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December 2023

Life Is Strange: True Colors

Platform(s): Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Deck Nine Games
Release Date: Sept. 9, 2021


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PC Review - 'Life is Strange: True Colors'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Sept. 8, 2021 @ 9:00 a.m. PDT

Life Is Strange: True Colors is a new entry in the Life is Strange franchise featuring an all-new playable lead character, a new power and a thrilling mystery to solve!

Buy Life is Strange: True Colors

Life is Strange: True Colors follows the story of Alex Chen, who has been in and out of hospitals and foster homes since she was a child. She has a reputation for being violent, but the violence is due to her special power: super-empathy that allows her to feel the emotions of others that can overwhelm her. She finally gets a chance to start over when her brother Gabe invites her to the small Colorado town of Haven Springs. Unfortunately, a day before she arrives, Gabe dies in a mysterious accident. Now Alex must try to settle into this strange new city while looking into what caused Gabe's accident — and why there seems to be an attempt to cover it up.

True Colors is half a game about solving a mysterious death and half a game about interacting with a colorful cast of characters in a comfortable small town. Of the two, the small town is by far the most engaging and interesting part of the story. There is a wide cast of characters who all have their own foibles and flaws, and it's genuinely engaging to figure out how to help them. There are even some side stories that feature minor characters who you can impact, ranging from finding a lost dog to fostering a romance between two friends.

What makes this worse is that the cast is likeable, and the setting is mundane. It's fun to spend time around them, so it doesn't matter if it's a night at a bar or an impromptu LARP session; they feel like people who you'd enjoy being around. It also makes the drama hit harder when the characters suffer from problems that are smaller but no less meaningful. There were a few moments that shocked me in how the game managed to take something small and make it hit so hard.

The other part of the story is the murder mystery that drives the plot, but this is where the narrative loses its footing. The mystery, such as it is, is boring and predictable. Every twist can be predicted well in advance, and there are almost no surprises. More to the point, it feels slow and lacking in consequence. Rather than being interested in the ongoing mystery of Gabe's death, I wished it would go away so I could get back to the parts that True Colors does much better. I think True Colors would've been a much stronger game if Gabe's death had been a senseless accident and the story revolved around how it impacted the people who cared about him.

Ultimately, I enjoyed True Colors, but I have little interest in revisiting it a second time because the mystery element lacks the teeth to make it worth sitting through a second time. It's a shame because I know I missed a lot of character interactions that I would've loved to see. At the end of each chapter, there's a nice lineup of our choices, so we can see which alternate paths we could've taken. If a second playthrough only involved spending time in Haven Springs, I'd be up for it.

Alex's emotion powers are interesting window dressing for getting into the minds of characters. While it is an explicit in-world superpower, it's treated like a thematic thing. Nobody seems to mind that Alex sits there and stares at them bizarrely before saying exactly what they were thinking. It's a neat one, as the focus is less on thoughts and more on feelings. You get a glimpse into what is making the character really angry at the moment, whether it's a horrible tragedy or they locked their keys in the car.

One of the more interesting but underutilized bits are the "Nova" segments, where Alex encounters an emotion so absurdly strong that she is overwhelmed by it, twisting the world around her into something more symbolic of her target's feelings. These segments really take advantage of the mind-bending powers to present an interesting environment that you wouldn't otherwise see. They don't appear as often as I'd like, and the lack of a real climactic one feels oddly out of place.

True Colors trues to gussy up its walk-and-talk gameplay with a variety of minigames, most of which are fun. You can play a simple game of foosball or a few knock-off arcade games. My favorite is an entire chapter dedicated to a LARP, which turns the game into a light RPG, complete with turn-based combat. The game strikes a nice balance between being point-and-click and spicing things up a bit. There are even a few simple puzzles here and there.

Overall, you know what you're getting out of True Colors. It's a Life Is Strange game, and not a ton has changed in this iteration. It still controls similarly, has the same basic structure, and it's still divided into chapters despite being released as an entire experience. This isn't a bad thing, as the franchise clearly knows what works for it, but don't expect any huge twists to the formula.

True Colors looks great. The environments are packed with detail, and the character models are extremely well animated. There's a lot of heart put into the facial animation, and the development team manages to pull off some surprisingly intense acting with just a character's face. The voice work is also excellent, with Alex absolutely nailing the right mix of standoffish and kindness that makes her more endearing than annoying. The soundtrack also features a mix of classic tunes and indie hits because this is a Life is Strange game, after all.

Life is Strange: True Colors is a fun entry in the franchise. It doesn't really break any rules or do anything shocking, but it's a comfortable game to play. The time I spent in Haven Springs put me in a shockingly good mood for a game revolving around a murder, and I welcomed the entire experience. Unfortunately, the tacked-on murder mystery drags down the story somewhat and keeps it from reaching the highest highs that it can. If you're a fan of the franchise, you're sure to like this latest entry.

Score: 8.0/10

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