"Color Me Impressed" - Life Is Strange: True Colors Review
A stunning setup for an emotional murder mystery game.
(WARNING: SPOILERS!) In the beautiful town of New Haven, Colorado, there lies a secret buried deep in the mountains by the corporate machine Typhon and in the hearts of the community itself. As the main character Alex Chen, you must gain the trust of the people in this idyllic small town by using your own secret super powers to uncover the truth, and discover why everyone's emotions and stories don't always make sense...
As a longtime fan of the Life Is Strange games, I was very excited to play this new addition to the franchise and eager to see how exactly it would connect to the previous games. There are lots of fun Easter eggs throughout the adventure: small things like "FireWalk" posters in the record store, a graffitied "all-seeing" illuminati eye (a lá Chloe Price) near the abandoned mines, and bigger ones like Steph herself from the original Life Is Strange - who, by the way, is still a Dungeon Master of the highest order.
But what ended up impressing me most was how much this game differentiated itself from the previous games and stood strongly on its own. The characters are so well-developed with much more engaging dialogue and decisions that you can't just simply undo: every single conversation and interaction has an impact on the game and how the other characters will relate to you, how much they will trust you, and how much you are able to impact the town itself in the long run... (more on that later)
The plot immediately sets up for heartbreak, with the death of Gabe Chen (Alex's brother) who is an incredibly lovable character with a great sense of humor, loyal to his friends and wants nothing but the best for his foster-care-raised sister who he hasn't seen in eight years. I wished we had gotten more time with this character - I sobbed at his sudden and tragic death - but fortunately the game has a few more surprises up its sleeve and this isn't the last we will see of Gabe Chen...
Now, about the supernatural - Alex's power is at first shown to be a mental health issue. She's talking to Dr Lynn about her condition in the opening scene and refers to herself as a "freak" with a "curse" in multiple dialogue options. Later on, we unlock memories and read texts from her past which show how she has difficulty controlling her emotions, resulting in outbursts and violence. (Note: this was surprising to find out at first, based on her very reserved, polite, self-conscious and introverted personality)
But as the game develops, Alex's ability to "see" other people's emotions as an aura continues to strengthen and evolve, until she is entering into other character's worldviews, finding "memories" associated with objects, and even having the option to TAKE AWAY the emotions others are feeling - wow! This goes beyond empathy into total emotional control and clairsentience. The way that the artists portray the feelings of the other characters is both stunning and immersive - blue static of grief in rainy weather, the fog of forgotten memories curling in on purple fear, red hot anger bristling and pulsating into paranoia and angry voices on all sides, and my personal favorite: bright golden joy that radiates, turning the world into a magical place of fantasy and infinite possiblity... Simply. Brilliant.
Overall, this game is breathtaking in its beauty and much more attention is given to the detail of the environment than previous games, with sweeping views of the mountains, colorful flora and fauna appearing throughout, and beautiful reflections of the natural beauty in the town's lake and rivers. Not sure if it was intentional, but this game makes Colorado seem like heaven.
Most likely, this was a purposeful juxtaposition for the mining company "Typhon" who is portrayed as dirty and greedy, trying to take over the little town and constantly driving their trucks through the main street to go blow the tops off the mountains. Alex and her friends are clearly disenchanted with the corporation from the get-go, and you can hear plenty of NPCs all over town complaining about the company. It's a nice and not-so-subtle setup for who, exactly, the bad guys are going to turn out to be.
Fortunately for Alex, Steph and Ryan on her side to uncover the truth and overthrow the deceit warping the town's morals. The only problem is: which one is her love interest? This is the first game where there is no clear choice for romance - it's just as easy to choose Ryan as it is to choose Steph, and the two like making Alex choose between them. There's a lot of opportunities to flirt, lead them on, and even do some kissing or running away together at the very end of the game. So, it's up to you to decide for Alex! And either choice can affect the game drastically, or not at all, based on how that choice fits in with the rest of your decisions.
Offering six possible endings, and lots of "side quests" like helping Duckie remember his lost love Tabitha or assisting the bird watcher, this game sets itself up for as many replays as your heart desires and there are also plenty of memories associated with different characters that you can find hidden or lost around the town to explore. The most important thing is to remember to ALWAYS explore the room in every scenario before making an important decision or leaving - otherwise you're missing out!
Alex's journals are full of insight into each experience, and her texts and the community's forum can also offer some helpful tips to help you better connect with the other characters and understand their relationships. I love that you can even go back and see conversations in her texts prior to coming to New Haven, to get to know Alex a little better. Make sure to check in with these in every chapter, so that you don't miss anything!
As awesome as this game is though, we are still left with a lot of questions with no answers at the very end (something this series seems to love to do) such as: how did nobody notice when eight people went missing? Where did Alex's power come from? Why was Jed the only one who remembered the original tragedy? Did Typhon stay and continuing mining, or were they forced to leave New Haven? Does Diane ever receive any sort of punishment? And what in the world is a "helldiver"??? (I googled and couldn't find an explanation, which left me very confused as to the nature of this critical event and what exactly happened here with John Chen)
Despite the tragedies and twists, this game was significantly more lighthearted than some of the previous games, as there were no arguably no distinctly "evil" characters (unlike Mr Jefferson in the original LiS) unless you count Typhon as its own devious character. Which would make a rather tongue-in-cheek way for the creators to point out that corrupt corporations in the USA often quite literally "get away with murder". The way the ending plays out definitely makes you question how often big money covers up "unpleasant" truths, and the lengths they will go to keep things covered up and maintain professional appearances.
But all in all, if you're looking for a fun, absorbing game that will keep you on your toes and also introduce you to some incredible new music and unique strains of weed at the town dispensary, then this is the perfect game for you. And if you've already played it (wow I hope so, because if not, I've definitely spoiled some major plot twists) then please let me know which parts you loved best and leave your own review in the comments below!
P.S. Deck Nine and Life is Strange creators: If you guys read this, please know that I love all so much and deeply appreciate all the love and effort you put into these games. Seriously. SO GOOD. #foreverfangirling