STAFF REVIEW of Life is Strange: True Colors (Xbox One)

Wednesday, September 15, 2021.
by Peggy Doyle

Life is Strange: True Colors Box art I’ll admit I was more than a bit skeptical when I first heard that Alex Chen’s superpower was empathy in the new Life Is Strange Game. After Max’s ability to manipulate time in the original, and Daniel’s telekinesis in the sequel, it seemed like the ability to feel and take on the emotions of others would be a weak choice. I am happy to report that I was wrong. Seeing someone with empathy on the screen was a fantastic choice for the new game.

Life Is Strange: True Colors is the newest game in the well-known series. Developed by Deck Nine, the team behind the well received Before the Storm prequel, they have said they consider True Colors to be the ushering in of a new era for the Life Is Strange series. This is also the first game in the series to release all chapters at once. Because it wasn’t released episodically, it feels a bit more like bingeing an entire season of a show versus waiting weeks for it to play out. Playing straight though keeps the narrative easy to follow and remember.

We first meet Alex at the Helping Hands Group home where she is speaking to her therapist. She has been living there for 8 years and is finally ready to leave and live with her brother Gabe in Haven Springs, Colorado. She’s an adult (21) who’s already aware of her powers. Compared to her teenage predecessors, who struggled to come to terms with their newfound abilities, Alex feels more measured for it. It takes a lot to throw her as she’s already seen and been through quite a bit before. She’s less likely to react recklessly than the teenage protagonists the other Life Is Strange offerings. It’s a refreshing new take for the series but still played into the coming-of-age stories Life Is Strange is known for.

Alex doesn’t simply feel emotions of people around her; she sees auras (blue, purple, red and yellow depending on the emotion) and can tap into these emotions and actually hear what the characters are feeling. What are they afraid of, worried about, thinking etc.? Not only can she tap into them, but she can also actually take away these feelings of being afraid or angry, even if they hurt her in the process. As with other choices in the game, you can choose whether to take on the emotions or simply acknowledge the feelings and progress in the story.

In the opening scene we also see what a long way graphics have some in the Life Is Strange series. Alex’s facial movements are more subtle than previous games, her brow furrows when thinking and her eyes dart to the side or she’ll blink rapidly when trying to avoid a question. This may seem like such a small detail to focus on, but it really made me connect with Alex. She seemed more real, unsure and nervous about what her move will bring. These small facial movements even from other characters help fill in unspoken parts of the story as Alex works her way through the town meeting the locals in town. The animation was very well done, and the movements seems authentic and natural looking.

After a brief cutscene, Alex finds herself in Haven Springs, a beautiful village deep in the mountains of Colorado. Flowers in a range of beautiful and vibrant colours line the streets, contrasting with the lush greens of the grass and trees. There are tranquil sounds of the water running down the river. This beautiful scenery could easily be seen as a tourism advertisement for Colorado, or any mountain town (like Banff, Alberta). The small-town feel was also evident with characters. They all knew each other so well, and it was clear that they really cared for one another. Being from a small town, Deck Nine really hit on that familiarity for me. At the end of Chapter One there is an accident. It was shown in the trailers, but I won’t spoil here in case you haven’t seen them, and Alex must unravel the mystery involving the evil Typhon mining company, discovering the truth as to what happened.

Life Is Strange: True Colors is full of fascinating characters that each provide their own stories to the narrative. Although you need to talk to some of them to unravel the main story, others are simply there to add depth. You can choose to not talk to them, but you really would be missing out on some of the most heartfelt moments in the game. Small details are hidden around for you to discover and something as simple as discovering a couples initials carved into a bar stool led me to uncover a beautiful and heartbreaking story later on in the game. Should you choose to, you can tap into locals’ emotions and thoughts and help them solve some of their individual concerns while walking around the town. These range from helping a couple admit their feelings to one another, to helping a bird watcher find her elusive target to win a contest. I loved these small interactions in the game and it really made the game feel full.

As mentioned earlier, some characters are considered central to the story and one part involving a beloved elderly character, feeling all too familiar as I played through the game. As with any Life Is Strange game, you have options as to how to respond to characters, your dialogue and choices definitely do impact the game as you progress. As you react and chat with characters, you will see a variety of auras and facial expressions that may help you determine how they are feeling and how you may want to progress with the story and choose your words and responses. If you choose to not interact with some memories or characters, certain dialogue options simply will not be available to you and won’t factor into the ending you’ll get. I played through 3 times and had a different story unfold and very different endings. Deck Nine has said there are 6 distinct endings and none of them are canonically considered the true ending for the game. They are all valid, and all seem completely natural and authentic to Alex.

As you move though the story, and similar to other Life Is Strange entries, Alex’s journal entries update as you gather more info, as do her text messages on her phone. As you interact with characters, different dialogue choices in alternate playthroughs, even small things like song lyrics she was composing would be scratched out and changed in her journal. These can be totally different from one playthrough to the next. I noticed that the texts would also change, depending on conversations you did or didn’t have.

Just when I thought I knew how the story was going to play out, Deck Nine hit me with an unexpected twist that changed everything, and I couldn’t wait to see how the rest of the story/game finished. Chapter 3 was a LARP (live action role play) chapter, tossing in RPG game play elements that added a refreshing twist in game play mid game. A game within a game if you’d have it. I won’t spoil any of this chapter, but it was an unexpected and wonderful addition to the game. It fit in completely with the nerdy nature of some of the characters and I am so glad I didn’t have any of that spoiled for me prior to playing.

With all Life Is Strange games, there are romance options. In True Colors, Ryan and Steph are both solid choices for romances, and each felt rewarding in their own way. This was different from previous games where it seems like one romance option was clearly pushed as the choice you should make.

There were some noticeable framerate issues, specifically with the outdoor scenes while playing, and Deck Nine/Square Enix did provide information that it would be fixed with a patch at launch, as well as the missing ray tracing would also be there once the game officially launched. I am happy to report that post launch these issues appeared to be fixed.

The soundtrack for Life Is Strange: True Colors is compromised of an original score composed by folk and indie pop group Angus and Julia Stone and licensed tracks, some of which were specifically composed for the game. The haunting cover of the song Creep was prevalent in the trailers, and I immediately knew this would be a stirring soundtrack to listen to. It may be one of my favourite soundtracks I’ve ever experienced in a game and has been on repeat on Spotify since I finished my first playthrough.

There are many moments of Zen where Alex simply sits and takes in her surroundings. On the bridge, the dock as the edge of town, listening to a record player in her apartment or the record store. These all provided chances to take a minute to contemplate and really take in the depth to which music plays an important role in this game like all of them in the Life Is Strange series.

Deck Nine got a chance to prove itself with Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, but if there were any lingering doubts about where the developer can take the franchise, they’re surely cleared away with True Colors. Life Is Strange: True Colors has kept me more emotionally invested in any Life Is Strange Story since I played the original. Consistent writing for both main and side characters, a compelling, well paced story as well as dialogue choices that have actual consequences over the course of the five chapters, True Colors may just be the best entry into the Life Is Strange series.

**Life Is Strange: True Colors was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X*

Overall: 8.5 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.5 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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