Platforms: PC, PS4 (reviewed), PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S
Release Date: September 10, 2021
Life Is Strange: True Colors is the newest and boldest entry in the beloved franchise from developer Deck Nine. This time around, you get all five engrossing chapters in a single, up-front package, rather than staggered, episodic releases. The game tackles themes of family, friendship, trauma and redemption in an enthralling, narrative-driven adventure that asks you to make constant choices, which affect the story and characters within it.
The game’s main character is an empath with the ability to see and feel the emotions of those around her via colorful auras. The game explores her unusual gift – or curse, as she frequently thinks of it – to its fullest extent. You'll have to decide how to solve the problems that inevitably arise from absorbing and influencing these emotions – sometimes with devastating results.
As you’ll find out in this Life Is Strange: True Colors review, this isn’t just a captivating tale, filled with important crossroads and interesting characters. It’s also a solid step forward for the Life Is Strange series in terms of production values, bringing the franchise up to the big-budget standards it has long deserved.
Life Is Strange: True Colors review: Story
Life Is Strange: True Colors revolves around protagonist Alex Chen. After spending her troubled teen years in foster care, she reconnects with her brother Gabe for the first time in almost a decade. Though their shared traumatic childhoods left both siblings shattered, Gabe has since made a good life for himself as a functional adult in the quaint mining town of Haven Springs, Colorado. As the story begins, he’s invited Alex to come live with him in his apartment above the bar where he works.
Surrounded by the snow-capped Rocky Mountains, Haven Springs is a pastoral place with rustic architecture and laid-back townsfolk. It’s the type of spot that Alex, as an introvert with a city punk vibe, initially finds a bit foreign. But as Gabe introduces her to the lovable residents, she finds herself intrigued by the thought of a fresh start in a place that feels far removed from her previous life.
Unfortunately, Alex’s superpower of extreme empathy, which lets her see and feel other people's emotions, is always getting in her way. Because she’s unable to control the extent to which these emotions affect her, she quickly finds herself overwhelmed by the day-to-day problems of her new associates. And, just as she’s trying to grapple all that, she’s blindsided by a traumatic death, and forced to deal with survivor’s guilt.
Though Alex’s integration into normal life isn't a smooth ride, her story isn’t all doom and gloom. That's largely thanks to a cast of charming characters, who quickly become an integral part of her life. She’s surrounded by welcoming citizens, but it’s Gabe's best friend, Ryan, and the local radio DJ, Steph, who form the backbone of Alex’s budding social circle. They also act as two potential love interests.
Still, even when these pals help Alex laugh and enjoy her new life, she still has to find time to manage her own life, plan community events and unravel a mystery that may lead to shocking revelations about Haven Springs’ past. This unsettling path to the truth forces Alex to confront complex ethical dilemmas, which lead us to question our own moral frameworks, and decide what kind of person we want Alex to be.
Life Is Strange: True Colors review: Gameplay
Life Is Strange: True Colors divides its time between conversation and exploration. Sometimes, you'll play through dialogue-heavy story sequences, which require you to make choices that affect how the plot unfolds. Other times, you'll play through third-person sections that let you walk around a location, talk to people and inspect items for exposition. If you’re here for action, you’ll find very little, but the game engineers its own form of excitement.
The constant onslaught of everyone else’s feelings can leave Alex feeling resentful of her power. However, she also acknowledges that her empathy can be a valuable resource. Many pivotal junctures in the game have you absorb another character’s emotions and subsequently visualize their thoughts. This lets you gain valuable insights into their past and present. Afterward, you'll usually get a fresh batch of discussion topics or actions to pursue.
You may decide whether you should deepen or break a friendship, whether you should court Ryan or Steph, or whether to absorb someone else’s negative emotions at the risk of your own mental health. But there are also plenty of optional objectives that can impact the story and characters on a smaller scale, too. These might include giving an insecure jogger a pep talk, assisting a man with finding his lost dog or merely deciding whether or not to clean up your messy apartment.
Most chapters let you explore with Alex to see the full breadth of what Haven Springs has to offer – and there’s quite a bit to see. You can do things like peruse the local record store, visit folks at the bar, relax on the dock by the lake or play retro-style mini-games on the arcade machines scattered about. If you want to soak in everything, you can examine the hundreds of interactive objects that range from trivial stuff (concert flyers, sentimental knick-knacks, wall murals) to noteworthy points of interest, or revealing documents that yield further knowledge about the town’s history and residents.
While you’re at it, you can also round up collectibles in the form of items with auras. Each object contains a memory of someone who was attached to it. A few items are well-hidden and can be a little tricky to find, which is yet another incentive to thoroughly search open areas. However, a post-game chapter select makes it easy to clean these up, so missing a couple of collectibles during your first playthrough isn’t that big of a deal.
Life Is Strange: True Colors review: Visuals and sound
The Life Is Strange series has needed a facelift for quite a while. As such, it’s great to see True Colors implement extensive refinements without sacrificing the franchise's signature art direction. While occasional low-res textures on clothing and surfaces look like they belong four generations back, True Colors has a prettier and more realistic iteration of the series’ trademark watercolor-meets-clay aesthetic. This finally lets the world and characters in Life Is Strange reach their full potential.
Motion capture and facial capture, in particular, are much better this time around around. These ensure that character movement is considerably less stiff, and that facial animations highlight the actors’ distinct mannerisms. When you combine this with drastic improvements to the writing and believable performances from an exceptionally talented cast, it’s hard not to get engrossed in True Colors.
Meanwhile, Haven Springs is simply gorgeous, with something to see at every turn. Whether you’re admiring the lush vegetation just beneath a snow-capped mountain, pensively gazing out over a crystal-clear lake, or just making your way through a town square lined with flowers, this little slice of Colorado heaven is as marvelous to look at as it is to explore.
True Colors is teeming with phenomenal music, too. Nothing here is quite as memorable as the original game’s dreamlike “Something Good,” or Life Is Strange 2’s upbeat anthem “Lisztomania." But True Colors nevertheless sounds impressive, with a passionate original score from Angus & Julia Stone.
The Stone duo’s collection of upbeat indie jams and folksy acoustic pieces feel right at home in the Life Is Strange universe. There are also some killer tracks from artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Novo Amor, as well as a handful of excellent covers. Most remarkable, though, is the way that each song plays at the perfect moment in the story. It reminds us that music can be just as vital to storytelling as graphics and dialogue – perhaps even more so.
Life Is Strange: True Colors review: Verdict
Life Is Strange: True Colors tells a riveting tale of tragedy, moral ambiguity and personal growth, offering you tons of choices as you shape the twisting path to one of its multiple endings. But more than anything else, True Colors is exactly what the franchise needs: a more cohesive journey, with major improvements to visuals, animation, and voice work. At last, Life Is Strange feels like a big-budget experience from beginning to end.