Life Is Strange: True Colors
A young adult, small-town mystery drama with plenty of heart
Alex Chen believes she is cursed. Gifted with a finely attuned sense of empathy, Alex finds herself strongly influenced by the intense emotions of those around her. After her difficult childhood within the foster care system, her estranged brother Gabe invites her to find a home in the small Colorado town of Haven Springs. Unfortunately, the curse has not yet loosened its grip.
Ditching the episodic release schedule of earlier entries, you can play through all five chapters of True Colors from the off. Rather than centring a teen cast, the drama revolves around a group of young adults and their small-town community in the wake of a tragic death. Both aspects feel like confident, forward-thinking steps for the series. Superpowers still play a central role too but they’re less ostentatious and playful than Max Caulfield’s time travel. That said, as Alex’s power evolves over the course of the story, she’s more conscientious about how she ought to use it than Max ever was.
New protagonist Alex has had to accumulate a lot of life experience very quickly and knows the difference between could and should – even if the game doesn’t discuss it much. Actress Erika Mori effortlessly portrays Alex’s thoughtful, observant demeanour, and singer-songwriter mxmtoon elevates an early solo jam session beyond its obvious song choice as Alex’s singing voice.
Alex’s empathy powers skew close to telepathy in practice. Sidle up to a troubled denizen of Haven Springs, hold to get a whiff of their emotional aura, and then press to hear what’s eating them. Holding also highlights belongings that boast a powerful emotional resonance and can offer a glimpse into the past. We often wish the game did more with the latter superpower, especially as the opening hours highlight the danger to Alex of volatile emotions and then goes on to do little with this. Instead, Alex’s curse folds neatly into the narrative design which generally plays things safe beyond an early bust up.
That said, the power suits the much more grounded story.
There’s no supernatural storm coming for Haven Springs instead, the uncaring, unstoppable force threatening the town is more recognisable and depressingly mundane.
As Alex hopes she’s finally found a home, Haven Springs works its charm on you too. Rather than playing through narratively connected vignettes as in previous games, most of the action is tied to the main setting. Its central street is the most open area but ultimately the town is quite a confined space - not that Haven Springs needed to be a massive open world. As you dash between errands, you catch snatches of conversation that hint at
The drama revolves around a group of young adults and their small-town community.
peoples’ problems that Alex may be able to assist with. These side-stories evolve with each chapter. Affectionately observed, they exemplify much of the setting’s charm. Seeing familiar faces crop up at Haven Springs’ community events not only breathes life into the setting but also rarely fails to bring a smile to our face.
Even so, the presentation of these easily missed moments pales in comparison to that of the major story beats. True Colors doesn’t only strike the stylised balance the series’ art direction has been gunning for since the start, it ices that cake with stunning facial capture and animation that more than sells many emotional closeups. Deck
Nine Games is also handling the remaster of Max Caulfield’s story; we say it’s in good hands.
Deck Nine has woven a satisfying mystery in with a compelling character arc, tying both threads off in a memorable final chapter. We expected to tear up at some point going into this and chapter five does not disappoint. Naturally, your experience of this bookending chapter will differ slightly. The results of your choices along the way are either pleasingly expressive or will leave you wanting to mull things over – even if their consequences don’t all have staying power. The narrative design often plays things safe when it comes to Alex’s power but it affords a conclusion that definitely gets us right in the feels.
Haven Springs will work its charm on you. Alex Chen is easy to root for and her story is well worth playing for Life is Strange series fans and newbies alike. Jess Kinghorn