Life is Strange is back for the third main game in the franchise, Life is Strange: True Colours, and we have another protagonist with powers at the heart of the action. This time, her name is Alex and she has developed the powers of an empath, reading people’s thoughts but also feeling them herself – amongst other things that we discover as the game goes on.
This is the first game in the series to release the entire story in one go as opposed to the episodic schedule of the past but we still get five chapters to give it that mini-series feel that works so well, even if it feels more like a movie playing it this way.
But does Life is Strange: True Colours match up to the heights the series has hit in the past, and is Alex’s story one worth getting invested in? We have played the game on the Xbox Series X and here’s our full review.
Life is Strange: True Colours follows the story of Alex, a troubled young woman who has bounced from care home to care home before making her way to the mountainous Havan Springs, Colorado, to reunite with her brother, Gabe AKA, the nicest guy in town. But making new friends is the least of Alex’s problems as she has developed empath powers which means she can read, and feel, what other people are feeling when they are in a heightened state of emotion. Some may call it a superpower but for Alex, it is more of a curse and a power that she has not honed enough to be able to control.
That set-up is the bare bones of what Life is Strange: True Colours has to offer and to say any more, including the basis for what sets Alex up on her adventure, would be a spoiler and this really is a game where you want to experience the big events as you play. What we will say though is that Alex and those close to her find themselves up against a formidable enemy and they are very much the underdogs at trying to bring them down and expose the truth of what they are up to.
But how is the story that we can’t say much about at all? Strong. These games have a way of drawing you into the story and captivating you enough to want to see how it all ends and True Colours is no different. And it does so while still retaining some of the more questionable aspects of the game – the bits that don’t work as well as they should and come across as more comical than sentimental. A dance routine early on here is a perfect example of that. It was impossible not to cringe a little as you watch it play out, but then that has always been part of the charm of Life is Strange – blending these slightly awkward moments with some hard-hitting ones to throw you off guard.
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What about the characters? The Life is Strange series has always strived on the strength of its protagonist and Alex is yet another that is quickly likeable and easy to relate to. Her anxiety over her powers is well-handled and we see first-hand early on what she’s capable of if she is around the wrong people – the first time we really see it is in an act of violence that jolts you out of the sweet world that the game has mostly existed in until that point.
Alex works so well as a protagonist because while she has been through so much over the course of her life, and we learn many details about this in the most heartbreaking way possible, she remains a largely positive force at Haven Springs and she has not lost her joy, wonder and her desire to be a part of something – to find a home. The weight of the past never seems to drag her down for long and she’s an inspirational heroine, in that sense.
She is surrounded by characters that are easy to care about. We have the local cop who seems more interested in being a nice guy who is well-liked than doing his job, the quirky LARP fan who runs a record store, a friendly man who becomes a father figure that runs the local tavern. Haven Springs feels like a place you want to live, not just from how picturesque it looks, but from the interesting and well-developed characters that inhabit it- every single character, by the way, is performed magnificently by the super talented voice cast.
As far as gameplay goes, the formula has not been mixed up too much but it does feel like the next evolution of the franchise. There is a very slight open-world feel to roaming through the town and eavesdropping on what people are up to. And with Alex’s powers, you can eavesdrop to the extreme by reading their emotions and hearing their thoughts. It’s a shame that this isn’t something you can do to every NPC but it’s entertaining enough for the ones that you can – and definitely do this to the bald man who’s hanging outside the shop as his thoughts are probably the funniest in the whole game.
You can also interact with objects in the game to access hidden memories. You’ll know what you can do this with as it will glow in a bright white circle when your empath powers are active and it’s worth ticking all of these off if you want the full story and you want to max out the achievements/trophies that are available.
There will be periods of time in the game that don’t feel like they are advancing the plot much and these occur normally when you’re at work in the tavern. But you do get to learn more about Alex while you’re doing it and it is another way in which we get to know the locals and all of their quirks.
There are moments in the game that do feel like padding and the main culprit here is a LARP’ing section in chapter three that while fun at first soon wears out its stay. But it is hard to fault the game for it because these detours do serve a purpose – in this case, to cement your place in the community and to make sure that you are getting to know all the important people that surround you.
It does, however, seem a shame to have these all out at once as blitzing your way through them does not leave as much of a mark as the episodic entries of the past have. You get an example of this with the end of episode one that packs an emotional wallop but when you go straight into the next chapter without much of a pause its impact is lessened. It’s a similar thing with the sweet and, strangely uplifting end of episode two – it would have been a warm place to leave things before things kick off in the third instalment but instead, it gets a little lost when you immediately start part three.
Of course, games with strong narratives are par for the course and they rarely take the episodic approach, but here it feels like they’re still designed to be released weeks apart from one another and there is a strong feeling that sticking with this tried and tested approach would have been the best play here. It doesn’t affect our score of the game, but not having the time between chapters to digest the latest developments changes the Life is Strange experience and we aren’t sure that the ‘all at once’ strategy is the best way forward with them.
In short though, Life is Strange: True Colours is as close to perfect as it feels the series can get. It is emotional, funny, exciting and downright devastating, sometimes all at the same time. It has a story that is compelling and inviting and takes place in a setting that is idyllic enough to make it a place you would want to spend your time. The characters work and spark off one another and the relationships that you develop feel natural and warm.
With more twists and turns than we expected and some dramatic narrative shifts that turned where we thought the game was going on its head, Life is Strange: True Colours is an unforgettable experience and one that we are sure to play through again before too long. We cannot recommend it enough – just make sure you are ready to be an emotional wreck at multiple points – we may have ugly cried on occasion…
Now excuse us, we’re off to listen to the gorgeous soundtrack on repeat for the foreseeable future while looking back on our experience with the game with a tear in our eyes.
Life is Strange: True Colours launches 10th September 2021 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S. A Nintendo Switch release is on the way at a later date. Check out these deals:
- Buy the PC version from CD Keys (£27.99)
- Buy the PS5 version from Gamebyte (£40.95)
- Buy the Xbox Series X version from Gamebyte (£40.95)
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