Life is Strange: True Colours Review – A Return to Form

After Life is Strange 2, I must admit I didn’t have a lot of hope for the franchise going forward if that game was any indication of its direction. What I had always loved about the original game, and even Before the Storm, was that despite there being these massive scary things like tornadoes and stuff, the stakes always felt small, self-contained and (mostly) kept the weight of the game on those that were personal. The whole world was never in danger, just the denizens of a town, and much of what tension those games did have leant on the characters rather than the any grand ideas. And it is because True Colours returns to that style of story that I enjoyed it so much… Also, yes, I will be spelling the game’s title technically wrong because, here in the UK, we decided the letter U needed to go in the word colour.

In fact, I’d go as far to argue that True Colours actually has the smallest stakes of all the games, even Before the Storm. The story goes that Alex, a girl who grew up in foster care and child protection, is reunited with her estranged brother in a town called Haven. After helping her settle in he is killed by an explosion caused by a mining company blasting in the mountains. The thing is that he called ahead to say people were still in the mountains and the people on the phone told him the blasting would not happen. So the mystery becomes why did the blasting happen, and who was responsible for it? The game deals with Alex’s grief and that of those around her as she recruits friends Ryan and Steph to uncover a corporate conspiracy. But to do so, she’ll have to overcome her internalized trauma regarding her childhood in child care, and the lack of closure she got with her brother both while separated from him as a child and after his death.

Indeed, it’s not quite a giant tornado or pressuring your little brother to murder people with his superpowers so you can escape the country levels of suspense, but neither does it have to be. True Colours never strives to be quite as dramatic as any of its predecessors, and is just as happy to instead concern you with the elderly lady who owns the flower shop hiding her dementia from her granddaughter, or with how the local chemist tries and fails to address the grief of her child. Yes, there is a corporate conspiracy, but one which takes up surprisingly little time compared to the closer-to-home character moments that make up the majority of the game.

Case and point: 75% of the third chapter is about you helping a single person get through their grief by organising a LARP (DnD but live-action) throughout the town. Even so, not a single bit of this works against the main story hook of uncovering the truth about your brother’s death, as the choices made and ways in which you behave during these smaller moments dictate who in the town will believe your insane truths once you uncover everything. The fact that it was possible for people not to believe you really surprised me, and could be a real gut punch for those who rushed through the game without interacting as thoroughly with the environment as more patient and invested players. If one thing annoys me about these types of games, it is the over reliance on the illusion of choice; but this kind of finale takes a step in the right direction of telling the player that most of what proceeded it did involve true choices. Sure, I have doubt you would still uncover the conspiracy and make the person who betrayed you pay, but the emotional payoff of whether the town believes your words is still there to satisfy emotionally involved players. It’s a nice reward, to have them believe you, and not one you’re told to expect when the people you’ve come to like stand up for you in the finale.

So, breaking tradition, I do feel comfortable saying this might be the first Life is Strange game to really nail the ending. The other games – however good or bad they were prior to their finale’s – always seemed to trip at the last hurdle by falling on a moral choice with one really obvious correct solution, and one bad answer that no one would ever really pick other than to see what it does. In True Colours, your previous choices dictate the ending to the corporate conspiracy plot and thus the true final choice of the game is one appropriately removed from it; You’re given the option to stay in Haven to give Alex a life of belonging that she has always craved, or the choice to hit the road and continue living her life as she always had, with a friend to accompany her and a fresh perspective on life. The game seems to lean into the option to stay in Haven, but I still picked to leave with my best friend and new lesbian lover, Steph. It still felt thematically appropriate and in line with what Alex and Steph would do, so I can’t rag on it at all. Life is Strange has always been better at investing us in characters than ots, and so tieing the final chouce to the conclusion of Alex’s internal struggle rather than to a moral choice is a big win.

Hell, as a whole package, the game is a win.

However, there are cracks here and there where the illusion of choice shows it’s ugly head. For instance, the whole reason your brother gets killed in the first place is because you go to the mountains in search of a boy who went to play up there, ignorant of the blasting to come. At the start of chapter one you have the choice to warn your brother, ahead of time, that this is happening and your brother even confirms that he convinced the kid’s mom to keep him home… And yet the kid still winds up the mountains anyway. Like, I know games of this genre sometimes rely on the illusion of choice rather than true choice, but this instance is just so overt that it gave me a sour taste in my mouth – Not something you want in the first chapter of the game. There are pacing issues with the first chapter too, like how the whole thing is just you getting repeatedly introduced to new people. I get it, I’m new in town, but the original game also managed a fish-out-of-water scenario with Max by having us assume control over her a few weeks after she arrived at that game’s setting to avoid this bus ride from new character to new character.

It is disappointing the first chapter is the weakest because, in my opinion, everything thereafter is essentially all you could ever want out of a game in this franchise. It tries new things by giving you the power to read other people’s emotions and strong memories tied to objects throughout the world, but never deviates too far from the familiar formula. Episode 3 is the most distinct as the LARP introduces mechanics you could consider experimental for this specific game. Throughout the rest of the game it also seems marginally less linear than it’s predecessors by offering more open environments, side tasks and the chance to do tasks at your own pace and in your own time. All this relatively new stuff is wrapped up in a narrative formula and pacing you’d recognise from previous titles, which ties the experience together nicely.

I mentioned in my review of the first game that I considered it a “comfort game” because of how relaxing it was, despite the subject matter of the later episodes. True Colours recreates that feeling; I never felt pressured by the game or like it has set expectations for me. Instead, I always feel like the narrative is happy to sit on it’s ass if I want to arbitrarily clean Alex’s apartment before progressing the story. Where I felt Before the Storm and Life is Strange 2 went awry by trying to up the stakes and tension wherever they could, I feel True Colours triumphs by simply… Being hella chillaxed. Who knows, if I play this game 2 or 3 more times, as I did with the first, maybe it too will become a comfort game of mine.

This game does come with DLC for owners of the deluxe edition, to which owners of the standard edition can upgrade to if they didn’t initially buy it. The DLC is called Wavelengths.

Wavelengths oddly acts as an epilogue to both Before the Storm and the original Life is Strange, while also being a prologue to True Colours itself. In it you assume the role of the aforementioned character Steph – someone fans will recognise from Before the Storm – as she transitions into life in Haven while overcoming the loss of either Chloe and Rachel (if you chose to save the town in the first game) or the destruction of her home town (if you chose to save Chloe in the first game). Thusly if there is one weakness to Wavelengths, it is that it requires knowledge of a game that is six years old and its prequel to understand the emotional hook… Which would be fine, if the rest of the game it’s a DLC for wasn’t a standalone story totally unconcerned with acting as a sequel in any capacity. It means that while old fans can appreciate it, new ones will be mostly lost given that the main game is good jumping-on-point for them and they’re suddenly being thrust into a DLC requiring a lot of missing context.

But for people that know what’s going on, the DLC provides better closure to the games set in Arcadia Bay than those game’s own conclusions in a lot of ways. For as many side characters as those games had, we only really saw the finale through the eyes of the leads – either Max and Chloe or Chloe and Rachel – which was comprised of very little dialogue in favour of a music playing over destruction and/or emotional ordeals. Wavelengths gives us insight into Steph’s head, someone who was so unimportant in those games that she hardly mattered, and how the stories of those games’ impacted the average person, as opposed to those wrapped up in conspiracies or with time travel powers.

While I wouldn’t argue against anyone saying this DLC stuff is all irrelevant to True Colours, I would argue it is at least thematically fit for this game; The whole game is about Alex learning to move on from tragedy, and this DLC is a little window into how Steph did that prior to Alex’s arrival. It’s also roughly the length of a regular chapter of the base game, which I think justifies its price. Overall Wavelengths is a little weaker than the base game, but is a neat addition for those who enjoyed it enough to pay for more.

So even as someone who became weary of the franchise after Life is Strange 2, I feel very confident recommending this game. I’ve said it so many times on this blog, but I just really appreciate media that wears its heart on its sleeve and True Colours definitely does that. So to all fans of this style of adventure game, and indeed Life is Strange fans, I would highly recommend this title. Hell, I might even go as far to say it is, at the very least, tied for best game in the franchise; I really had a lot of fun with it and was engaged by the story and characters from start to finish.

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