I See Your True Colors Shining
Life is Strange: True Colors is a highly enjoyable narrative adventure. If you can get past the £50 asking price, Life Is Strange delivers another decent sequel, diving into ideas of grief, acceptance and revenge backdropped by the picturesque setting of a sleepy little town. This is Haven and it plays host to a pretty enjoyable murder mystery. The game is not without its flaws though but across the 5 chapters, there’s more than enough to like.
Much like its predecessors, Life Is Strange is a game that blends teen angst and choice-driven narrative prompts with a blend of the supernatural. While the first game pulled this off really well, with a delicious twist and heaps of originality, the sequels that followed have never quite reached that same peak.
True Colors then is a bright, vibrant title that certainly does what it can to try and stack up next to the original, borrowing heavily in both characterization and emotion. And there are certainly moments where this game shines. Unfortunately these segments are as fleeting as the emotionally charged powers, bogged down by repetitive areas, a lack of real, meaningful choices and a few predictable twists.
The narrative is where the bread and butter of this game lies though and the story is undeniably well written, albeit a little slow out the gates. It’s also worth mentioning that this script is packed full of cursing too.
The central character here is Alex Chen, who arrives in the sleepy town of Haven to catch up with her brother Gabe. Orphaned as kids, the pair grew apart but their reunion looks to rekindle what they once had. Unfortunately a mining accident takes Gabe’s life, plunging the town into mourning. But was it really an accident?
Hidden secrets, shady characters and lots of pent-up emotion combine to make for a tantalizing cocktail of possibilities. Or at least it would if the story wasn’t so orchestrated.
Murder mystery enthusiasts will spot all the usual tropes here, including the red herring, the shadowy corporation and the (admittedly well-written) twist that all crop up at the usual spots across the five chapters.
These chapters essentially serve as narrative beats, with your typical beginning, middle and end. There’s no loose ends here thankfully, despite a somewhat tepid conclusion, and the choices late on do help to make for a slightly different outcome beyond the stock good/bad conclusion.
The characters do fare a little better than this though, and boast some genuine depth. There are a number of supporting players around Alex that help give this game some colour, including possible love interests Steph and Ryan. Who you choose here though is up to you.
There’s a poetic edge to Gabe’s best friend Ryan hooking up with Alex, given their history, while Steph taps into Alex’s dreams and itch for adventure, encouraging the girl to pick up her guitar and return to her musical roots. Basically whoever you choose feels naturally included in the story.
Alongside those two are a litany of other characters, including young Ethan and his estranged relationship with his Mother. There’s also flower girl Eleanor and her daughter Riley and bar owner Jed, to name a few. Each of these characters actually complement Alex’s story and her background, helping to bring a different side of Alex’s personality to the foreground.
The gameplay is pretty basic in truth, with your usual point and click mechanics seen in title’s past. The aesthetic design is pretty much identical to the first game, with hand-drawn scribbles, wonky lines pointing to objects and thoughtful narration to boot. While a lot of the items are just in this for decoration, some of the documents and letters dotted around do shed more light on what’s happening and offer crucial clues over who the main suspects are.
Most of your time with True Colors will see you wandering around rooms, talking to characters and uncovering more about the mystery. There’s some pretty long cutscenes here too, as one may expect, although the inability to skip lines of dialogue is more of a personal grievance than a detriment to the story.
The same can be said for interactions between scenes too, with cinematic cutaways for going up stairs, exiting buildings and opening rooms to name a few. While this may be fine the first couple of times, it becomes tiresome when there’s no ability to skip this 3-4 second cutscene.
Given the small town feel to this, a lot of the same areas are visited multiple times, and that really holds this game back from being better. It also doesn’t help that other streets and roads can be seen along the main strip of Haven’s high street but you’re never once able to venture that far.
This main square is constantly traveled up and down between chapters too, with three key shops (the flower shop, record store and dispensary) visited several times across the game. There is some variation, with a real-time LARP and a nighttime festival, but it does become repetitive by the time you finish with this.
The development team seem to know this too and throughout your adventure there are constant attempts to try and spice things up and break that monotony. Arcade machines offer a nice distraction, a light RPG complete with turn-based combat shows and there’s even a couple of games of foosball to boot.
If you’ve played Life is Strange before then these inclusions will come as no surprise but the game’s length is roughly around 5-10 hours max, depending on if you engage with the minigames and grab all the collectibles or not.
The choices themselves feel pretty minimal too, while others give the illusion of choice while circling back to the same conclusion. For example, early on you’re given the choice of telling the adults that young Ethan is wandering into the mines alone. Whether you choose to snitch on him or not, there’s absolutely no consequences beyond a couple of huffy looks from the kid. By the next chapter, he’s right as rain.
Ultimately, the only chapter worth replaying is the last one, just to see a slightly different ending. This means True Colours doesn’t really have much replayability unless you really do love the characters and want to experience this again.
The one part of these games that never fails to impress though is the soundtrack. From the licensed tracks to the ambient score, True Colors has some brilliant song choices that knock it out the park from start to finish.
Both ‘Home’ and ‘Thank You’ work perfectly with the larger themes of the story and every track feels carefully curated for this journey. True Colors seems to know this too and includes several spots where you can just sit and listen to the music while Alex reflects on her journey.
There are a lot of complicated emotions and ideas being played with here and the way grief is handled in True Colors really is wonderfully done. Without giving too much away, the game has a very positive message about how to handle tough moments and how to accept what’s happened.
These emotions are handled through Alex’s powers, which come in the form of sensing one’s emotions by holding the trigger button. Each of these are accompanied by a different colored aura. Blue is for sadness, purple for fear, yellow for joy and red for anger. These essentially help to see the inner-workings of a character and – in the case of later chapters – can actually influence people and help change their feelings. This comes into play a lot during chapters 3 and 4, with the final chapter essentially seeing the fruits of your labour pay off, depending on how thorough you’ve been in understanding and helping the townsfolk.
Unless you’re a huge Life Is Strange fan, True Colors is probably best played during a sale or by renting it. There’s a lot to like here but the £50 asking price is very steep in exchange for the minimal run-time and distinct lack of replayability.
Alex Chen’s journey is a good one though, and the five chapters here provide a concise, slick story that gets the job done without much fuss. Unfortunately this also exemplifies how often certain areas are reused and the relatively simple choices given to players. Thankfully, True Colors dazzles its flaws with a vibrant, enjoyable adventure that’s well worth checking out
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Verdict - 7.5/10