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Save Points #1: Life is Strange: True Colors (2021)

Posted Over 1 Year ago by Jet Presto

Thought I might start reviewing stuff I play.

Directed by Zak Garriss

Developed by Deck Nine

Published by Square-Enix

Available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, Switch, Stadia, Windows

Life is Strange: True Colors succeeds in ways the past few installments have not been able to, largely by sticking closer to the structure of the first game. The similarities are pretty overt: both games focus on a young woman reconnecting with someone from their past (and dealing with regret and grief from loss), exploring and settling into a relatively new environment, utilizing a special ability or power to unravel a growing mystery with twists and turns and misdirections. To be sure, there are enough differences that they don’t feel identical, but these comparisons go a long way to making it feel like that initial game that lots of people loved.

Following the protagonist Alex Chen as she moves out of the foster care system and in with her brother now in Haven, Colorado, the game smartly has players to getting to know the town’s characters vicariously through Alex. This allows for greater connection to both the other characters as well as with Alex herself. Throughout the story, which will remain relatively spoiler free here, a mystery and conspiratorial plot emerges to be solved. And, of course, the game creates numerous choices for the player – as Alex Chen – to make, of various degrees of significance and consequence. Unlike the past few installments, it’s actually fairly easy to spot where the story might diverge based on these choices. This makes it a little more intriguing to consider replaying it.

There are a few things that immediately pop up as discernible improvements to the previous games. The art style is very similar, but the animation is clearly getting better with more nuanced facial expressions and subtle body movements; motion is a lot smoother and more fluid as well. The soundtrack is as good as it’s ever been (though I still might prefer that first game’s soundtrack and score).

The biggest advancement is in the world and level design. Eschewing the more traditional, smaller “levels” of older entries, True Colors opts to mostly settle into one larger one. While there are exceptions, the bulk of the game winds up having you wander the town of Haven, popping in and out of a few stores, the bar, or your apartment. Sometimes you’re cut off with the classic invisible walls and internal monologue noting what you should be doing instead; at other times, you have surprisingly free rein. On one hand, this can create some sense of stagnation as you aren’t often changing scenery. On the other hand, it really helps breathe life into Haven and against connects the players both to Alex and the people of the town.

Of course, the real question is centered on the implementation of this new power: empathy. On paper, it sounds really goofy. To be sure, it is a little corny (Life is Strange is fairly known for wearing its heart on its sleeve after all). And with the implementation of special powers or mechanics in Before the Storm and Life is Strange 2 that failed to quite live up to the standard of the original game, it’s easy to have doubts here. At first, it really does seem like a silly power and mechanic that is going to be a little too on the nose for its own good.

And yet, it eventually does settle into becoming one of the more fascinating components of the game. No, it’s not as well integrated into the gameplay as Max’s time manipulation superpowers, but Alex’s ability to see, feel, and even take on other people’s strong emotions lends itself to some very compelling narrative moments. The game being small means that you are a bit limited, but they still made sure to include random characters throughout the town that offer very minor quasi-puzzles for players to potentially help by using this power of empathy.

The best way to put it is that it isn’t quite as well integrated into the gameplay, nor does it make for particularly interesting puzzle designs, but it does provide a fair amount of narrative and character moments. It winds up becoming interesting in its own right, especially as it helps determine who Alex winds up cultivating relationships with (a key component to the end game situation). Sure, it isn’t as completely cohesive with the rest of the game like time rewind, but it is absolutely more integral to the narrative and emotional heartbeat of the game; much more so than “stronger dialogue” and telling your brother how to use his Force-like powers in Before the Storm and Life is Strange 2 respectively.

Focusing on older characters also helps tell a resonant story. While it might not necessarily deal with the same number of real world social issues, it’s certainly unafraid to touch upon them. (At its core is a mystery involving a major corporation potentially involved in a cover-up that even has the police department willing to end the investigation under such pressure from the town’s largest employer and economic driver.) The bookends of the game – the beginning and end – are not particularly kind to the flawed and often cruel foster care system as well. Still, it largely grounds itself in the central story of a young woman who didn’t have any real systems of support for most of her life finding her place in this town, making new and lasting bonds, becoming comfortable with herself, and learning how to be in touch with her emotions without being consumed by them.

As an anthology series, “Life is Strange” certainly tackles a number of more human stories and is willing to touch upon real world issues. It’s a welcome sight in an industry with a fairly large group of fans not wanting their art to “get political.” Each installment has offered something interesting and worth examination, even if they are sometimes a tad disappointing, disjointed, lackluster, or incoherent. They’re all flawed, but all worth checking out.

True Colors is easily the best since that first game, with Alex Chen perhaps poised to become just as beloved a protagonist as the original’s Max Caulfield. It succeeds by understanding what worked with the original game and building upon that foundation. Sometimes that can work against it (the big reveal isn’t particularly unexpected if you’re familiar with the original and see the structural similarities), but it’s easily one of the better in the franchise. That it wisely skips the more “shocking” conclusion for one that is more emotionally resonant only adds to it. For fans of the first game that may have been disappointed with Before the Storm and Life is Strange 2, True Colors is likely to land better.

Reductive rating: Pretty good!

There are 3 Replies

Thanks for the review. Sounds intriguing. I loved the first one, not so much the rest.


Over 1 Year ago
Lord Denida

Yeah, I'm not sure that it's as good or as more cohesive as the first game, but it's definitely a lot more in the same vein. I think it largely does understand what worked about the first one and is mostly successful in getting that.

Over 1 Year ago
Jet Presto

Thanks, good to know. :-)


Over 1 Year ago
Lord Denida

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