Life is Strange has become a favorite adventure series among young social progressives and anyone who’s got a love of chill tunes and heartfelt stories. The Life is Strange brand is well-established at this point, and True Colors fits the mold capably. If you have any questions about what this title entails, you likely already have the answers. That said, more of the same isn’t necessarily bad, because few games can capture the same atmosphere as this series. Though, a little straying from the path wouldn’t hurt to freshen things up a bit.
True Colors follows the story of one Alex Chen, a young adult who spent a good number of her adolescent years in foster care floating from parent to parent. She’s finally left the care of her therapist and foster agency to live with her brother, Gabe, in a small mountain town in Colorado. Haven Springs is a rustic place with a long history of miners, most recently led by Typhon, a multi-national corporation. Never really having a home after family upheaval when she was young, Alex struggles to make connections with others, but now that she lives with her brother, maybe that can change.
Of course, what’s Life is Strange without a superpower? Alex has the uncanny ability to read people’s intense emotions with a side of telepathy. Essentially, if a character is having a rough go of it—fear, anger, sadness—then Alex can sense it to such a degree that she can take on the emotion and see the world through that person’s eyes. She also has the ability to read the person’s thoughts and get a hint as to why they are feeling that way. As is the theme throughout the game, this is a blessing and a curse.
Quickly, the relationships Alex establishes with the Haven residents drew me in. True Colors has one of the strongest openings to a story-based game I’ve experienced in a long time. I somehow felt immediately attached to almost everyone Alex meets. Again, the story beats and archetypes have become something of a trope in this series, so expect a few one-dimensional characters littered about, but even knowing this, the dialogue, voice acting, and pacing create an engaging opening.
The plot loses its way as the story progresses, opting for relationship building and happy times over tension and intrigue. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as some people may prefer a sort of slice-of-life feel, but, traditionally speaking, this may feel like a slog. Though it may be no coincidence, the central plot and plot-related conflict can feel shallow and ridiculous at times. Characters don’t always act like you’d expect, and how everything plays out from start to finish requires a significant amount of suspension of disbelief. Despite wanting to engage fully in the story and its characters, I found some of the storytelling decisions awkward and far-fetched.
In standard fashion, story-based decision making is core to the gameplay; however, several of the decisions are simple and binary. True Colors plays it safe with predictable outcomes resulting from predictable choices. Again, that’s not great, but it’s possible to overlook because the dialogue, characters, and acting are so strong. I didn’t personally mind this because we so infrequently get games with heart and atmosphere like Life is Strange. At this point, I welcome the predictability, though I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish they’d take some risks with choices and storytelling.
The gameplay flows in third-person view from behind Alex as she navigates a handful of locations (apartment, bar, the streets of Haven, etc.) She gains the opportunity to occasionally meander, inspect highlighted items in the environment, and listen in on less crucial NPCs as they work through their own problems. Alex can sometimes examine people’s emotions and use information she learns this way to help solve people’s problems, but this, too, can feel cookie-cutter and overly simplistic. Again, without the high quality of writing and acting, this design would easily fall apart.
Accessibility is front and center as players get the opportunity to make several choices as the game loads for the first time to help make the game suitably playable for any limitations and preferences one may have. I personally loved the ability to extend dialogue timers, as I’ve actively complained about timers in Telltale and similar titles for years. This is the wave of the future, and Deck Nine are at the forefront.
Graphically, True Colors is a noticeable improvement over previous titles yet still maintains the artistic feel of its predecessors. Facial expressions are exceptional, as they’d kind of have to be in a title about emotions. Fans of Life is Strange music will find similar mumbling into the microphone here with acoustics for backup. I enjoyed the music tremendously and even found myself dozing during those opportunities where the music loops as Alex looks around her picturesque locale. This is a soundtrack I’ll be listening to for years to come, for sure—and I may have found a new favorite artist or two.
Life is Strange: True Colors opens phenomenally well and then somehow loses its way, never really knowing if it wanted to tell a cheesy conspiracy story or dive completely into slice-of-life territory. I wish it chose an identity. Most of all, I wish it took some chances. I don’t want to say the series is growing stale, but there’s certainly a careful balance needed between giving fans what they expect and reinventing some aspect of itself. This is a cool world to get lost in over a weekend, but it may float on by as a passing phase.