After the massive misstep that was Dontnod Entertainment’s Life Is Strange 2, which traded in the small-town charm of Arcadia Bay for an ill-advised road trip, Square Enix’s adventure series is finally back on track with Life Is Strange: True Colors. Deck Nine Games, the Colorado-based team behind Before the Storm as well as this fourth entry, has taken inspiration from its home state and created a predictable story, but one that is filled with relatable characters.
Alex Chen, the series’ latest protagonist, finds herself in a new town catching up with her estranged older brother Gabe. Family relationships are never quite rosy in Life Is Strange and there’s far more baggage to unpack than Alex’s lone suitcase would suggest. An early death (one explicitly spoiled in the trailers) sets the tone for True Colors, which turns into a detective story among Alex’s search for self-discovery and a hope to finally fit in somewhere.
Part of her ostracization stems from her superpower as she can read minds — well, sort of. Alex can sense powerful emotions and sometimes can experience flashbacks or hear the thoughts of others if she chooses to read them. It’s an invasive power, and one you almost feel bad using on the people you develop friendships with. However, Alex is always looking to help people with their problems, and helping others move past their traumas is how she is trying to cope with her own. This dual purpose is not only an inventive and empathetic power, but it also gives a good look at Alex’s character.
Alex’s powers don’t really suit themselves for puzzle solving and this change does alter the formula established in the past three titles. Problems are identified by reading the emotions of characters, then searching for objects imbued with emotion around the environment. It’s more about going through the motions than actually testing your puzzle-solving skills like some of the time travel-related brain teasers that were in the first game. However, being a more straightforward adventure game isn’t a bad thing and it lends itself to the title’s greatest strength: its writing.
The story moves by quite quickly and, despite not being released episodically, the game is still split into five chapters with logical stopping points. But none of these points in True Colors reach the heights of any of the shocking cliffhangers of Season 1’s later episodes and these developments don’t get much time to breathe. Theorizing with the community was a lot of the fun in prior Life Is Strange titles, which the game loses out by releasing all in one go. It’s bingeability that comes at the cost of the joy of speculation.
While it doesn’t feature any revelations that are as unexpected as some of the series’ past revelations, True Colors‘ story is tightly written and thematically cohesive. It wraps up nicely and by the finale and gives the title of the game some extra significance. Due to her selfless nature, Alex is a very likable protagonist, which Life Is Strange 2 mostly lacked, and the townsfolk are highlighted by the game’s two romance options: Gabe’s best friend Ryan Lucan and Steph Gingrich, the LARPing musician who returns from Before the Storm. Both characters are great as friends and while the romance seems a bit rushed since you don’t have a childhood friend backstory à la Max and Chloe, they still feel rather natural as those going through grief tend to look for support from others. While everyone benefits from the more varied color palette and significantly improved animations, these three are the standouts.
True Colors is a game that gives back to more curious players. It’s easy to mainline the core experience in just a few hours, but if you don’t actually search around the town of Haven and do your civic duty as a good neighbor then you’re going to miss out on a lot of its heart and some of its best storylines. From a fun side story involving a struggling ice cream store to a depressing look at the weight that dementia can put on family members, a lot of the best writing is hidden away and only experienced if you go out of your way to be an actual resident of Haven.
With an impactful story, fleshed-out characters, and some of the best writing the series has seen so far, Life Is Strange: True Colors is a triumphant success. The main story’s twist leaves something to be desired, as it’s a bit predictable and by-the-numbers, but it is bolstered by the other parts of the carefully woven narrative package. All of these strengths show that the franchise is clearly in good hands with Deck Nine, as the studio is pushing the series into a great new direction.
As ComingSoon’s review policy explains, a score of 8 equates to “Great.” While there are a few minor issues, this score means that the game succeeds at its goal and leaves a memorable impact.