Life is Strange: True Colors review for PS5/4, Xbox Series X/One, Switch

Platform: PS5
Also On: PC, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Deck Nine Games
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No

Trying to determine which genre Life is Strange: True Colors belongs in might be the hardest part of writing this review. It is a murder-mystery game, it is a walking simulator, it is a visual novel, it is a drama, and it manages to create its own new genre, an empathy simulator. Life is Strange: True Colors puts you in the shoes of Alex Chen, a young woman leaving the foster care/group home system to go live with her estranged brother Gabe in the little town of Haven Springs, Colorado.

The game opens on an exit interview being conducted with Alex before she heads off to join Gabe, and we learn right away that she has “issues” which is just another way to say she has powers. Her power is what I can only describe as “super-empathy”. She can see an aura around people that indicates what emotion they are feeling, and if the emotion is strong enough, it overpowers Alex and makes her feel the exact same thing. This level of empathy and shared emotion also gives Alex the ability to read into what people are thinking and act/react accordingly. In a departure from the previous games, it is clear that Alex is fully aware of her powers, and has been for a long time. While, throughout the course of the game, these powers grow and manifest themselves in new ways, it is a nice change of pace to have a character who is already pretty adept at using their abilities.

This empathetic ability is the core of Life is Strange: True Colors, and it is important to understand that going in. There is not a lot of “gameplay” and the majority of your time is going to be spent in conversation or using your ability to read the residual emotions on people and objects to gather information about the mystery that surrounds you. This will be nothing new to veterans of the series but is worth pointing out for anyone who is coming in fresh. There are a lot more possibilities in Life is Strange: True Colors than there were in the previous games, and the dialogue options carry real weight within the game. The choices that I made felt genuinely impactful and important, which is something that I feel most games end up missing when they try and implement a choice system like this.

With such limited gameplay, the story has to do most of the heavy lifting in Life is Strange: True Colors, and it is more than equipped to handle it. The first chapter stumbles a bit trying to introduce you to the protagonist, the world, the powers, the side characters, and everything else all at once, but once the story gets moving it doesn?t stop until the end. I found myself growing more and more invested in the people and the town of Haven Springs, and by the end of the game, I felt like a part of that community. I spent enough time wandering the town and sharing drinks with the people who lived there, all while truly feeling their emotions, that it was hard to say goodbye to them all once the game ended.

The story is much more mature and much darker than I expected it to be going in, which lends itself to the overall weight of the narrative. I am impressed that they are able to tackle themes like depression, grief, and guilt while also allowing time for genuine laughter and goofing off, as well as love and companionship. There are a number of somber moments that will strike you, but there is an equal number of absurd, laugh-out-loud moments as well. While this occasionally leads to a confusing narrative tone, it works more often than it doesn?t.

The characters in Life is Strange: True Colors shine, and each one of the main people you interact with feels fully realized, with their own lives and motivations. This is accomplished through the cell phone that you have with you throughout the game. You will receive text messages from other characters periodically pertaining to the story, but you can scroll back and find several conversations of casual chatter that allow you to get a deeper understanding of who the characters are, and how they interact with you when you (the player) are “not looking”. You also have access to “MyBlock” which is like Facebook, but specifically for Haven Springs. You will see social media posts from the people and businesses all around you, and you can see comment chains back and forth between the inhabitants that continue to solidify the feeling of life you get in Haven Springs.

Life is Strange: True Colors is not entirely without flaws though. Despite playing on the PS5, there were quite a few instances of incredibly long load times, for things that seemed relatively insignificant. Traveling from the room above the bar down to the ground floor can sometimes take a full 30 seconds, which seems like way too much for how graphically simple the game is. While the graphics are certainly a step up from the previous games in the series, it is no powerhouse. With a game like Ghost of Tsushima running almost entirely without a loading screen, it seems like Life is Strange: True Colors should be able to trim down some of the wait time. There were also a few instances where previous dialogue options didn?t track with what a character was currently saying, and a few cutscenes where Alex spent the first 10 seconds or so “T-posing”, but overall things ran pretty smoothly. The framerate does dip noticeably in a few spots, but I am hopeful that some of the early patches (which are coming) will iron out some of the rough spots.

Life is Strange: True Colors is a unique game, unlike anything I have played before. It is a departure from the other titles in the series, while also retaining the soul of what made people enjoy those games so much. With a stronger focus on interpersonal relationships and genuinely empathizing with those around you (both friend and foe), it feels like the series is finding its footing and pushing forward to bigger and better things. The decision to switch from the episodic format to a full upfront release pays off and I think Life is Strange: True Colors is much better for it. Once I got invested in the story, I did not want to stop playing, and I think a lot of the decisions and connections you make would start to lose their meaning if there were an extended break in between chapters.

Note: Square Enix provided us with a Life is Strange: True Colors PS5 code for review purposes

Grade: B+