2015 was another year in the ‘Episodic Adventure Game’ era. Between the seemingly weekly Telltale release and the copycats that followed, one imitation grabbed a lot of people’s attention. As you’ve no doubt guess, that game was Life is Strange. A whimsical ode to indie films, a David Lynch style mystery and a sci-fi hook like the X-Files, it was a hit. While the main series was developed by Dontnod, a spin-off was created by Deck Nine which received well deserved praise. Life is Strange: True Colors is their next attempt at the series, this time boasting entirely new content.
Note: There is a spoiler in the plot sections, this is the crux of the entire game and present in all media surrounding the game. If you wish to go in with no knowledge whatsoever, sneak past the plot section. Obviously, there are no other spoilers mentioned.
Check out the gameplay trailer below:
Alex Chen grew up in the foster care system and due to her troubled past, she has been dealing with unresolved trauma. Now she’s 21, she is ready to move on with her life and receives an invitation from her estranged brother to move to Haven Springs in an effort to reconnect with him. This newfound joy is ended quickly as Alex’s brother dies under mysterious circumstances and Alex must uncover the truth behind his death.
Life is Strange: True Colors sets a great tone from the outset. It shows Alex is a troubled woman without being too heavy-handed and you can immediately understand her nervousness and stress. The game uses this chance to slowly introduce the cast and locations of the game in an easy-going manner. This works really well, only due to how well written these characters are. Everyone feels like a real person and that goes doubly so for Alex herself. Things take a horrible turn and the game handles it really competently again. I mention this because it’s something the series has never quite nailed before, it usually did a solid job of these dramatic moments but never landed them as well as True Colors does.
This brings us to the actual plot of the game and my worry was that the game would try to overcomplicate itself or go down a path of absurdity, but it kept itself simple with the cast being the important hooks. Another criticism I levelled to the other titles was its somewhat heavy-handed forced themes, be it race, mental health, sexuality and the like. They’re important to the series and all present here and True Colors nails these themes, without you ever feeling like you’re being beaten over the head with anything. While this is all handled excellently, I would like to say this game has quite a slow pace. Normal for this type of game, but worth mentioning nonetheless.
The majority of the gameplay is extremely easy to summarise. It’s mostly a point and click game with dialogue choices. Of course, this series throws a spanner in the works via powers. Alex has the power of an Empath. I can see all of you rolling your eyes, but it works quite well. Alex can see the auras of people and determine how they are feeling and these auras are different…colours, yes you guessed it! Alex can go into a conversation with the knowledge of their mental state. While that is only handy to a degree, Alex can do more than that. She can actively change the emotional state of someone or even take on their emotions. This feeds directly into the plot in both minor and major ways. Most of the game progresses as you’d expect and while not revolutionary and certainly not enough to win over people who don’t like these games, there is one chapter that I can’t spoil, but it’s a game within a game and it’s so cool.
On a visual front, everything is improved, even from Life is Strange 2. Facial animations have received a huge boost and are vital for selling emotion. The soundtrack is excellent and the voice acting is just as excellent. Erika Mori steals the show as Alex and gives easily one of the best performances of the year. Oddly, on the Xbox Series X, there were issues. Some frame issues and visual glitches throughout the first half of the game. These may have been fixed through a patch but they were very noticeable.
Deck Nine have done a fantastic job with True Colors. It tells a story you want to push through because it benefits the entire cast and loops into the game’s theme of emotion. It may lack the variety of choices in previous titles but it goes for a consistent tone and it works in the game’s favour. While it doesn’t feed into the story of the universe, Alex’s story takes a confident step next to Max, Chloe, Daniel and Sean’s. That being said it fixes some of the issues I had with Dontnod’s titles and cements Deck Nine as a studio to keep an eye on. Another quick shout of praise to Erika Mori and I hope we see more of her work in the future.
Life is Strange: True Colours was reviewed using a digital code purchased by the reviewer
Publisher: Square Enix Developer: Deck Nine Release Date: 9th September 2021 Reviewed On: Xbox Series X