The Life is Strange series has always excelled at character development, creating some of the most lovable and memorable characters in games over the past decade, cementing its place among the best Xbox games in the eyes of many. When developer Deck Nine took on Life is Strange: Before the Storm for series creator Dontnod, it was a tall order to craft a story that could live up to the first game's, especially with a beloved character like Chloe.
Still, Dontnod passed the torch to Deck Nine for the franchise's third mainline game, True Colors, allowing the studio to create its characters and story from the ground up. Though it continues to live in the shadow of the original, True Colors is enjoyable in its own right.
Life is Strange: True Colors follows the character of Alex Chen moving to a small town called Haven Springs to reunite with her brother Gabe after years in the foster system. This being Life is Strange, Alex isn't exactly normal. She has the power of empathy, which lets her feel and manipulate other people's emotions, going so far as to read their thoughts. When Gabe dies in a so-called accident, Alex uses her power to try and uncover the truth.
Bottom line: Life is Strange: True Colors struggles to justify some of its earlier chapters, but makes up for it with strong characters and a fun LARP session to mix up the gameplay. Though it doesn't quite live up to the mystery and intrigue of the original game, True Colors still shines on its own.
- Lovable characters
- Great reveal of the bad guy
- Chapter 3 LARP session
- Visual glitches
- Chapter endings don't always pack a punch
- Lives in the first game's shadow
Life is Strange: True Colors — What's good
|Title||Life is Strange: True Colors|
|Xbox Version||Xbox Series X|
|Play Time||10 hours|
|Xbox Game Pass||No|
A Life is Strange game can live and die by its characters, and True Colors is no different. Between Alex, her brother Gabe, and Alex's potential love interests Ryan and Steph, there are a handful that stand out. The rest of the cast is mostly forgettable, in my opinion, but Deck Nine made sure to get it right where it counts.
Though Gabe is only in the story for a short time — his "accidental" death sets off the ensuing events — he's easily one of the best characters. He's goofy, kind, and he just wants what's best for Alex, as any big brother would. Ryan, a local park ranger and bird watcher, fills the role of his earnest friend, doing whatever he can to help Alex take down Typhon, the mining company that caused Gabe's death. And Steph, much like in Before the Storm, is a bit of a rebel who runs the local radio station and music shop. I never grew tired of conversations with these characters, which I can't say the same for some others.
Romances in True Colors aren't exactly developed over time in the sense that you're courting someone. Either way, Alex will be friends with Ryan and Steph, and these friendships continue throughout each chapter. What cements the relationship is who you give a rose to at the Spring Festival. It's kind of a cop out because it seems like the easy way to do romances, but the characters are likable enough that I was fine with it. This can effect the ending of your game, should you choose to stay in Haven Springs or travel.
Admittedly, when True Colors was announced and it was revealed that "empathy" would be the main character's power, I scoffed at the idea. Empathy is so normal, and is something everyone should have. Being more attuned to a person's emotions didn't seem like a big deal to me. I was wrong. It might not be as interesting as time travel, but Alex's power is deeper than I expected. Deck Nine did a commendable job making it interesting and actually important to the story. It's also cleverly used as a tool to further develop the characters in a way that feels natural. As Alex uses her powers to learn more about the residents of Haven Springs, players can take the opportunity to help them with their problems. Sometimes the end result won't matter much, but other times you really feel like you helped someone, changing their lives for the better.
To spice up the gameplay from its traditional puzzle solving and walking, Chapter 3 is almost entirely one big LARP session, thrown together by Steph and some of the towns folk to cheer up Gabe's stepson Ethan. Ryan takes on the roll of a wolf, snake, and bridge troll while his father Jed plays the main villain that Alex and Ethan are meant to vanquish. All in all, it's a nice change of pace from the usual gameplay. There are multiple ways to play through this section, too. Buy a bell from Steph's makeshift wizard shop and you can put the snake right to sleep, avoiding the battle. Should you collect enough coins, you can pay the troll off without a fight.
The reveal at the end of Chapter 4 was easily one of the biggest highlights throughout the whole thing and is one of the only scenes I would call a jaw drop moment. Without spoiling it, the end of Chapter 4 is where you learn who and what Typhon was trying to protect by setting off the blast that killed Gabe. It's a moment reminiscent of the ending to the original Life is Strange's fourth episode. Having that moment so strongly evoke memories of Jefferson's reveal was a smart move on Deck Nine's part, even if it was unintentional.
Life is Strange: True Colors — What needs work
It's almost unfair to continually compare every Life is Strange title to the original, but carrying that name comes with a certain amount of expectations. What's clear throughout True Colors, at least until the end of Chapter 4, is that it lacks the gut punch moments that made Life is Strange so good, featuring less jaw dropping cliffhangers and truly difficult decisions in favor of more tepid moments. It continues to live in Life is Strange's shadow instead of surpassing it. Maybe I think of the original too highly, but nothing in the Life is Strange franchise has come close to eliciting the same feelings. True Colors did cause me to have a mini existential crisis thinking about my future by the end of it, though, so hats off to Deck Nine for that. Just as Alex had to contemplate what her future holds, I was left wondering where my decisions would take me — and if I'm even making the right ones.
Aside from that, what constantly stuck out to me were visual glitches. Sometimes this meant shaders wouldn't load correctly, resulting in characters with vastly different skin tones than what they normally had. Sometimes this meant that the subtle glowing aura around a character when Alex was trying to use her powers wouldn't be soo subtle anymore, presenting as a solid colored box. Stuff like this is usual solved with a simple patch, so I don't think too many players will need to worry about them.
Life is Strange: True Colors — Should you play it?
Anyone already interested in True Colors should definitely give it a shot, but I don't think it will convert any non-believers who didn't care for its initial trailers. Life is Strange fans will find another adventure with excellent characters that doesn't always nail the pacing, even as it shipped with all five chapters complete and in one package. With a slower first half, exciting middle, and almost anti-climactic ending, it's a mixed bag in that regard.
Deck Nine has proven that the Life is Strange series is in capable hands, even as Dontnod moves on to other projects. True Colors never overstays its welcome, and I'm eager to see where Deck Nine will take Life is Strange next.
Bottom line: Alex's relationships between Steph and Ryan, whether you choose to pursue them romantically or not, make True Colors worth playing, regardless of how interesting the story ends up being. It may not have the same intrigue as previous entries, but it handles sensitive topics with enough deft to be impactful.
Jennifer Locke has been playing video games nearly her entire life, and is very happy Xbox is growing a stronger first-party portfolio. You can find her obsessing over Star Wars and other geeky things on Twitter @JenLocke95.