CONTENT WARNING: Life Is Strange: True Colors deals with distressing themes. If you need to talk to someone about your mental health, there are numerous charities you can reach out to for support. Please remember to talk to your doctor as well, if it’s possible for you.
Imagine a fragile blue butterfly flapping its wings and causing a devastating hurricane. This is the butterfly effect – the theory that every small action can have huge impacts on your destiny.
For me, the small event that became a catalyst for life changing moments was opening Steam one day and buying a game called Life Is Strange. Since then, I’ve been swept along a supernatural journey with surprisingly human stories, full of delicate coming-of-age tales and overflowing with heart. With five games released over six years, the franchise has been exceptional at re-inventing the core mechanics, whilst keeping its hipster-slanted wash of young adult drama.
With the latest entry, Life Is Strange: True Colors, I desperately hoped this game would reach the potential this series has always had.
The Journey You Take
In today’s particular… “Socioeconomic climate”, empathy is a trait as rare as diamonds. That brilliant, dazzling kindness in the face of tragedy is what makes us human. Life Is Strange: True Colors is one of the most powerfully emotional games I’ve ever played. It fully embraces the light and dark, the love and the loss, and all the blazing emotions of a girl who just wants to belong.
You play as Alex Chen, a young adult with the volatile psychic power of Empathy. This is a wonderful piece of storytelling – as she discovers the truth about her brother’s death, you, yourself, can’t help but empathise with her story.
As you help her navigate through this new chapter in her life, you are introduced to an eclectic cast of wonderful and welcoming characters. Life Is Strange has always done a great job of balancing the utterly heartbreaking story with funny anecdotes and lines; True Colors is no different. These characters, both old and new, bring the world of Haven Springs to life in a romantic, dizzying swirl of colours.
If you’ve played a Life Is Strange game before, you’ll know that the game usually concludes with a choice. At its core, Life Is Strange: True Colors seeks to answer the question ‘what makes a home’? There’s a quiet sadness to this question, a solemn provocation of the player’s view on the world which broke my heart in the happiest way possible.
There are six core endings that branch throughout Chapter Five based on the relationships you build throughout the game. These endings have been developed to stray away from a binary ending choice. It’s a woven tapestry of your relationships, actions, choices and decisions.
In the end, it’s just a girl. Her life. And her future.
What About the Gameplay?
Life Is Strange: True Colors is the first game in the series to be released all at once. This is both a blessing and a curse. The instant gratification of playing the next chapter keeps the pace quick and the story fresh. Personally, I miss the intense agony I felt waiting to see the resolution of Chapter 4 in the first game, but others may feel differently. There’s nothing to stop you using the chapter breaks to recollect your thoughts, comparing your decisions with your friends, taking an emotional breather if needed, and experiencing the game at your own pace.
Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Haven Springs. Unfortunately, I did encounter a number of bugs whilst playing. There were moments when textures would pop in and out, the character models would t-pose and the frame rate would dip below 20. In the emotional climax, the first frame of the scene would load in and glitch, which really impacted the delivery. That being said, these issues could be sorted with a patch. Square Enix has told me that a day one patch will be available, which will “fix a series of known bugs and improve performance across all platforms“. However, it’s unclear what exactly this includes.
How Does True Colors Look?
The infamous lip-sync issues the first game had are gone, replaced with incredible animation that still manages to retain the dreamy, watercolour art style of the original game. Haven Springs looks like a painting, something you’d see in a portrayal of Heaven in a museum. Combine this with ray-tracing, Life Is Strange: True Colors is one of the prettiest games on the PS5 at the moment.
I particularly loved the ‘aura’ effect that leaked from the characters like an oil spill as Alex reads their emotions. Your main goal is to connect with a person’s inner thoughts and feelings to enter a state called ‘Nova’. This transforms the world around you and allows Alex to experience their memories. If you so wish, you can even drain a person of these feelings. In my playthrough, Alex didn’t face any consequences for the dubious morality of this power.
Music in Life is Strange: True Colors
Music is one of the most important parts of the Life Is Strange games, but even more so in True Colors. It’s intrinsic to Alex’s character, to setting the scene, and the overall soul of the game. Music has shaped Alex’s world and given her a lifeline in her darkest hours. As a self-described ‘music snob’, she’ll find comfort and a home in the record store with radio DJ Steph Gingrich, who you may remember from Life Is Strange: Before the Storm.
The soundtrack is a wonderful swirl of melodies that reflect the mix of emotions that the narrative holds. It’s packed with soft and soulful guitar chords, blazing drums and emotional vocals from Twitch streamer mxmtoon and Novo Amor. Whilst I’m a little ashamed to admit it, mxmtoon’s breathy indie cover of Creep by Radiohead in Chapter One hit me like a ton of bricks. All of a sudden, I was right back where I started; a empathetic child dealing with her own grief and imposter syndrome.
You’ll be treated to songs from licensed artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Kings of Leon, Gabrielle Aplin and Cyrus Reynolds. If you’re a streamer and the thought of copyrighted music fills you with dread, don’t worry. There is a Streamer mode to mute any music that would strike your channel.
The Black Lantern, the bar Alex lives and works in, currently has a few issues with poor sound mixing. The blasting music from the jukebox often drowns out important dialogue, no matter how close or far you stand from it. Furthermore, I ran into a number of cases where voice lines were abruptly cut for another sound that took priority. This was quite jarring in emotionally intense scenes.
I was impressed with the amount of customisation available in the accessibility options. I particularly enjoyed the option to have a faint background behind interactive options. This helps text stand out from the world. I struggled with this in the first game, so to see a fix was incredibly helpful.
For a game that relies so heavily on colour, it was great to see four options to adjust the colours of the game to help those with visual difficulties. There were also options to increase the timer on timed choice dialogue options. This is helpful for those have difficulties reading or, like me, are just pretty indecisive.
You can also adjust the font style, turn gameplay prompts on or off and map your jog and Aura reading powers to either holding or tapping the triggers. Finally, there was also an option to include a brightness and volume warning, great for people with epilepsy.
The DualSense controller comes to life best when reading a character’s aura. The touchpad lights up with the colour-coded emotion, which is a nice touch. But the controller comes to life when reading a character’s aura. The haptic feedback is intense. You can feel Alex pushing her way through her own limitations to help people as the controller fights your inputs. This is a great use of the technology, conveying a sense of helplessness and determination in equal measures. If you struggle with this, you can adjust the vibration and haptic feedback intensity in the PS5 settings.
So, is Life is Strange: True Colors Worth Your Time?
When Alex experiences joy for the first time, a warm golden glow emanates from the characters, sparkling and twisting into the laughter-filled air. Life Is Strange: True Colors fills my heart with the same sensation. Then breaks it in the most bittersweet way I could imagine. Alex’s story is a colourful tapestry, stitched together with the gossamer thread of what it means to be human. It’s a glimmering, supernatural journey that reminds you life really is… weird.
If any of the themes in the game have negatively impacted you, there are people out there who can help.
A PS5 code was provided by Square Enix for review purposes.
Feature Image Credit: Square Enix/Deck Nine