The original Life is Strange was released back in 2015 as a five-part episodic narrative adventure game in the vein of current Telltale releases. A few years later (2017/18) we saw Life is Strange: Before the Storm, a three-part episodic prequel to the events we experience in the first game (with a bonus chapter for owners of the Deluxe edition). Then, in 2018/19, came the five-part episodic Life is Strange 2, as well as the free-to-play spin-off The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Finally, last month Life Is Strange: True Colors launched as a full game, meaning we no longer had to wait to experience the entire story – followed a few weeks later by the Deluxe Edition backstory DLC, Wavelengths.
In a similar vein to Activision with their Call of Duty Games, Square Enix has been alternating between developers for each of the five releases within the franchise so far. Life is Strange 1, 2 and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit were developed by Dontnod Entertainment, whereas Before the Storm and True Colors are from Deck Nine – as are the upcoming remasters of both Life is Strange and Before the Storm. Prior knowledge of the series isn’t required to enjoy Life Is Strange: True Colors, but if you’ve played through Before the Storm then you’ll be familiar with a returning character.
I completed the game around launch, grabbing the platinum on the PlayStation 5. But, I held out reviewing the game until I’d played through the Wavelengths DLC – which I have now completed. Also, I’m glad I waited as the developers added a much-requested feature post-launch after specifically stating it wouldn’t be added, enhancing the gameplay and experience; in my opinion. So, what are my thoughts on the entire package and did dropping the episodic release schedule affect my opinion? Let’s find out…
Life Is Strange: True Colors introduces us to a new protagonist, Alex Chen, a young lady who has set out to reunite with her brother after being in foster care for the last eight years. Gabe, Alex’s brother, lives in Haven Springs, a peaceful and tight-knit mining town where everyone knows each other and life is very uneventful aside from the community events and festivals. Alex is looking to get to know her brother once more by spending time with him and catching up on everything she’s missed, maybe even telling him about her unique ‘gift’…
The original Life is Strange had you control Max Caulfield, a girl who discovers she has the power to rewind time and change the immediate future by watching the outcome and adjusting it accordingly. In Life Is Strange: True Colors, Alex has the ability to see people’s emotions and absorb them in order to free them from their worries, fears, or depression. However, in doing so, that particular emotion becomes one with her, such as being scared of an imaginary monster or filled with guilt and anger.
Without delving into spoiler-ville, the first chapter of the game introduces you to the many likeable and quirky residents of Haven Springs, you bond with your brother, and then explore the small town which you’re hopefully going to call “home” one day. However, we all know things aren’t going to be as straightforward as this, especially when you’re playing the role of a person with such an unusual power – or curse, as she calls it. Tragedy hits the town, an unavoidable event that makes you wish you were playing as Max so you could rewind time and prevent it from happening, leading to Alex becoming hellbent on finding out the truth and uncovering the dark and disturbing secrets hidden behind closed doors.
Life Is Strange: True Colors is a third-person narrative adventure game, it’s a slow-paced game where the storytelling takes centre stage as you explore the town, interact with the locals, and participate in the various events held during the time you spend there. As with most story-heavy adventure games, the choices you make matter, often changing the events which follow and even alternating who Alex ends up falling for towards the end of the game. There are a lot of missable interactions and dialogue within the game, most of which have no bearings on the trophies or progression, but it does enhance the overall experience and succeeds in further immersing you within the life of Alex Chen.
Alex’s powers are activated at various times throughout the game, either when trying to help people by removing the burden from them or when interacting with an object. When this ability is used on the various residents, you can basically read their minds as you embrace the emotions and see a colour-based aura surrounding them. This allows you to either help the person out, by talking to them about their problems, emphasising, and using your gift to help them overcome or resolve the issue at hand, or you can simply absorb their pain and release them by embracing the emotion yourself. Alternatively, you can choose to not help them and let them deal with their own problems – often resulting in future events being different than if you had helped them out instead.
The objects you use your ability on are basically the collectables within the game. Each chapter has various objects which glow as you enable your second sight, triggering various memories and past events as you focus on them. These objects both serve as backstory and as a means to explore in order to unlock various completion-based trophies. Thankfully, unlike some other games, upon completing the game you can instantly load any scene within a chapter in order to find the ones you missed, which are handily highlighted in the scene selection menu so you don’t do on a wild goose chase trying to figure out where to look.
As an additional bonus, there are a few arcade machines that you can play within Life Is Strange: True Colors – there’s even an Activity Card that loads them up for you. Sadly, there’s no trophies or in-game events relating to completing these, but it’s a nice distraction. However, unlike these, you do get to play Foosball a few times in the base game and the DLC, but the result of playing that does slightly impact the preceding story.
The emotional story
Life Is Strange: True Colors deals with a lot of emotional and sensitive situations, as you’d probably guess by the fact that Alex’s ability is to read and interact with the emotions of other people. The whole narrative is a rollercoaster of emotions, dealing with fear, guilt, anger, and grievance, not to mention love and happiness to counter-balance what you’ll be feeling throughout the experience. There are a lot of moral choices, some will alter the direction of the game, who you’ll fall in love with, how others feel about you, and how others feel about each other, but some will simply change the immediate response or action rather than the outcome of subsequent events.
There were times where I was left gobsmacked, wondering if the game was trolling us and we’d wake up from a dream and realise we had simply had a nightmare due to the emotions we’d been taking on from the locals, then realising that nope, it happened and we now have to try and deal with it along with the rest of the town. As the story progresses, I was constantly surprised, never able to correctly guess what was going to happen next or the events which were about to follow – the storytelling and narrative kept me hooked right through to the end and even encouraged me to play a second time now I knew what was coming.
Rather than release the game as five episodic chapters, Square Enix and Deck Nine decided to release the game in its entirety, allowing you to experience the whole story without waiting up to a year to reach the conclusion (like previous games in the series). For me, this was the best decision as I’ve personally grown a little tired of games making you wait a few months for a two-hour continuation of the story. This trend has become less popular these days, but I recall never knowing how long it would be until the next episode was released, or forgetting everything that happened by the time it did eventually appear on the PSN store – the only game which I felt got it right was The Council, as that released bang-on every two months.
Wavelengths released for Life Is Strange: True Colors on the 30th of September, a few weeks after the launch of the main game. You can pick it up by purchasing the Digital Deluxe Edition of the game or by grabbing the Deluxe upgrade DLC – which includes a few outfits for Alex in the main game as well as this additional story. Unlike traditional DLC, there are no trophies to unlock, it’s purely an additional lengthy story that bridges Steph’s experience from when she moved to Haven Springs up until meeting Alex the day she arrived. Steph, if you didn’t know, is one of the main characters from Before the Storm.
Steph gets a job at the local record store, which also doubles as the local radio station for the town. You play through various times of the year as you man the station, fix up the shop, deal with customer requests, and try to befriend the evil wall-cat Valkyrie. Each day/chapter you have to listen to the calls from the locals, predicting their future by rolling your D-20 and choosing how you wish to portray the number it lands on, as well as solving simple puzzles within the store and trying to deal with your personal issues and memories of Arcadia Bay (depending on what the outcome was when you played the first game – it asks what you picked).
The DLC lasts around four hours, which is why the lack of trophies is a little disappointing. I enjoyed playing through this as it gives you more of an insight into Steph’s life and her relationship with previous characters as new ones, such as Gabe. As I played through this after I’d got the platinum in the base game, it made me wish I’d played this first, well – played Before the Storm, then Wavelengths, then True Colors. Experiencing it in that order will have covered Steph’s life in chronological order and made the narrative flow naturally rather than acting as a flashback.
Both Life is Strange and Before the Storm are being remastered for last-gen systems (PC, PS4, Switch and Xbox One), also by Deck Nine. These were meant to be released in 2021 but they were delayed until the 1st of February 2022 on all platforms. Unlike Life Is Strange: True Colors, these don’t appear to be getting a native PS5 and Xbox Series version – which is a shame as it means they may not fully take advantage of the new consoles. However, due to them being remasters of older titles with more simplistic visuals, I’m presuming they’ll be enabled to simply ‘boost’ the performance and visuals due to the increased power of each console.
I can’t really say too much about these as they’re still a long way off, but I do know that I’m going to purposely not play the included PS4 version of Life Is Strange: True Colors (which you get with the digital PS5 version) so that I can replay all the game in chronological order next year. I’ll be playing Before the Storm, then Life is Strange, then Wavelengths, then True Colors. I could slot Life is Strange 2 in there, but that’s an original story that doesn’t follow the experiences of the same characters and their friends.
On a side note, Life Is Strange: True Colors is releasing on the Nintendo Switch in December this year. It was pushed back and delayed from launching around the same time as the other consoles, but the Twitter account for the series announced a few weeks ago that it’s on track to release later this year. This will be the first time that a Life is Strange game is released on Nintendo hardware so it’ll be interesting to see how well it does. Based on the screenshot I’ve seen from the platform, it looks pretty good visually, thanks to the aesthetic used, it just all comes down to how well it performs.
30fps vs. 60fps mode – can you see the difference?
Technical – Visuals, Performance and 60fps
Speaking of performance, just how does Life Is Strange: True Colors perform on the PlayStation 5? First of all, ignore those other reviews which mention performance issues and/or slow down as you explore the town – I haven’t had any such issues during my entire time with the game. It may have been that they were playing the game pre-launch, but I’ve been playing it on the latest version which you’d get if you bought it today – the game runs just fine without any obvious issues, bugs, or problems.
The game launched with two modes, 4K/30 with Ray Traced shadows and 4K/30 without Ray Traced shadows – the developer insisted that 30fps was a design choice to make the experience more ‘cinematic’, yet didn’t mention that the PC version had no framerate cap, allowing you to play with much higher and smoother performance. As such, about a month after launch, Deck Nine added a 60fps mode to both the PS5 and Xbox Series X versions of the game, once again with toggleable Ray Tracing shadows.
I played the base game in both 30 and 60fps and Wavelengths wholely in 60fps, I literally can’t see the difference in terms of the resolution or visual quality, but the double framerate made the experience much more enjoyable and less jarring to play. I have nothing against 30fps, it’s a slow narrative game so it doesn’t ‘need’ a higher framerate, but the difference is night and day whilst maintaining an almost identical visual presentation – it’s a no-brain to play at 60fps.
Life Is Strange: True Colors has a great artistic design to it, it follows the series’ ‘plastic’ look (smooth characters rather than highly realistic), whilst delivering an overall enhanced and more colourful visual design than we’ve seen previously. This is why I can’t spot the difference between the 30 and 60fps modes, I imagine there is a resolution difference but thanks to the design, it looks great regardless of what the output is – even the Switch version looks almost the same.
Technical – Music and issues?
The music used within Life Is Strange: True Colors is great – I’ve had the game on in the background as I write this. It’s a shame there’s no soundtrack to purchase on PSN. The game has a big emphasis on the soundtrack, often switching to a cinematic fly-by of Alex as the music plays in the background, requiring you to actively push Circle to leave this moment and continue with your adventure. Not to mention that Wavelengths is you literally in charge of a radio station, able to swap out the various records and sit on the couch as you listen to the music being played.
My one complaint about the music is the lack of subtitles. Alex sings at various times within the game, performing popular songs such as Creep by Radiohead. However, if you have subtitles enabled, it literally just says [Alex sings], rather than the lyrics she’s singing. I have subtitles enabled at all times as I’m often doing multiple things at once, but if I was hard of hearing then I would have loved to know what she was singing to put into context what’s going on – for all I know, she could have been singing Yellow Submarine by the Beatles!
The only other minor issue I have is in relation to Wavelengths. When you’re in charge of the radio booth, you go into a first-person viewpoint. As you look around, the camera jerks when moving as if it’s bouncing between frames instead of moving in a smooth motion. This is the only place I’ve experienced this and it happens in both 30 and 60fps mode – hopefully it can be fixed via a patch.
I imagine this has been fixed by now, but there were a few rather funny moments where Alex and the townsfolk would revert to T-posing in various scenes or outside of your window when looking out at night. One which made me giggle was when Alex was having a very emotional conversation with a potential love interest, she instantly jumped up and T-posed over him when she was supposedly struggling to tell him something. This never impacted the gameplay or the experience, but it was funny when it happened.
Life Is Strange: True Colors is a very emotional and engaging narrative adventure, complete with very entertaining characters and a brilliant story. Every chapter is an emotional rollercoaster, bringing both highs and lows when you least expect it. Visually the game looks fantastic, in both 30 and 60fps modes, and Alex’s unique ability adds an extra layer to the already interesting and exciting experience. The Wavelengths DLC was a great experience, expanding on Steph’s time between Before the Storm and True Colors, but the lack of trophies makes this more of a bonus for hardcore fans of the franchise rather than those new to the series.
If you’re a streamer, the game has an option to enable ‘Streamer Mode’. This supposedly lets your audience help you make choices, as well as disabling any licensed music which may cause your channel to get flagged. I’ve not personally used these settings, but it’s nice that there’s the option if you are looking to play it on Twitch.
Life is Strange: True Colors£49.99
- - Very emotional story told at a perfect pace and through well-written dialogue
- - An amazing soundtrack
- - Both the 30 and 60fps modes look the same yet the game is much smoother with the higher framerate
- - A very eventful experience which introduces new situations with each chapter
- - The Wavelengths DLC is great for those looking to find out what Steph has been up to the year before Alex comes to town
- - The subtitles shown when Alex is singing are pointless, I'm not sure why it doesn't show the lyrics to what she's singing as it removes all context from the scene
- - Wavelengths has no trophies. It's a four-hour long DLC with no 'reward' for playing, so I imagine that may put some people off from playing it