The Life is Strange series has become somewhat of a darling since its launch six years ago. Since then, there’s been three other releases and now, Life is Strange: True Colours. Honestly, when this code came across my desk, I was hesitant given I’d bounced off each of the other games within minutes of booting them up.
I’m not really sure why I couldn’t vibe to the Life is Strange groove but with True Colours, all of that’s changed. I felt an instant kinship and connection with Alex Chen, True Colours‘ protagonist. Perhaps due to her view of herself as something broken, something other, I could relate to her.
I’ve a feeling that a lot of us can and will relate to that feeling.
Alex is much older than other characters we’ve followed in other Life is Strange titles. That too made it far easier for me to relate to and understand her. Being a mid-to early-mid 30s white male, I struggled to empathise with the kids at the centre of the first two games. The fact that Alex is an empath is also likely to help with that connection. She literally feels what other people are feeling and there’s a certain kind of comfort in knowing that which really allowed me to walk in her shoes.
And what a journey it is. Both personal and with wide-reaching consequences, Alex’s story is brilliantly told and wonderfully executed.
Life is Strange: True Colours Review
Alex lives in a group home and has been raised in the foster care system, having lost her parents at a young age. At the beginning of True Colours, Alex reunites with her older brother Gabe in Haven Springs, Colorado; the small mining town Gabe now calls home. Despite being separated for many years, the familial bond between Gabe and Alex (Half-Life anyone?) is as strong as ever.
Things get off to a great start as Alex is introduced around town and meets the colourful locals, until Mac bursts into Gabe’s apartment accusing Gabe of sleeping with his girlfriend Riley. A fight breaks out and we’re given our first look at Alex’s “power”; empathy.
Whenever somebody feels an emotion strongly, Alex can feel it too. But not just feel it, she shares it and feels the emotion as if it were alone. In this instance, she feels Mac’s rage and using it, beats the shit out of him to protect her brother.
Not a great first impression.
From here, Alex’s story gradually unfolds across the game’s five chapters. I’m not going to give you any additional details since the story is the game here. Suffice to say, there’s an overarching mystery, some tragedy and lots of difficult decisions to make. All of which culminate in one final scene determining Alex’s fate.
Saying the story in Life is Strange: True Colours is the game might sound overly simple but I assure you it’s not. As Alex, players simply explore each scene, looking for things to interact with and move the story along. There’s not really any puzzle-solving or gameplay per see, instead, controlling Alex is the vehicle through which this story plays out.
There’s nothing wrong with that, to be clear. However, if you like a bit more meat on the bones of your game, then Life is Strange: True Colours may not be for you. You could argue the case that it’s an adventure game, but in my view, it’s a visual novel or a mildly interactive film.
The most ‘gamey’ parts of True Colours are, unsurprisingly, using Alex’s power to interact with people and objects. Her ability allows her to see auras around people and items and hone in on them to feel the associated emotions and even reveal the history behind said emotion. It creates some genuinely ‘real’ moments and fleshes out the backstory of Haven Springs, the townsfolk and Alex herself. The more you investigate and explore, the more you’ll get to learn about this world and the people in it. If you prefer to blast through the story, you can do this too, though you’ll be missing a good deal of accoutrements.
There are tonnes of little side quests and “missions” to take part in, again though, these are more of the same thing. Scan a person or object, learn what you need to learn, talk to somebody about it…profit? There’s not a lot to it, but when the storytelling is this good, it doesn’t need to be.
The strength of the writing is not the only thing that makes Life is Strange: True Colours a success. The performances (both capture and vocal), visuals and music come together to deliver a really special package. Without any of these things being as good as they are, this game would still be pretty good, but having them all function in perfect harmony and at such a high level makes Life is Strange: True Colours such a joy to experience.
The voice acting is uniformly flawless across the board. Each and every character, from Alex down to “New Miner” have nuance and feeling in each and every delivery. That said, there are some pretty awful lines here and there that feel stilted and weirdly out of place. It’s not the performance that’s at fault but the writing. They are very few and far between, but take you right out of the experience when they occur.
Visually, Life is Strange: True Colours is striking. Utilising the same visual style as the previous game, True Colours elevates the visuals to a whole new level. Haven Springs is bright and colourful and very much alive. It walks the line between realistic and cartoony/artistic really well and blends the disparate styles really well. It can’t be easy to make a game look as good as this and also marry a mix of visual styles. Kudos to Deck Nine.
Finally, the soundtrack is brilliant. Angus & Julia Stone deserve all the accolades they’re bound to receive as the new music they’ve created specifically for this game sets the tone perfectly. It’s a mix of sleepy indie wonder, vibrant joy and weepy sad longing. The remainder of the licensed tracks in the game are all winners. Look out for the game’s take on Radiohead’s Creep. If you’re not crying by the end, you may need to check if you’re human…
Life is Strange: True Colours is the rare example of a game with both style and substance where both are equally important and neither falters. The third act does wrap up a little too quickly but it doesn’t fall apart under the weight of its own narrative.
From the opening moments until the credits stop rolling, Life is Strange: True Colours is an exploration of what it means to feel, to be connected to other people and to understand their point of view; something which is sorely missing from modern life and discourse. People are far too quick to judge others without seeing things from the perspective and Life is Strange: True Colours hammers home how important and special empathy really is in our everyday lives.
Alex may have super empathy, but we’re all capable of at least a fraction of what she can do. If you learn anything from Life is Strange: True Colours, it should be to exercise more empathy and learn to understand others before you judge them.
I may not have cared for the games which came before it, but Life is Strange: True Colours is truly wonderful.
Life is Strange: True Colours was reviewed on PS5 using a digital code provided by Square Enix.