before ending up calling the place home. He now wants to make Alex feel like it’s hers as well…
This however is Life is Strange, and you know what that means. Alex has a special gift that she considers a curse – the ability to read auras and emotions of people, absorbing them and manipulating the emotions in order to find out truths and to eventually help them. This means that when a traumatic event happens early on in the story, Alex’s gift is used keenly to work out the truth of what really happened and the covered-up story by those involved.
The story, writing, and dialogue are a huge part of what is brilliant about the Life is Strange series and True Colors doesn’t let up in delivering a fantastic, intriguing tale that is brilliantly developed and executed. The characters are all very likeable and the main lead of Alex is someone I was completely invested in from the start of the game, right through to the finish. And what the development team have managed to do well is make a game about relationships and how nuanced these can be; how we are all trying our best to do the right thing, however flawed. The relationship between Gabe and Alex is brilliantly written especially in some of the later flashback sequences that are, frankly, a bit of a masterclass.
The dialogue is witty, always well observed and the pacing is much better than the last few games in the franchise. It works best – at least for me – having all the chapters in one package rather than being released every couple of months. It’s this which allows it to feel more immersive and engrossing. Of course, you still get the opportunity to take in a chapter at a time, tackling it with a break. You can however binge play the lot in one go, taking in the 8 to 10 hour running time in a couple of hits.
Gameplay starts with much of what you expect from a narrative adventure of this type. You walk around the towns and locations listening to conversations and examining a massive range of objects and things of interest. It’s when you get involved in conversation that things become great though, dealing with choices in the dialogue trees. There are around five major decisions to make in each chapter, with these affecting the outcome of the story. As well as following the main story you can take in some little side missions by helping people out around town, completing additional quest lines to further the running time. As is the norm, at the conclusion of each chapter, you get a rundown of the decisions you made in comparison to others; something which is always interesting to see.
True Colors really does work. Using your empathy power is exciting as you begin to understand how it works: if a person is angry their aura becomes red or should they be fearful, it’s blue. You can press A over them and enter their emotions, hoping to find out more about what they are thinking or what their true intentions are towards a person or situation. I found this addition very cool; it has been fascinating to use and a great addition.
There are some very clever enhancements to the gameplay as well including a foosball match that I could have played lots more of. Then there is an amazing chapter which pushes you into a whole roleplaying session with turn-based combat that is extremely well executed. It gets better though as a drinking game involving twenty questions comes to the fore, as do some arcade games to play – including an 8-bit title called Mine Haunt. I sunk hours into that alone.
The town of Haven looks wonderful, full of picturesque detail, colours and architecture, with the locations providing multiple places for you to thoroughly explore. The attention to the finer moments of every item dotted around, from flyers for an event, to postcards or a piece of furniture in a shop, is high, with it all placed with thought and deliberation. The use of colour in terms of the place, but also the aura emitting from people and in the fantasy sections, are so well executed throughout that it borders on the ridiculous – in a good way. Facial expressions have come on a lot since the early games too and the character animations are much more three-dimensional.
It’s obvious that the team behind True Colors are big indie fans when it comes to music and this game could well be a music fan’s dreamland. Tunes can be played on jukeboxes, on record players, and through some splendid cutscenes. And Alex is a musician herself, put to good work via a couple of superb cover songs in the game – the official track listing is well worth a listen. That quality merges into the voice work and performances too; they are of such a high standard that I thought well-established stars were drafted in, surprised at how little they had done when looking at IMBD. The direction and performances are some of the best I’ve ever seen in a game and my hat goes off to every one of them.
I’ve been pretty much bowled over by Life is Strange: True Colors – the story, characters, and themes have really managed to strike a chord. Others might find the tone and writing not to their taste and that’s fine, but I don’t think anyone can deny that the team behind it have progressed their art form and game-making skills in a positive direction with this latest addition to the franchise. Long may it continue.
Show your True Colors with Life is Strange from the Xbox Store