Life is Strange: True Colors Hands-On Preview: Shaping up to be a franchise best

Posted on September 4, 2021

Back in March, the world was introduced to Alex Chen, the hero of the next game in the Life is Strange franchise. The power of psychic empathy, an Asian American protagonist and that oh so sweet licensed music… there was enough promise in this new adventure, Life is Strange: True Colors, to have me hotly anticipate this new entry in a series I’ve grown to love so dearly.

Coming out of a preview for the game, that’s only cemented further. Being quickly introduced to Alex Chen, departing a foster home and making my way for the humble mining town of Haven Springs, it wasn’t long before I was all in, and soon after I began to get hints that this might be the best Life is Strange experience ahead of me yet.

Haven Springs and its inhabitants look to be a perfect setting and family for Life is Strange: True Colors

My preview with Life is Strange: True Colors included the game’s first chapter. As such, that’s what will be detailed here. Thus far, it’s undoubtedly akin to the typical foray you’ll have in any series entry. Yet, my time with this first chapter sets in place the fact that this is looking to be the most in-depth adventure yet. Players control the aforementioned Alex Chen. Like previous entries, at the forefront are individuals that have undoubtedly been through hell, having to also juggle controlling a supernatural power in secret. Unlike other entries, our hero has been dealing with this power for some time. The fact she’s packed her bag, left the foster care system, and moved to Haven Springs to reunite with her estranged brother doesn’t change that. This information is communicated to you quickly and concisely to help keep up with the pace of the setting being provided.

What transpires following this introduction is textbook mood-setting that’s undoubtedly the best the franchise has seen thus far. So often have games tried to boast the small-town setting as a believable area that’s lived and breathed in. In the first chapter alone, I have a substantial idea of what the town of Haven Springs and its residents are about. Writing, especially when it comes to some of the deep one-on-one moments, is quite stellar thus far in True Colors. It’s here I’ve experienced some truly moving and human experiences in the franchise, spanning from the nice little meet-cute you’ll get with local DJ Steph inside her record store to the tearjerker moment that is the intimate first beer you’ll have with your brother Gabe.

Sure, there’s some cheesy dialogue in there that’ll make you at times cringe, the way the original Life is Strange was criticised for at the time. Though, I’ll counter this with two points: It’s this dialogue alone that’s more human than that of other games. Additionally, as a twenty-something myself, developer Deck Nine captured another group of twenty-somethings quite well. The lexicon really isn’t that far fetched at all. At the end of the day, that’s just what the heart of the series is all about.

Along with engaging in your typical dialogue with other locals, there are many good means to learn more about a character. Using your power of empathy to understand someone’s thoughts or periodically examining your texts and updates you’ll get on your phone from MyBlock, the administered application that’s equivalent to a dedicated forum for the town are two viable examples.

Want to learn more about our protagonist? Entries in Alex’s journal eloquently highlight key moments (including many hardships) in her life prior to the time we meet her in-game. There are more opportunities to learn each characters’ quirks in True Colors than ever before, and it’s appreciated. Exploring each is rewarding, and has you investing all the more in that character.

Exploration is also seemingly more emphasised than ever this time around. Sure, you’re railroaded and segmented off within areas when important narrative beats are about to occur, but more leniency to do other activities in those areas is provided. Halfway through the chapter, players will get to take up a shift at the local bar, chatting with the locals, finding out their deal and also cheekily drinking on the job. Resting at the record store presents an opportunity to interact with a turntable, spinning and listening to Phoebe Bridgers’ Scott Street. Just one example of some of the brilliant soundtrack on offer. I say that as a totally unbiased Bridgers fan. Hell, there’s even some arcade machines to get stuck into! All these make for some additional zen moments in what looks to be a very emotional journey here onwards.

“Haven Springs can be quite gorgeous and well lit at the best of times.”

Getting to see all these environments and characters just existing in their space is quite heartwarming too. Haven Springs can be quite gorgeous and well lit at the best of times. Upon first entering the town, the game has you space out on a bridge, glancing down to a shallow river that passes underneath. Sunflowers blowing in the wind and deer lap at the shoreline. It’s damn serene. Juxtaposing this ability to vague out a bit, being observant also benefits the player. Wandering around rooms, examining posters, images and the likes is just another example of the great little environmental storytelling about the residents the game has offered thus far.

The main cast looks as prettily modelled as ever. I’m adoring Alex’s very cute quasi-punk bisexual denim jacket sporting look. Future romantic options Ryan and Steph are quite the sweethearts. On the less pleasing side, every now and then there’ll be a character that doesn’t quite look as up to scratch in graphical fidelity, clearly designed to be someone more minor. These individuals can also occasionally have some stiff animations but it at least is forgivable and never reaches the levels of jank that the original Life is Strange can be known for.

I’ve yet to even scratch the surface of this exploration. MyBlock is said to offer sidequests in the form of listed requests. There’s still many parts of town I’ve yet to encroach upon. More than ever, Life is Strange looks to be offering things to do, let’s hope when it comes to some of the later stuff, it doesn’t branch too far and remains that focus that the series is known and loved for.

Something Strange in the neighbourhood

The other big question that I’m sure many have upon entering a new Life is Strange is “What about the powers and choices?” The fact of the matter is while I’ve had plenty of an opportunity to show off my empath skills as Alex, less can be said about getting to witness how my choices play out. I already can’t count on my hands the importance and boost of character that came with reading one’s thoughts or examining an item with my ability, feeding off the energy to identify just how the last person that interacted with said object felt.

These moments are so strong, with the clearest and most impactful being one that sees you breaking up an altercation between Gabe and another individual. I won’t delve into the specifics too much but it’s here you get to see for the first time the extent of Alex’s powers, and how they, combined with the growing damage inside her, can inadvertently hurt those around her. On offer here is such a raw and palpable scene I can’t wait for others to experience.

My choices in the first chapter of True Colours have proven to be a bit inconsequential thus far. One ties largely to the events at the end of this introduction that’ll kick off the following chapters. However, no matter what your say in this decision is, the thing still happens. There are one or two other decisions in-game that can also result in some small changes within Haven Springs’ world here or there, but none that big or boisterous yet.

At the end of the day, they have yet to bother me – the writing is strong enough to hold its own and there’s still time to turn that aspect around in the following chapters. Though I can’t help but somewhat feel nervous about how that’ll be received upon launch.

It’s no secret that Life is Strange: True Colors, follows the events of our hero Alex investigating the mysterious death of her brother Gabe. That’s what all the prior build-up was all about, making this moment all the more moving. This transpires at the end of the first chapter, and without giving specifics looks to set off the adventure to follow in some big ways. Just a small matter of hours with the game and I’ve already laughed, cried and even crafted my own theories to what will still be to come. I’m all in on Life is Strange: True Colors. I pray you are too.

Life is Strange: True Colors releases on PC, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One and the Xbox Series of consoles on September 10, with a Switch release to follow later.