Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Deck Nine Games
Release Date: 09/10/2021
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Life is Strange is one of my favorite games of all time. It just captured the small-town teenage adventure that a lot of us can reminisce about. It was one of the few games that I played that were so emotional and really made you feel for the world and characters you were in. The series keeps trying to capture that lightning in a bottle and doesn’t quite do it as the first game did. That magic is hard to reproduce, but True Colors is still quite an emotional game with great characters.
You play Alex Chen, a young woman who is leaving foster care life for a small town in Colorado called Haven. Not only is there a town mystery to solve, but you are also trying to find a purpose and reason to stay. You end up living with your brother, Gabe, and slowly start unlocking your past and the mystery of the town. That’s as far as I want to go with the story, anything else will literally spoil the game as there are quite a few big twists and turns and even just revealing certain things that happen are a surprise and unexpected. What I will say is that the story focuses a bit too much on this town mystery and less on your personal feelings with those around you despite Alex’s “power” involving raw emotion. When I first started the game I will admit that Deck Nine have a great way to get to the point of how the main character feels about the world around them. When you open your phone you can read text messages and bulletin posts that help explain what’s going on outside of Alex’s life. I recommend reading these texts at the very beginning of the game because she ends up blocking some people and after reading this long thread it kind of helps you see more of what Alex is feeling in her life.
The first chapter is slow to build, much slower than in previous games and the story doesn’t really pick up until right at the end of Chapter 1. The game also doesn’t have much gameplay. You do get to control Alex in certain areas to “explore” which only consists of hearing her internal dialog and commenting on things you can look at. I don’t feel this really adds to anything and just feels like an excuse to make this a game and not an interactive movie. This is a serious issue with adventure games these days. There are no puzzles, no real exploration, just lame gameplay excuses to make you feel like you’re controlling anything. I understand this is so it doesn’t scare off casual gamers, but adventure games are known for their puzzles. The only gameplay in here is a certain scene where you are doing a LARP (live-action role play) that the town takes part in and the game kind of has a light make-believe RPG thing going on. There are things to “collect” like looking at certain objects and interacting with things that can be missed and listening to people’s internal dialog with Alex’s powers.
There are major choices to be made in the game and that’s the true core of Life is Strange. These choices are pretty tough and really change the outcome of the story, but there aren’t as many in True Colors as in previous entries. There only are a few major choices where the game pauses and lets you choose. Other things are dialog options, but I never could really tell if these made a change or not and that’s a real weakness with this game. You could argue it’s so organic that you don’t notice, and maybe that’s better? I’m not quite sure, but I know only the major choices I made were obvious in their effect. I also found there may be too many characters in this game and we aren’t given enough time with any of them. Even Alex’s love interest, while touching and emotional, feels shallow and one-note. There isn’t enough time spent with this person to establish this connection. It’s more in line with just a few actions that took place and suddenly they love each other? It doesn’t feel super organic, and Alex’s other friends aren’t allowed any insight into their past like with Cloe or Max in the first game. I cared a lot about Alex, but not too much about anyone else because of these factors.
The game isn’t impressive to look at on a technical level, there are some last-gen textures here and there, but the lighting is great, and the facial animations are fantastic. The characters’ emotions really come across thanks to the details put into the facial animations. While the game looks miles better than previous entries it still feels like parts are older than others. The music is fantastic as always and carries the Life is Strange atmosphere from previous entries. It’s good enough to listen to outside of the game and I still listen to the first game’s OST all the time. The music plays in just the right moments and really helps carry the emotional scenes through to the end and adds an extra punch to the gut.
With that said, True Colors does what previous games did well in, but doesn’t quite capture the magic of the first game. There are too many characters and this brings the focus away from the core characters, and we don’t get insight into their past to care about them much. Alex’s love interest feels shallow and underdeveloped, and the mystery of the town itself also brings the focus away from helping the characters grow. I feel there are just too many distractions in the story to make it feel as wholesome as the first game. The visuals, while looking great in spots, feel dated, but the facial animations are fantastic. The music is amazing and helps Life is Strange to establish an atmosphere all on its own, but I also feel the choices aren’t as obvious in this game. What’s here is a great game with some seriously emotional scenes that are well done, but don’t come in expecting out-of-this-world storytelling like the first game.