Life Is Strange: True Colors is the latest entry into the Life Is Strange series, focusing on a brand new protagonist with her own set of supernatural powers. It's a bold and surprisingly focused affair, one that stands strong as possibly the best game in the series yet.
True Colors follows Alex Chen, who moves to visit her brother Gabe Chen in the fictional mining town of Haven Springs, Colorado. After an unfortunate accident, Gabe passes away. Alex is suspicious and decides to find out what exactly happened that night, which leads her to uncover some of Haven Springs' darkest secrets.
The air of mystery surrounding Gabe’s death and the pacing of each chapter are handled very well. No chapter overstays its welcome, and each one always ends on a suspenseful moment. The last two chapters have some pretty compelling twists as well.
This time around, all five chapters are available to play at once, but can also be played chapter by chapter if you wish. Life Is Strange 2 released episodically in a staggered schedule, which unfortunately lead to some awkward pacing. With the entire story being available in one go, the overall playing experience is much better this time around.
The Power of Empathy
What makes Life Is Strange: True Colors really stand out is Alex’s powers. She has the ability to see other people’s auras and tap into what they’re feeling in moments of intense emotion. However, when people lose control of their emotions, that affects her wellbeing too. If someone is overly violent, she’ll take on those same characteristics and lash out.
This aspect really helped the developers craft some incredibly creative gameplay scenarios. Through her empathetic superpower, she can see the world through other characters’ eyes, and many times that lead Alex venturing into overexaggerated versions of Haven Springs. In these scenarios, it’s almost like Alex is in an entirely new dimension altogether.
For example, in one scene a kid is afraid of some sort of imaginary monster. Of course, being an adult, Alex knows it’s all in the kid’s mind. She uses her powers to experience the intense fear for herself, resonating with the kid’s emotions. She can then actually see the same monster that the kid is seeing.
Moments like these represent Life Is Strange: True Colors at its absolute best. You can really feel the intensity during sad and angry versions of the power-activated scenes, as well as the joy and brightness during the happy ones. Alex’s powers also evolve later in the game too, and the new ways she utilizes them really help keep the game interesting.
Gameplay wise, in some crucial story beats, Alex has to consider the consequences of using her abilities, as they often influence the outcome of events later on. Alex has to balance the good that her powers can do for people with the fact that by intervening she could be crossing a line.
Feels Like a Small Open World
The setting of Haven Springs is disarmingly gorgeous, surrounded by snow-capped mountains and silver birch trees. While the town itself is incredibly small, it still feels very lively. Haven Springs has elements of a semi-open world environment. You’re given objectives to move forward in the story, but you’re also given freedom to walk around Haven Springs and interact with the citizens in most chapters.
Some of them even present optional side objectives. In one case, a woman was trying to look for a certain bird, I came across it at another location and then came back and told her where it was. In another, I was helping a poor guy search for his lost cat. These small scale concerns really bring some charm to Haven Springs. So much so that sometimes you forget you’re supposed to be investigating your own brother’s death!
Additionally, there are collectibles in each chapter around Haven Springs. Alex can use her powers to examine the auras of objects, which then play back memories associated with them. It's used as a great way to provide extra backstory for certain characters, further padding out the personal lives of Haven Springs' most interesting residents.
The voice acting in the game is phenomenal, especially with Alex when her emotions run high. You can really feel the intense anger or the dreadful fear in her voice. However, sometimes the normal dialogue between characters can come off a little awkward. In some scenes, when characters are finishing their sentences and waiting for the next one to speak, there’s a small pause in between that sometimes feels a bit unnatural.
The main cast of characters is a delight. Fans of the series probably already know Steph, who was also in Life Is Strange: Before the Storm. Steph is a potential love interest for Alex and so is Ryan Lucan, the son of the town’s bar owner, Jed. There’s also Gabe’s girlfriend, Charlotte, who becomes an extremely important part of Alex's journey as the story progresses.
What’s impressive here is that all of the side characters have equal amounts of time in the spotlight. While it’s understandable that Alex is the most affected by Gabe’s death since they’re siblings, the other characters cope with his death in their own ways. The game does a great job making sure that they’re well-developed by the end of the game.
Returning to Haven Springs
Life Is Strange: True Colors has a bevy of accessibility options, such as skipping mini games that require quick reflexes and giving extra time to decide on important story choices. After you’ve finished the game, you can go back and play each chapter separately to see the outcomes of different decisions. This allows for easy clean up for achievement collecting as well.
There’s a checkpoint system in place so that when you make an important story decision, it autosaves. This is primarily so you can’t try to reverse your main choices, although I do wish there was some sort of quick save option as well. There were times where I had to step away from the game and I wasn’t close to any sort of instance where the game could autosave.
Life is Strange: True Colors has an intriguing mystery and strong cast of characters. The implementation of the protagonist’s superpower is also the most creative it has ever been. While the fundamental choice-based narrative structure is largely the same, the game feels fresh with unique new ideas and presentation. Fans of the series and newcomers will definitely enjoy this.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X
A review copy of Life Is Strange: True Colors was provided to us by Publisher Square Enix.