Life is Strange True Colors continues the iconic franchise into its third mainline entry, placing us into the shoes of Alex Chen. Another of the series’ incredibly multi-faceted protagonists, this time with the supernatural power of empathy, Deck Nine weaves a tale through the idyllic Haven Springs with masterful world-building that’s shrouded in mystery.
Throughout all of Life is Strange’s titles, each protagonist goes through a powerful journey of self-discovery as they attempt to embrace who they are and where they fit into the world around them.
With Alex Chen, her gift is originally seen as a curse, and it’s not until she leaves her current life in the Foster Care system and heads to Haven Springs to be reunited with her brother, Gabe, that we get to help her to understand and appreciate both who she is and how she can help those around her.
Her empathy starts out as an uncontrollable force – something to be feared. As we delve into the game’s five chapters, though, she begins to harness it as a tool that can be used for good.
Life is Strange True Colors – key details
- Price: $59.99/£49.99
- Developer: Deck Nine
- Release Date: September 10, 2021
- Platforms: PlayStation / PC / Xbox / Stadia / Nintendo Switch
Life is Strange True Colors trailer
Immersive gameplay takes storytelling to new heights
As a huge fan of the Life is Strange series since its first release back in 2015, I’ve identified with and connected to all of the protagonist’s journeys. Discovering the first title when I was early in my transition, exploring Max Caulfield’s world as she learned about herself, her identity, and her power felt incredibly close to home to me as a trans woman.
While not the same story by any means, it allowed me to look introspectively into myself as a person and reflect on my own journey. Years later in Life is Strange True Colors, Deck Nine has managed to encapsulate something incredibly close to that original feeling to me, despite being in a much different stage in my life, both professionally and as who I know myself to be.
Life is Strange is a series that sticks with you and allows you to reflect on yourself and your own power, and True Colors is no different. As Alex arrives in Haven Springs, a town with truly realized characters that feel incredibly real, it’s presented as a town where nothing can go wrong.
While predominantly a mining town, Haven Springs is also an escapist’s dream, bringing together the idyllic respite from bustling city life that many now seek, with all of the comforts one would expect in a gentrified metropolis — there’s even an indie record store that doubles as a radio station, and a weed dispensary right down the street.
Nestled in the rocky mountains of Colorado, the game predominantly takes place throughout Main Street — bringing a closer focus to the game than we saw in the likes of Life is Strange 2, which took us across the US states and into Mexico. Haven Springs is a main character in itself, and it’s a wonder to explore.
True Colors begs to be played slowly and thoughtfully: take your time to uncover the environment, interact with everything that gives you a prompt, and listen to those that inhabit it. Side stories or simple conversations with NPCs that do nothing to drive the main story never feel tacked on, helping to flesh out this town more and more. There is so much to see, and so much to do, that if you accidentally miss out on something, it feels like you’re missing part of the story.
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The game even features a handful of other side-content to get lost in, from Arcade Games to rack up high scores in, Foosball matches to take down your friends in, and even a LARP (Live Action Role Play) for all of you fantasy fans out there who loved the tabletop RPG content from Before the Storm.
It’s a true testament to the world-building just how much I wish there was a way to freely explore each and every single location in Haven Springs, open-world style. After completing my first playthrough of the game in just over two sittings and rolling credits, I couldn’t wait to start up a brand new game and play it all over again, this time with my partner.
A less flashy superpower, with all of the heart
While Alex’s power initially comes off as slightly lackluster in comparison to the time-bending talent of Max Caulfield or Daniel Diaz’s telekinesis, Alex’s empathic skills bring a closer focus to all of those she interacts with. Characters in the world give off different colored auras that relate to varying emotions that Alex can see, and if she gets too close to someone feeling something too strongly, that power will overwhelm and affect her.
It’s a unique and interesting way for players to get a deeper insight into the characters you interact with: while the series has always given us the ability to listen to the protagonist’s internal monologue or journals and text messages to read through, until True Colors, the remaining cast’s internal thoughts and feelings were a complete mystery to us. Here, we can understand the motivations of a character, and work alongside Alex to steer them in a particular direction.
Color is also an integral experience to Alex’s power, but also outside of it. Whether it’s the way that Deck Nine uses it to portray mood and set a scene, to the visceral effects used to convey the rawness of emotion, I was constantly on the edge of my seat. Powerful story beats had my stomach in knots, while others had me laughing with pure joy.
Choice and circumstance
One of the major features of the Life is Strange series is affecting the outcome of a story, and True Colors gives you plenty of choice as you work towards your personal ending. These actions range from minute and inconsequential, such as choosing a vinyl to play, or much greater ones that come as a direct result of Alex’s power.
The game also lets you romance two of the town’s characters (or neither at all) — Ryan Lucan, a self-described ‘Mountain Man’, or Steph Gingrich, the town’s local radio host, who long-term fans of the franchise will recognize from Before the Storm.
While you’re free to either romance these individuals or keep them solely as part of your three-man friend group, it sometimes feels as if we don’t get enough time with these characters, particularly for any player looking to romance one of them. For a game that relies so heavily on world-building and the realization of its characters, it often feels like we’re missing part of the story of how this trio’s relationship builds — being sidelined to catch up on it through text messages or the game’s social media platform, MyBlock.
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Some plot points are also hardcoded into the game, and while having every one of them able to be completely changed is a huge feat to ask, some of the restrictions can seem a little out of place.
As mentioned earlier, you’re also rewarded with extra story points that shape your understanding of the town and its narrative if you take your time to listen to those that inhabit it, with branching stories developing and changing depending upon your actions, or lack thereof.
Stellar visuals and audio design held back by performance issues
True Colors is also arguably the best-looking game in the franchise yet. Fantastic animations, gorgeous ray-tracing, and that distinct Life is Strange visual style are topped only by an unmatched musical score, featuring the talents of powerhouses such as mxmtoon, Novo Amor, Angus & Julia Stone, Gabrielle Aplin, and Kings of Leon, to name a few.
Music ties the whole experience together: Alex can sing, play guitar, and loves even the most obscure bands that a music-lover would scratch their head at. Her wistful rendition of Radiohead’s Creep is even provided by the previously mentioned mxmtoon as her singing voice.
The game gives you plenty of chance to stop, take stock and soak in these nostalgic, acoustic-driven halcyon tunes throughout Haven in what they call ‘Zen Moments’. Here, Alex summarizes her feelings about what’s recently happened as the game pans through different shots of these gorgeously constructed scenes.
Despite being absolutely beautiful, some performance issues and bugs keep the game from truly shining. With ray-tracing turned on for PlayStation 5, the game dropped frames even in smaller, more intimate scenes. Outside, the game would also drag, taking you out of that truly immersive experience that Haven promises to be.
Pop in bugs were also present, especially when moving from cutscene to cutscene, where character models would appear out of nothingness into a T-pose before springing into action. While this only seemed to happen during the latter stages of the game, it takes the true impact out of some of those hard-hitting emotional moments.
Life is Strange True Colors has everything that fans of rich storytelling will love: a varied cast of characters, an intriguing setting to explore, and the chance the affect the overall outcome of what happens, putting the storytelling right into the player’s hands.
While at times the game does feel slightly more linear than previous titles and plot points can feel rehashed, it’ll keep you coming back to the town of Haven Springs time and time again.
It’s a game about walking to the beat of your own drum — we’re all on a journey of self-discovery and emotion, and Life is Strange True Colors reflects that to its core.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5.