Life is Strange True Colors Review – Read Minds and Solve a Heartbreaking Small-town Mystery
Dreamy small-town setting with detailed visuals
Fun exploration mechanics keep you rooted in the action
Alex's powers don't always make sense
I’ve played, but not always enjoyed, every game in the Life is Strange series so far. Life is Strange True Colors tugged on my emotions just as its predecessors did, but this game goes a little further to envelope you in its world.
As a single-player adventure, the third installation in the Life is Strange chronicles is true to form. The game builds a story around its characters, throws a heartbreaking moral issue into the mix, and then lovingly leaves you to figure out the mess.
Playing as the protagonist, Alex, a girl with the ability to sense the emotions and thoughts of the people around her, I carefully investigated the last days of my brother’s life to discover how he died.
Now, Gabe is Alex’s only family, and Alex is going through some understandable turmoil about her abilities. So when I experienced moments like Alex smashing a bottle across a room in a burning rage, I totally empathised.
Throughout Life is Strange True Colors there are moments of such utter humanness that it’s impossible not to get sucked into this world that developers Deck Nine created.
The process of searching for the truth—to find out whether Gabe’s death was really an accident or not—is punctuated with the internal turmoil that would go along with that in reality. Pair this with some engaging mechanics and outstanding world-building, and you have Life is Strange True Colors in a nutshell.
Reading Auras and Discovering the Truth
The Life is Strange games normally include a coupling of young adults overcoming some kind of terrible traumatic event. In Life is Strange True Colors, the creators have added a layer of introspection. The point of this game isn’t just to solve the mystery of your dead brother. As I played through, I realised learning to process difficult emotions was the real challenge at the heart of this game.
And if you don’t believe me, then Alex’s special ability is kind of a giveaway. She has the ability to feel people’s heightened (specifically when they’re heightened) emotions. Along with this is some kind of thought-reading, though that’s not totally explained. Is the game trying to say that thoughts are just emotions and vice versa?
Alex can also absorb these emotions, relieving the person of those feelings for a short while. She’s been described as a mood ring, but I don’t think that’s accurate, since Alex is the only one experiencing this.
The background information on Alex’s powers is scarce, so don’t go into it expecting an exciting origin story. Long story short, while in foster care Alex and her brother Gabe were separated, and Alex’s empath powers ignited.
After some time apart, Gabe invites Alex to come live with him in Haven Springs, Colorado. This is the ultimate in cutesy ‘small-town’ atmosphere with gently trickling rivers, flowers lining the streets, and a vast mountain range as the permanent backdrop.
It was the gorgeous, easy-going setting that made Gabe’s accident and death that much more of a painful surprise to me.
As I explored the peaceful mining town, feeling suspicious of anyone who had an intense emotional aura, I slowly (very slowly, because this game encourages you to stop and interact in every area) revealed some intriguing information that lead to an almost satisfying acceptance of what really happened to Gabe.
It’s not all about Gabe, though. As I said, I also had to explore Alex’s past and emotions to move forward. From letters and diary entries I discovered some interesting aspects to her personality. A lot of Alex’s experiences have been difficult and continue to be, but Deck Nine poses everything with such attention to detail and empathy that at no point did I feel uncomfortable with any of the delicate themes.
A Beautiful Setting in True Colors
My favourite aspect of Life is Strange True Colors, Haven Springs, deserves some serious love.
There are some tiny American towns that just feel unbelievably perfect. Haven Springs is one of those towns. Complete with the snow-tipped Rocky Mountains and tightly bonded townsfolk, Life is Strange continues its tour of US settings in style.
From the Store
The street of antiquated shops with large wooden signage outside says it all. This is a town that still has one foot in the past. Life is Strange True Colors is definitely more fun because of its postcard backdrop. I couldn’t wait to move around the different areas, wishing more than once that this could be more of an open-world kind of exploration game.
There’s a reason Haven Springs and its inhabitants look so amazing, and it’s down to plain old good design. Even though there’s just one street and a relatively small cast of characters, every scene is jam-packed with details and beautiful artwork.
Every setting I moved to had a little something special to make it memorable. From a Hawaiian shirt-wearing penguin in the flower shop to a string of dreamy fairy lights in the pub, there’s something that made me stop and smile. It’s no surprise then that the cutscenes look great too. For a reasonably low-key game series, Life is Strange hasn’t cut any corners when it comes to visuals.
Explore, Interact, and Feel
In terms of mechanics, Life is Strange True Colors hasn’t introduced many new or exciting features. The core of the game is a choice-based dynamic where your every decision makes ripples in the story (think Dark Pictures Anthology).
In reality, actions and speech decisions don’t have any immediate consequences. It wasn’t until the very end that I saw any reference to my overall choices, and even then it was only about the big obvious decisions. It doesn’t seem like a very nuanced mechanic that even had much of a payoff. For me, it’s all about the payoff.
Again your relationships don’t depend on your choices either. There isn’t a selection of characters that I had the option of getting closer to. Then again, trendy DJ Steph and hunky park ranger Ryan are well-written companions that play important supporting roles. One aspect that will either be surprising or very welcome is Alex’s choice of who to date. Alex can enter a meaningful relationship with either Steph or Ryan. I think this is a refreshing way to give players true autonomy over their own love story, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Aside from choosing your beau, the bulk of the gameplay is done through exploration and interaction.
In every area, there are clickable items that are highlighted with options. Sometimes interacting with something opens up new dialogue or information, sometimes it’s just for fun. This made my movement through the game feel a bit… low stakes. I was never sure if what I was doing was just for filler or was going to lead to a crucial clue.
The most enjoyable part of exploring in Life is Strange True Colors was connected to Alex’s power. Not only can Alex see people’s emotions and aura, but she can also see if someone has a connection to an item. Sometimes people will leave an aura mark on certain items that are of interest.
Through Alex, I was able to figure out some deeper details about characters that I wouldn’t get through dialogue alone. Alex can read their emotions and their thoughts in connection with that item. For example, the aura on a phone lets Alex know a character is anxiously awaiting a phone call.
In a game that focuses on self-exploration, giving Alex insight into other people’s emotions is a nice touch. However, I have to nitpick some aspects of her ‘superpower’. At times, Alex will be overwhelmed by a person’s emotional presence, other times a person can be showing extreme emotion and…she’s not affected. It would have been nice to have just a little explanation like, perhaps Alex is learning some control of her powers and is able to protect herself sometimes?
From the Store
Similarly, the logic doesn’t sit right with her ability to absorb emotions. Her power allows her to take in a person’s feelings and give them relief from them. But Alex doesn’t take on the feeling herself. In my mind this would have been a good opportunity to put some pressure on Alex, making it that much more impressive when she does choose to absorb emotions.
For a game so intent on getting you to explore your own feelings, reactions, and motives, the empath ability doesn’t get much scrutiny at all. Can Alex become more powerful? Should Alex use her powers at all? Why does Alex have the power and her brother doesn’t? All obvious questions that are just pushed aside.
Best of the Series?
Deck Nine have done a stellar job of continuing the Life is Strange series with its signature exploration adventure style and heart-rending topics. Getting to know Alex inside and out is made fun and intriguing with down to earth characters and level design to die for (too soon?).
While some aspects of Alex’s powers and story aren’t totally fleshed out, getting to play a female protagonist that shows genuine emotion is invigorating. Alex isn’t afraid to show what she feels and the whole game feels like an invitation for introspection.
As the third instalment in the Life is Strange series, Life is Strange True Colors stands out for its attentive dialogue, art, and storytelling. There are definitely areas where players need to shrug their shoulders and not look too far into the logic of certain things, but this is the most enjoyable game in the series by far.