Reviewed on PS5. Review copy provided by Square Enix.
As human beings, we are privileged to have consciousness, something that many philosophers and scientists have tried to explain and understand over the course of our existence. This consciousness allows us to experience the various flavors of life. Happiness, sadness, anger, pleasure, frustration, satisfaction, love, loss. Emotions that almost every human is familiar with, emotions that feel like they are just our own but, they aren’t really. They are ties that bind us together, that help us connect with each other, to better understand one another. It’s a unique power we all inertly possess. A power, known as Empathy.
Human nature is complex. Even if we do have inclinations toward violence, we also have inclination to empathy, to cooperation, to self-control.
That is what Life is Strange: True Colors is all about. It’s a story about how empathy can change lives. Not just your own but of the people around you. About how one act of kindness born out of empathy can start a chain reaction of positivity and growth. The idea of empathy being a superpower was something that developer Deck Nine wanted to explore since the early days of the game. Deck Nine, having previously developed the prequel game Life is Strange: Before the Storm, were handed the reins for this new story and I feel they’ve done quite well.
Now before we jump into the nitty-gritty, I need to make something very clear. This is my first Life of Strange game. I do not have any prior experience with this series so my opinion is not based on the evolution of the series. The game is advertised to be a good jumping-in point for newcomers which is why I decided to review this game. And truth be told, my time in Haven Springs was a fond one.
In Life is Strange: True Colors you play as Alex Cheng, a young Asian-American who moves to the town of Haven Springs in Colorado after having a very troubled life in foster care. Waiting for her in Haven Springs is her older brother, Gabe Chen, with a promise of a new and happy life.
[spoiler]Sadly after a series of unfortunate events, Alex loses Gabe and begins to investigate the mystery behind those events.[/spoiler]
To do so, Alex uses her powers of empathy which allows her to feel other people’s emotions in the form of colorful auras which also lets her get an insight into what’s on their minds. She can also delve deeper into a person’s emotions to learn about their trauma in an attempt to aid that person. It’s all easier said than done as reading strong emotions can lead to those emotions infecting her and causing her to behave in ways that are unlike herself.
The game does deal with some dark themes and complex issues so please be warned. If you feel like you need help while playing this game please seek help. Here’s the developer’s own link towards getting help and here’s a global link.
Now that you get the basic idea of the game, let’s talk a bit about the story, the world, the people who inhabit this world, and the core gameplay elements.
Look, Feel, and Core Gameplay
The town of Haven Springs is where you’ll be spending your time in this game and it is one heck of a place. There’s no way a town like this exists because it is too picturesque and pretty. Imagine Stardew Valley but in 3D and you’ve got this place. It’s a sleepy little town that’s perfect for a vacation away from the troubles of city life. I could go on about how cozy this place is but I’d struggle to do it justice so let’s move on.
Haven Springs’ residents are warm and welcoming. Probably more so than usual because you’re the sister of the town’s most wholesome guy. I’ve never lived in a town like this, especially not in the United States but if Twin Peaks is any indication(I know it’s not but please let me have this), this town has all the various types of people you’d expect. You got the loveable father figure who owns the local tavern, a friendly sheriff that knows everyone by name, that one guy in town that everyone dislikes cause he’s a prick who happens to be dating one of the town’s most attractive and intelligent women and so on and so forth. Oh, and how can I forget the hot radio station host who also runs the record store and is a big tabletop nerd who loves Critical Role. Yeah, Steph is the best girl, you heard it here folks. And yes, you can romance in this game and you have a big pool of… Two people to choose from. Namely, Best girl Steph(who is returning from Life is Strange: Before the Storm) and Gabe’s best friend, Ryan.
You better prepare to spend some time with these people because exploration and side quests are vital. Simply sticking to the main quest will lead to missing out on some fantastic interactions and moments. Heck, it can even change things towards the end of the game which I didn’t expect. And since it is vital (and also fun), it’s always rewarding. Mostly with stories and memories about the town and its people. It works quite well in making you care about these people and their town since Alex, just like the player, is new to the town and is forming these bonds alongside you. However, something that annoyed me throughout these parts was the game “reminding” me to go do the main quest. Alex would have only one line of dialogue that she would repeat about whatever the current main quest is and how she should get back to it. Chill game, I’m only trying to explore and get immersed in your world.
By the end, I was left wanting more because of how much I enjoyed rambling around and talking to folks but also because parts of the plot and the character relationships feel rushed. The entire game takes place over the course of a month but you only get to play the first two days of your arrival and then the last two days before the game ends. So while you do build some sort of a relationship at the start, most of it is told to the player via past conversations on text messages or by MyBlock(Twitter) posts. There are so many interesting stories you miss out on like Alex having a girl’s night or the first time Alex plays Tunnels and Chambers (in-game version of Dungeons & Dragons). It would have helped immensely with character development, while also making all of your choices even tougher.
Speaking of choices, there are multiple choices throughout the 5 chapters of the game. Some choices which I call “hard choices” are choices between two options and are not missable. They are part of the plot and you have to make a decision. The other ones which I call “soft choices” are missable and only happen if you spend time exploring and helping people. While “hard choices” are what majorly impact the direction of the story, “soft choices” impact what happens within that direction. If you helped someone, they might have your back later on in the game OR if you missed out on helping them or chose not to, they might be indifferent or against you. There is an option in the Settings called “Major Choice Prompt” which when enabled will let you know that your response will affect the story and give you the ability to reconsider your choice. I played with it off but it’s there for those who want it.
And if these choices or conversations tire you out or get you thinking, the devs have implemented a great way to unwind and reflect with Zen Moments. These are moments you can have where Alex will sit by herself and reflect upon whatever has happened lately. During these, she tends to monologue her feelings while the player is treated to some incredible music and picturesque shots alongside it. Sometimes it’s just silence as the music and the visual slideshow wash over you. The more I progressed through the story, the more I looked for these moments of peace and calm.
Want to know more of what Alex is thinking and feeling outside those Zen Moments? Check out her Journal! She not only writes about the incident/person but will also write a song with it. It’s incredibly unique and I hope someone much more talented than me brings those songs to life because I’d love to hear them.
After each chapter, the game shows you a summary screen so you can see what choices you made and any you may have missed. It also shows you the popularity of a choice with percentages alongside the decisions so you can get an idea of how other players felt. And with so many choices to make, the game does encourage multiple playthroughs. To that end, it has two ways of replaying scenes. You can choose to replay only one scene to maybe see different outcomes pertinent to that scene or to simply get missed trophies. Decisions made here do not carry over nor does it rewrite your current save. The other way is by doing a “Restart” from the scene of your choosing which creates a new save file so you can then carry forward your new choices to the rest of the game without messing up your old save. Pro Tip: Use R1 to skip through scenes you’ve watched. I didn’t know R1 was the button because the only time it tells you this is during the opening splash screen.
My playthrough of the game took me about 10 hours. I took my time exploring and doing whatever side activity I could find. This includes over an hour of trying to get the highscore in the two arcade games that you can play which were fun but I really wish they let us input a custom name for when you do get a highscore.
Audio-Visuals and Presentations
I played the game on the PlayStation 5 using the PS5 version so all my opinions are based on that. First things first, the game does have Dual Sense support and it is done well. The Haptic Feedback and Adaptive Triggers usage is just right in my opinion. They’re never over-used and feel well-placed and natural. The Adaptive Triggers kick in when using your powers and feel like a machine gun rumble which makes holding down the “Power” button kinda fun honestly.
To keep you more involved with the game world, the game doesn’t have a traditional HUD. Whenever there’s an interactable element nearby, it will be outlined and the various interactive options will be shown to you. I’ve found that this helped me focus on the world and the little details that the world is littered with. One very minor issue that I faced with this minimalism was that during certain cutscenes I would be so engrossed that I wouldn’t realize there’s a prompt at the bottom of the screen for me to choose my response from.
Visually the game ranges all the way from “wow that is breathtaking” to “Why does this look like a PS3 texture”. There’s nothing more immersion breaking than having a conversation where someone’s face looks great but then you look at their clothes and it is super low res.
The game does have a unique art style going for it but that does not excuse low-res textures being present in so many places throughout the game. Or the fact that a lot of people’s hair and beard *cough Ryan and Gabe cough* looks like trash</span
I’m sorry but I couldn’t look at their faces without going “wow really? Feels like they just put some Play-Doh on and used a marker to draw that beard”. On the flip side, Alex’s hair looks great and so does Jed’s glorious beard.
But my biggest, BIGGEST grievance with the visuals was the Chromatic Aberration. You might say, oh just turn it off like in every other game BUT HERE’S THE THING. YOU CAN’T. It’s so overly done that anything away from the camera looks like a blurry mess. I thought I had to clean my glasses because of how smudgy everything looked. It’s such an odd choice to not include an option to toggle it off. I’m sure the art direction of the game would still shine with it off but it really ground my gears throughout the game. That along with what I think is TAA being used for Anti-Aliasing created a lot of edge halo-ing and shimmer, especially on close-up shots that had any sort of Depth of Field applied to it.
In terms of performance, on the PS5, the game lacks a 60fps mode. It has a Ray Tracing option but with or without out, the game runs at 30fps. In 2021 where the PS5 is easily running games at 60fps, I didn’t expect this game to be released without a 60fps mode. It also lacks any sort of quick loading. Whenever you transition to a new scene or move from indoors to outdoors there’s a loading screen that takes its sweet time. I really expected much quicker load times but was left disappointed.
And for those of you with HDR-compatible screens, you will be disappointed to learn that the game does not have any HDR options on the PS5. This is a shame because the way lighting is used in this game would’ve been perfect for HDR.
Moving onto Audio. If you’re a fan of the series, you know Life is Strange features some great music- both original and licensed. And that continues here as well. Music is an important part of Alex’s story and the music team has done a wonderful job conveying that. You’ve got covers, you’ve got great original music and you’ve got licensed tracks that are used to absolute perfection during key story moments. If you enjoy a wide variety of music, you’re going to absolutely love the musical choices here.
My one nitpick with the audio though is with the dialogue audio. Oftentimes the last word of a sentence just cuts off very abruptly. In emotional scenes, it can get a bit jarring and is something that I find slightly immersion-breaking. All the actors have done a fantastic job so those moments where their sentence gets cut off is mildly annoying.
The game has a decent spread of accessibility features as well. For those with a reading disorder, you can change the font to Source Sans Pro for all subtitles and in-game text. For color-blindness, there’s the option of Deuteranopia, Protanopia and Tritanopia filters. There’s also a Brightness and Volume Warning which lets you know that a bright or loud scene is coming up so that you can adjust the game’s brightness or volume. There are also a few motor-related options like setting actions from “hold” to “toggle”, increasing choice timers, and an option to skip gameplay events that rely on quick reflexes.
For content creators and streamers, the game gives you the option to Mute Licensed music (which is a shame because there’s some good music here). There’s also… CROWD CHOICE. Let your chat control what happens in Full Democracy mode or simply see the popular decision in Suggestion mode. Either way, it will make for a more interactive and involved experience.
One aspect of the game that left a bad taste in my mouth was how I felt it was pushing DLCs in my face. The first time I loaded the game, the 2nd option below “New Game” was “Buy Steph’s Story”. Game, you’ve barely released and you’re already asking me to buy a prequel DLC that comes out on 30th September. And then if you go into the Extras menu there’s a “Buy More” option that takes you to the store page to upgrade your standard edition or buy DLCs/ older games. It’s not as egregious as some other games but I was irked by it and felt like I needed to mention it.
After reading all that (or not) if you’re waiting for a TL;DR or my own opinion on whether you should buy it, here it is. The game is fantastic. Most of my issues stem from things that can be patched. But the real question is, is it worth the $60 price tag? If you’re someone who enjoys these types of games and replays them then yes absolutely. If you’re someone who does a single playthrough then the price point might be a bit high and I’d suggest waiting for a sale. But I do highly recommend buying and playing this game. It’s got a lot of heart, fun and interesting characters, a great soundtrack and it’s trying to spread the message about something the world desperately needs right now. Just a bit of Empathy for each other.