Ever since the first Life is Strange game release back in 2015 I've been waiting for a proper follow-up to the time-bending adventures of Max and Chloe. While Life is Strange 2 and Before The Storm filled that need somewhat, they could never quite reach the emotional highs and lows of the series first title. Life is Strange: True Colors is one of those rare follow-ups that not only improves everything across the board, but also gives the series a much-needed revival.
Painting a Picture
One major criticism of the Life is Strange games has always been its inconsistent visuals and performance. From its pseudo comic book like art direction to its often choppy frame rate and inconsistent lip-syncing, the previous games would often pull you out of its story due to its technical limitations. But unlike the previous entries in the series, True Colors comes with not only a fresh coat of paint in the form of a much-needed graphical overhaul, but surprisingly some of the best motion capture and facial animations I’ve seen in modern games. For a game that's all about its story and character development, it's important to be able to see the character's emotions through their facial expressions. Life is Strange: True Colors does this incredibly.
Dialogue between characters felt so life-like and immersive simply due to the way their faces would react. If someone makes an awkward gesture or a joke lands flat, you will see it in the character's face. Thanks to this and the performance from the cast, it was easy to get totally immersed with the plot and actually feel the emotions the characters are feeling.
The town of Haven Springs Colorado is the setting in Life is Strange: True Colors, and similar to the previous entries there's a very strong “indie film” vibe with the game's presentation. From how the characters dress to the game's excellent soundtrack and the in-game camera work. By the time I got familiar with the town, Heaven Springs began to feel authentic due to the game's much appreciated hyper attention to detail. Every nook and cranny of the small Colorado town feels lived in and I never once felt like I was passing by the same copy and paste buildings or an area that was thrown together to make the world bigger. If you give yourself the chance to explore and interact with True Colors' NPCs (with or without your powers) you’ll quickly find a town that very much wears its heart on its sleeve that you’ll quickly miss when you’re done.
A Small Town Story Worth Telling
Life is Strange is all about its storytelling. Whether you're a fan of the first entry’s time-warping art school murder mystery or the coming of age story from part 2, it’s a series that's definitely more story first, gameplay second. In Life is Strange: True Colors we’re given a more grounded plot that while even though its stakes are lower than previous series entries, True Colors delivers some of the most impactful emotional moments in the entirety of Life is Strange. By stripping away most of the supernatural and world-ending elements of the past games we get a more personal story that hits closer to home this time. I’m not going to get into any spoilers on this one because I truly believe this is one of the better plots in gaming, but I will say this. Life is Strange: True Colors Is one of the few video games that expertly addresses the feeling of hopelessness of growing up in a broken home.
That being said there are a few parts in the game that could have been cut out as well as some plot threads that seemed to go nowhere. While these were very rare, I did find myself wondering whatever happened to some characters during my first playthrough. On my second playthrough, I found out that there's a ton of story beats that are optional and can be accessed via talking to NPC’s, reading signs and flyers, and checking the towns social media on your phone. Alex, the game's protagonist, has a lot of backstory buried in her archived text messages and journal. While I enjoyed reading these messages and hearing her quip about them, having some of this dialogue presented in the main game over other story beats would have been appreciated.
The music and score in Life is Strange: True Colors is astounding. Its heavy use of melancholic indie rock and subtle but impactful score by composers Angus and Julia Stone move the story and games world along in ways very few games can. The original score helps move the story along and never overtakes what's on-screen. It's subtle and impactful. There’s also a ton of licensed songs in the game such as “Thank You” from Dido (the clean part of Eminems Stan). The licensed songs are another piece of world-building that brings the town of Haven Springs to life as well as subconsciously let the player know how they’re intended to feel at any given moment. While music is a series staple, it's easy to recognize that they went above and beyond with the score in True Colors, and much like the first game, this is a soundtrack ill be listening to long after this review is done.
Alex Chen is an interesting protagonist for a Life is Strange game. Unlike Chloe or Max, Alex felt more like a real person rather than a caricature of a troubled young woman. She's not a troublemaker who makes dumb decisions to keep the story moving along, but she's also not trying to be the town superhero. Alex’s entire motivation and actions throughout the story felt like something a real person would do. Her character choices also made sense in what feels like a more grounded approach to the Life is Strange series. Unlike the previous entries, I never found myself rolling my eyes at the over-dramatic dialogue or completely unbelievable scenarios. The writing in Life is Strange: True Colors has absolutely raised the bar in what this sort of game can accomplish.
How’s It Play?
The new superpower in True Colors is the ability to read people’s minds when they’re emotionally charged. This is presented in an easy-to-understand and recognize color palette. If someone is glowing red they’re angry, while purple is fear, and blue is sadness. On the surface, this power is nowhere as exciting as time travel or telekinesis. But after a while, this quickly became my favorite ability in the series. By being able to interact with someone’s emotions and at some times completely live in their subconscious, Life is Strange: True Colors was able to move the story along in a way few games before it could.
There’s one instance where you deal with the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s and the terror that comes with it. You have to solve a puzzle of sorts and help someone retrace their steps while seeing the world through their eyes. Letters on signs change and become difficult to read, clocks move rapidly, colors are distorted, and the world becomes a chaotic and stressful mess. The delicate handling of someone’s emotions with a visual set piece is one of True Colors' absolute triumphs that sets itself far apart from most video games that deal with a serious subject matter like childhood fear, Alzheimer’s, and guilt.
The game's puzzles are pretty easy to solve. Most of them are your standard point and click adventure, "if this then that" sort of challenges. If you’re familiar with the series or any adventure game then you’ll know what you’re getting yourself into. There are a few times I was lost though due to the game's environment hiding what's selectable or not. While this may have been a personal problem, getting stuck trying to find a hat in Alex’s room for 15 minutes was definitely the opposite of fun.
Outside of the game's puzzles, there are a few surprisingly addictive arcade games you can play as well as story-specific mini-games like foosball and a traditional JRPG. There were a few times that Alex could have used a bit more pep in her step and could have walked faster as well as a much-needed skip button on some of the longer cutscenes but other than that the gameplay here is significantly improved from the previous games in the series.
A Strange Life Is a Good Life
Life is Strange: True Colors is one of those rare follow-ups to a classic that not only outshines the original but also reinvents itself from the ground up without losing what made the series great. The visuals, artistic presentation, music, and excellent handling of some delicate real-life issues make this one of the stand-out games not only in its series but in games in general. While there are a few downsides to a smaller scale story in a series like Life is Strange, True Colors’ character growth, world-building, and outstanding writing make it one of the best titles of the summer and is a must-play for anyone who’s a fan of adventure games or just someone looking for something to play with a bit more meaning behind it.
Techraptor reviewed Life is Strange: True Colors on Xbox Series X with a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Google Stadia.
- Excellent Writing
- Beautiful Visuals and Motion Capture
- Treats its Touchy Subject Matter Respectfully
- Awesome Soundtrack and Score
- Lower Stakes Story Makes for a More Believable World
- Some Cutscenes are a Bit too Long
- Some Objects are Difficult to Find