One of the first things I did after getting control of Alex Chen was go through her phone (as it turns out, I’m not the only one).
Almost instantly, I felt uncomfortable when I came across a string of texts where she had ghosted a potential love interest. I felt sad when I saw her asking if she could crash at a friend’s place for the night, a pattern emerging as I scrolled down. I felt disgusted when a friend tried to take advantage of her helplessness. More than anything, I felt like a trespasser. A voyeur peeking into the dark corners of Alex’s past, digging up graves to find every scrap of information I could about this new protagonist. What had started out as an exercise in immersion left me feeling overloaded with information. It is a weird way to start a game, but at the end it gives you a clearer perspective of the person you’re playing as.
Twin Mirror v2.0
The first feeling I had after reading the official synopsis for True Colors was hesitation. The parallels with Twin Mirror were quite apparent. Both stories seemed to deal with uncovering the murder of a dear one. And in case you haven’t had the chance to catch up with Twin Mirror (lucky you), here’s our review (TL;DR jam-packed with clichés and boring, two-dimensional characters). The moment I stepped into Haven Springs, the similarities with DontNod’s sub-par Twin Mirror became unavoidable. True Colors is also set in a rural, mining town. The omnipresent (and ominous) mining corporation loomed large in the unseen background, as posters warned about a controlled blast scheduled in the vicinity. My fears intensified. Would this be a repeat of Twin Mirror or would Deck Nine’s version of ‘rural American town upended by mining conglomerate’ be any different?
Fortunately, I was proven wrong. By the end of the first episode, I was genuinely warming up to the story. At times, the characters seem like they’re trying too hard, but for the most part it was fun watching the lively cast bounce off of each other.
Themes & Memorable Moments
The previous games in the Life is Strange universe dealt with themes of friendship (Life is Strange) and family/brotherhood (Life is Strange 2). Life is Strange: True Colors largely revolves around the idea of community, and the feeling of belonging. Empathy – quite literally – is also a major plot point here. Alex, the protagonist, has the power to not only feel but also extract and influence the emotions of the people around her. The search for home sees Alex Chen travel to Haven Springs, Colorado to reunite with her brother after years spent apart, victim to the foster care system. The small town is a very close-knit community – everyone knows each other and is cheeky (and supportive) on the community myBlock page. It’s all too good to be true, and there are no bonus points for guessing things eventually take a darker turn.
More than the overall story and the detective aspects of the game, it was the little moments that won me over. Consider a moment where you go from comforting your dead brother’s devastated best friend to experiencing joy for the first time. Or the chilling manner in which dementia is portrayed in the game – windows fog over as you don’t know where you are anymore, spellings get jumbled and suddenly, for the life of you, it is impossible to recall what the sign hanging over the front door reads. These are the moments that will stick with you once the game is complete.
Like the title preceding it, Life is Strange continues to expand its cast with diverse characters. Alex is a queer Asian-American woman, and it is a landmark moment in video games. I’ve seen a lot of people get irritated at the idea of ‘representation.’ Why does it even matter? Shamefully, the cynic in me always assumed it was simply a marketing tactic to appeal to a broader market. It took me a long time to believe that this wasn’t always the case.
People consume media in copious amounts through TV, movies, or games. Unsurprisingly, TV and games are also where kids – and society at large – form opinions about their identity and those of others around them. A paediatric study that reviewed research in this field also concluded with the obvious – people are more likely to believe stereotypes about other races if normalized by media. As Indian comedian Hari Kondabolu points out in this video, through mass propagation the stereotype becomes the only lens people start viewing an entire community through. It is a welcome relief when piece by piece, media like True Colors present portraits of diverse people where they are complex, fully-fleshed characters – not just there to be the comic relief or the token best friend.
A visual delight
Technical improvements aid immersion more than any other game in the series. The poor lip sync and facial animations that have plagued the Life is Strange franchise since its inception have undergone a complete makeover, with expressive faces delivering an immersive experience. The small-town ambience of Haven is captured perfectly through the beautiful visual upgrades (I swear, AAA water looks better and better by the day). Though small, the town feels alive and bursting with detail. There are also two arcade games which are quite fun in their own right. I aggressively pursued the high score, however doing that doesn’t unlock any external achievements or in-game dialogue as I had hoped it would.
Life is Strange continues to evolve with diversity. This refusal to rely on established characters and storylines is a breath of fresh air in an industry often ruled by franchise titles. Backed by gorgeous visuals and a soundtrack to match, it brings an earnest story to the table. Fans of the series will find much to enjoy here, although for now the price tag in some parts of the world might have the game rain checked.
Life is Strange: True Colors is out now for the PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Nintendo Switch & Microsoft Windows.
Looking for something different? Take a look at this piece on why DontNod’s Tell Me Why is such an important game.
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