Since its inception over six years ago, the Life is Strange series has become one of Square Enix’s seminal franchises. The newest entry, Life is Strange: True Colors, takes everything that the series has been building as a foundation and beautifully evolves the series into something every bit as special as the original when it took us by storm all those years ago. Deck Nine has seamlessly taken full reigns on the series and completely knocks it out of the park by creating of the best games of the year.
First things first, after multiple games, it feels so good to play as the one with powers again in a Life is Strange game. The game drops you into the shoes of Alex Chen a young, twenty something year old woman who is finally leaving the foster care system to join her long separated brother Gabe in the cozy mountain town of Haven Springs, Colorado. As mentioned, Alex has powers to read and share people’s emotions. Yes, she’s an empath and, while that doesn’t sound like as interesting of a power as time manipulation or telekinesis, Life is Strange: True Colors nails how to make Alex’s power matter and feel just as important as previous powers have been.
Alex’s empath powers are integrated into the gameplay just as well as Max’s time manipulation powers were in the first game. Alex is not only able to use her powers in important story moments, but she can also read people in town’s emotions as well as emotions tied to certain collectible object found throughout the game. Each emotion is different and has corresponding color making it easy to tell at a glance what emotion a person or object is dealing with. In major moments, you connect and share the same emotions as the person and help them deal with whatever grief, rage, or trauma they’re dealing with by sensing the emotions of the objects around the area. Elsewhere, you can use Alex’s powers to help in smaller ways such as getting a couple together or helping a birdwatcher find a bird she’s looking for.
The story of the game sees Alex come to Haven Spring to reunite with Gabe and start fresh after her powers have made her time in foster care hard. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes Alex head on and the place she’s trying to make a home becomes shrouded in mystery, and it’s up to Alex and a few friends she’s made to uncover the truth of the town. Luckily, unlike other entries in the series, Life is Strange: True Colors isn’t episodic, so there’s no waiting period to find out what happens next. Instead, the game is divided into five chapters that are all part of the same package. Each chapter does still end showing you what choices you and the rest of the world have made before moving on to the next chapter. On the downside, the chapters are relatively short compared to what episodes would be which brings the overall length of the game around the same length as Deck Nine’s previous venture in the series which was only three episodes.
As for Haven Springs itself, the small town is absolutely beautiful, and this is easily the best looking environments the series has ever had. The main street of the town basically serves as an open area for you to explore instead of the series mainstay of transitioning between different areas depending on the scene. Unfortunately, there is noticeable chugging and frame dips as you explore the town. The citizens of Haven Springs are each full of character and draw you in to want to learn more about each of them. There’s even a returning character from Life is Strange: Before the Storm who brings one of the best small parts of that game with her to this one in a big way.
Music is also one of the hallmarks of the Life is Strange series. The use of licensed music as well as the original score to highlight and coincide with major moments can cause the impact of those moments hit so much harder. In Life is Strange: True Colors, music is still a major factor, but isn’t used to the same extent as it has been in previous games. One of the best use of license music in the game is with the use of Dido’s well known single “Thank You” that accents a highly emotional moment perfectly. Since these games are highly streamed, there’s an option to mute licensed music to avoid copyright issues while playing. Unfortunately, there’s still the issue from previous games that hasn’t been resolved where the licensed music isn’t replaced by the original score or anything and the scenes just play out in awkward silence.
Overall, Life is Strange: True Colors is a fantastic step forward for the franchise. It’s the best looking game in the series and has the overall best group of characters in the series. The story tackles mature themes and keeps you intrigued the entire time. The short length is sure to turn some people off especially for the price compared to other entries in the series. Also, the instability when exploring the town can cause concerns. However, Life is Strange: True Colors is still one of the best games this year.
Score: 9 out of 10
Reviewed on PlayStation 5