And here’s the script to the video: I strongly advise you watch and not just read through, as some elements are dependent on video context.
Okay, okay, I know what you’re thinking just looking at the title – this video is going to be a whole lot of complaining! You couldn’t be more wrong. I have a lot of positive things to say about the latest Life is Strange game. In fact…
True Color is among the best games that I played in 2021. That doesn’t mean it’s not without its faults, but more on them later. Let’s first turn to all that works so exceptionally well in this beautiful narrative experience. To me, Life is Strange is not just about a hint of the supernatural at work at the level of the deeply personal; it’s about that small-town vibe where everyone knows everyone, it’s about community. It’s about entering that community, understanding how it works, becoming part of it. Entangling yourself in all that’s beautiful about it, and in all that’s ugly, too. And what better vessel for such exploration than Alex Chen, a girl with the uncanny ability to read and pick up on the emotions of others.
Through Alex, Life is Strange: True Colors reiterates a few of the other important elements of this series: growth and the taking of responsibility for who you are, for what you’re capable of. But growth does not happen in a vacuum—it’s a process enhanced, helped along by others, and it’s the interactions between Alex and a cast of excellent supporting characters that makes True Colors memorable. There’s Steph, who you, like me, might know from Life is Strange: Before the Storm; I hoped to one day see more of her and the role she has across True Colors is everything I hoped for, and more. A potential love interest or not, Steph is the most loyal friend you’ll ever make; Ryan, local park ranger and the son of town hero Jud, is a close second.
Before we go on, I must commend Deck Nine for what is an absolute leap in facial animation. So much is gained by the expressiveness of Alex, Steph, Gabe, Ryan, and the rest of the cast—this is a point I can’t accent on strongly enough. Facial animation here leaves any and all the prior Life is Strange games in the dust. Look to this scene *when Alex gets forced to the stage*–stylised though the graphics are, I’ve seen these expressions on people I know, I’ve even had them on my face.
Yes, I know, difficult to believe, when you consider how long it’s been since the last time I put a gaming video out there.
True Colors plays to and exceeds many of the strengths of the previous games in this anthology franchise. The choice in music is enhanced by several songs performed by Alex, each of which imbues the scenes they’re featured in with such strong energy, owed as much to the game itself as to the developers having gotten pop artist mxmtoon to perform these songs. Breathtaking performances throughout, but my favourite has to be this one: *blister in the sun from the game*.
There’s collectibles, which I in my usual fashion forgot all about as soon as I got into the narrative; those quiet moments of contemplation; and almost an entire episode committed to the most amazing LARP session ever given life in-game—thanks to Steph. The best part of Before the Storm, revisited and expanded in a way I loved, and if you’re at least a little bit of a nerd, you will too.
There’s the profoundly painful impetus for the overarching adventure—the initial reconnection between Alex and brother Gabe, followed by his tragic death. This gives a real sense of consequence to Alex’s search for answers, and an urgency, too, which helps create the blend of drama and comedy that is another one of the key elements that make for the blend of storytelling you expect from the franchise.
I do, however, have some issues I’d be remiss not to address.
Is Life is Strange Too Dependent on THIS ONE PLOT TWIST?
For all that I adore Life is Strange: True Colors—and I do, otherwise I wouldn’t be making this video—for all that I love it, a certain revelation late in the penultimate chapter is a familiar twist of a motif already played out in this series. We’re getting into spoiler territory here, people, so if you haven’t finished chapter four of True Colors—scram!
It’s not the revelation alone that’s the issue—you-as-Alex follow Jed who has something to show you near the closed-off mine. What horrible revelation could take place here, what terrible secrets can be revealed over the next few minutes? Jed’s gonna push her down the mine shaft, isn’t he? He is, right? We all know it—at least those of us who have either been subjected to Jefferson’s betrayal in Life is Strange, or have the capacity to put two and two together. Earlier on, an episode ago, you help Ethan try and get over the loss of Gabe with a town-wide LARP game, which begins with Jed as a kindly old patriarch who eventually reveals himself to be a diabolical villain intent on chocking the very light of the magical kingdom around which the LARP revolves. There’s a literal magical transformation involved, and I have to tell you, I was a little sore because years of paying attention to fiction, whether it be literature, TV, or gaming narratives, has trained me to pick up on obvious symbolism. I don’t mean to offend or condescend if you didn’t pick up on this foreshadowing—but in retrospect, don’t you think the game laid it on a little too thick?
That is why Jed’s reveal and subsequent betrayal have all the narrative effect of a wet fart. You knew it was coming, unless you didn’t, in which case, I’m honestly glad you got to be surprised. But it’s tired; the two best games in the Life is Strange series so far both make use of the same story beat, i.e., “the extremely nice guy everyone trusts is secretly a psycho”. And sure, it’s different studios; Dontnod made the original, and True Colors was developed by Deck Nine but the latter studio knows that first game inside out, they’re even in charge of its hd remaster. Stop recycling plot—it’s doing no one a favour and it’s weakening the overall experience. It put a smear on my experience with the game, which I otherwise loved. Well, one other point of contention remains to be underlined—the pricing. The original Life is Strange, which is, I believe, somewhat longer than True Colors, cost an easy to swallow $20 or euro, back in 2015. Note, I said ‘longer,’ not shorter. Life is Strange 2 cost somewhere along the lines of…30-35 bucks? I have about nineteen hours logged into that one, though a few of those might be owed to alt-tabbing or replaying the first episode. True Colors was a full sixty dollar game—sixty euro, since I’m European, which, frankly, is even worse. I’ve clocked in just under eleven hours for it, and frankly, I didn’t spend those sixty euro. This one was a gift, as it released a day before my birthday, and I have an awesome best friend who knew I wasn’t going to buy it at that price point. A warning, then—this is an absolute delight of a game with some issues, sold at too high a price—wait to buy it on sale.
If there’s one aspect in which I can appreciate Jed’s betrayal, it is this: he makes for an excellent example as to what happens when this idea of community is placed on a pedestal, kept alive no matter the cost. In this sense, at least, this quintessential part of Life is Strange’s identity is questioned—but not in a way that makes the idea of community dissipate. Rather, the message might be reinforced, especially if you choose to stay in town. You are told, implicitly, that Gabe was the heart of this community, and his loss revealed the rot at the community’s core. There’s something to be said about the patriarchy in a very literal sense: Jed is the town’s father and most beloved hero, and he has built this reputation on the corpses of working-class people and immigrants. His undoing in that sense is just. As far as political readings go, that works fine—but my issue goes back to this: it’s been done before. There was more than enough space in Haven Springs to do something different, something new.
Let’s face it—plot might not be the strongest thread of True Colors’s tapestry. But the characters more than make up for it, with the emotional resonance they offer, with the amount of care put into each and every one of them—
—and with the dignity and understanding with which the topic of loss is treated. I walked away liking Alex Chen as much as I liked Chloe and Max and a whole lot more than I did the cast of Life is Strange 2. It is an experience that will remain with me for a long time to come, just as Max’s time-travel shenanigans have. I give this game twenty six out of twenty seven emotions!