Life is Strange: True Colors | game review
All the colours of emotion (yes, there should be a bloody 'u' in there!).
Game summary: When her brother dies in a so-called accident, Alex Chen must embrace her volatile power to find the truth – and uncover the dark secrets buried by a small town. (Xbox.com)
The first Life is Strange is a game that I wasn't overly fond of, with what felt like a weak main character constantly being pushed around by an abusive partner to me - yes, I really couldn't stand Chloe. As a result, it felt like a supervillain origin story, because the plot proved over and over again that Max wouldn't let Chloe go and it was frustrating to play a character who it felt like I couldn't really decide anything substantial for despite being a choice-based game.
Thankfully, Life is Strange: True Colors feels far more like a game you can have a strong hand in influencing, with a main character in Alex Chen (Erika Mori) who reflects that level of influence for the player. Yes, she has some core characteristics that remain true no matter how you play, but she just feels far more malleable when those attributes aren't in play.
Being able to shape a character this way made for a more immersive experience for me, and a far stronger connection to events too. This isn't a high stakes game at all - it's about uncovering some murky goings-on in a small town - but what happens is of utmost importance to Alex, and therefore felt vital to me too because I connected with her far more than I ever did with Max (who can end up choosing to destroy an entire town!).
I also like the supporting characters in True Colors more than the original too, although a large part of that could be that they're not a bunch of highly-annoying teenagers! I don't have anything against younger characters - there's a 10-year old in this game who is more enjoyable to interact with than anyone in Life is Strange - but having the cast here be mainly young adults and older does allow for a certain level of gravitas the first game was lacking for me.
What's strange (no pun intended) about this game is that, despite what feels like greater influence for me over the characters and events, it also feels like there's less gameplay and a lot more of the story and character moments play out through what I guess you would call interactive cut-scenes. There are still occasions when you get to wander around a wider area, but they do seem to occur less often.
There will be some who won't like that the amount of having direct control over a character has been reduced, but I think it works well for the story they're telling and also allows for better pacing too. This is pretty important, because how quickly story and character beats play out really is vital to enjoying True Colors so much and why such a simple story worked so well for me.
A problem I have with some people who write about video-game writing, or simply unthinking players, is comparing games to movies and TV when discussing writing/story quality. For film and TV shows, those stories are static and characters will make choices that lead to events unfolding at the same pace no matter when you watch them or your level of understanding either medium.
For games, pacing can be thrown off by either being very good at a game and racing through it faster than expected by the developers, or finding it hard going and having events take what feels like an age to unfold - both instances drastically shaping a player's experience of the story and, by extension, the writing in a way that just can't happen with movies and TV shows.
This is why it feels so weird to compare gaming to other media with regards to writing: every player is going to have an experience distinct to them based on either how good they are at a game or even their playstyle - after all, how can a writer possibly pace out a story like a movie if someone likes to really take their time searching for secrets/collectibles/Easter eggs? They obviously can't, but that won't stop that player turning around and complaining that it's taking ages for anything to happen in the story!
That's why I'm not fussed about True Colors so often 'taking over' with a directed sequence to watch and interact with rather than have everything unfold piecemeal and at an inconsistent rate. It also serves the added bonus of making the occasions when you can explore a little feel that much more freeing and they're spread out pretty well for the most part to boot.
I will say that I don't think the story here quite sticks the landing, which is a disappointment even if it isn't actually poor at all, although it only feels like a negative because of how much I enjoyed everything else up to that point, with Alex's empathic powers of being able to feel others' emotions and see the world as they do allowing for some great visuals that I didn't expect to see based on the setting.
What I've written so far about True Colors might not sound enthusiastic enough to justify the score below, but you should understand that this is because so much of this game is so well done that this post would be twice as long if I wanted to go into detail about everything I like here. It's just a really well made game that has been refined and polished to such a high level that I can't help but like it.
Or how about this for how highly I rate it: as I wrote at the start, I didn't like the first Life is Strange that much, which put me off playing Before the Storm and Life is Strange 2. After playing True Colors on Game Pass (you know, as just a part of the subscription), I'm now very interested in buying the Ultimate Edition, which comes with the remastered Life is Strange and Before the Storm and giving them a go - quite the achievement to completely turn me around on an entire franchise.
Life is Strange: True Colors is a really, really good game filled with a whole ton of fun, interesting characters, a great main character in Alex Chen, and a story worthy of them even if the ending isn't quite as good as everything else leading up to it. Some might not enjoy how little 'direct' gameplay there is, but it does feel like a worthy, necessary sacrifice to maintain the amazing sense of immersion the game generates at every moment.