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Life is Strange: True Colors review - search your feelings

A profound tale built on grief, empathy, and community spirit

Our Verdict

Its story doesn't quite stick the landing, but this is a beautiful game - not just in its look, sound, and feel, or even in its real and relatable characters, but in its message and its delivery.

Life is Strange: True Colors is a beautiful game in many ways, but never more so than in the moments when it delivers its underlying message: the importance of kindness, and of rallying around people in need. It's not perfect, but it’s a delight for all the senses, and its optimistic worldview is precisely the positivity many of us need right now.

True Colors follows Alex Chen, a music buff with a troubled past who feels alone a lot of the time. After eight years away in foster care, she reunites with her brother Gabe in the tranquil mountain town of Haven Springs, Colorado, only for Gabe to be tragically killed in a landslide. It's an apparent accident, but Alex soon suspects foul play, and sets out to find the culprit.

In this she's aided by a supernatural power of empathy. Alex can tell what others are feeling without needing to speak with them, seeing their emotions as coloured auras: red for anger, purple for fear, yellow for joy, and blue for sadness. Sometimes Alex will dive deeper into especially powerful emotions, experiencing them herself and thereby learning exactly what's causing them – though by doing this she risks being overwhelmed and acting out in ways beyond her control.

In one particularly memorable scene, Alex tries to calm a woman who has forgotten what she’s doing. She sees fog rolling under the door and through gaps in the shop’s windows, visualising the woman’s fear that her memory is becoming hazier with each passing second, before eventually helping the woman retrace her steps and recover her grounding.

It’s in this scene, and others like it, that I begin to appreciate True Colors’ real beauty, but it’s not until later that everything clicks. A live-action role-play game (or LARP) is arranged, ostensibly to help a child come to terms with Gabe’s death, but it means a lot to Alex, too. It’s a truly touching moment, in which a tight-knit community takes action to help one of their own feel better, and  I’m taken aback by the powerful the sense of belonging it makes me feel. Movies like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure tell us to “be excellent to each other”, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game take that message so convincingly to heart, or show us what it means in practice. It’s especially palpable in Alex’s phone messages and the social media posts from friends supporting each other in times of need, which are genuinely heartwarming to see.

It motivates me to reciprocate – to help out the locals. I often find myself exploring every nook and cranny of Haven Springs in search of people I haven’t spoken to yet, just to see how they’re doing, and the game does well to recognise and reward these efforts. Again, this is deeply gratifying, and reinforces the core message that it’s good to care and to be kind.

But True Colors doesn’t make the mistake of suggesting that this is the easy path. The best narrative games have long since succeeded in giving major choices a sense of weight, but rarely if ever have I agonised for more than several minutes over one crucial decision.

True Colors’ story is well told, well acted, and thoroughly gripping throughout – I played the entire game in two sittings. I do have one big gripe, which is that the major plot twists are predictable if you know where to look. When so many smaller moments have such heft, it’s a bit disappointing to find the wider plot vindicating my early suspicions as it developed, as this undermined some of the pinnacle moments.

But perhaps these anticlimaxes stand out because I’m otherwise so engrossed, and it’s not just because of the writing. For example, when Alex first arrives in Haven Springs, I lean on a bridge to take in the view, as ‘Home’ by Gabrielle Aplin plays softly. Character animations are brilliant, but in particular this is some of the best weeping, with the most convincing streams of tears, I’ve ever seen in a game. I much prefer the graphics and art style here compared to the highly stylised look of previous Life is Strange games.

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There’s terrific attention to detail in all things audiovisual, and they work together to suck me into every moment, whether tranquil or intense. The only real sour note with the presentation is the noticeable pop in whenever there’s a jump cut to a new shot, but more powerful rigs may notice this less.

Related: Check out the best adventure games on PC in 2021

Haven Springs is a place in which I can lose myself, and which I don’t really want to leave. Soon after finishing the story, I dive back in, looking for objects with traces of past emotion to learn more about the townsfolk. I also spend hours playing the two arcade cabinets to get the highest score. I’m happy with how my first playthrough ends – not that I’m ruling out a second, as I’d like to try a few different choices – but even though there’s nothing left to do I find myself coming back, just for a quiet place to sit and look at the jaw-dropping scenery.