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This article contains story spoilers for the first chapter of Life is Strange: True Colors… So just stop, right now, if you need to.
A light breeze rustles the verdant trees in a cosy town sat at the foot of the mountains. Amongst the beauty and tranquillity, a mystery whispers through the air.
Dontnod’s gorgeous 2021 instalment in the Life is Strange series, True Colors, is truly as vibrant as its name would suggest. You play as Alex Chen - a young woman who grew up in the foster care system. After moving to the lively Colorado town of Haven Springs to live with her brother Gabe, tragedy strikes, and he’s mysteriously killed - something which Alex is determined to get to the bottom of.
It wouldn't be a Life is Strange game without the inclusion of a protagonist with crazy supernatural powers, and Alex is no exception. In simplistic terms, she’s like a superpowered empath - when anyone around her is feeling a strong emotion, she can become overwhelmed and experience their emotions as if they were her own. These powers also offer what’s essentially a mind-reading element, as she’s able to use them to figure out what’s causing people to behave the way they are, and how she can help them.
This, in turn, plays a huge part in creating something which makes True Colors so unique and special. Every single character, from the main cast to the supporting roles, all have so much personality and depth to uncover, which Alex’s powers get to explore in a natural, unforced way, by looking directly into what makes them tick. Additionally, scattered around Haven, Alex can discover objects which resonate with different characters’ memories, revealing further glimpses into their pasts.
Watch a trailer for Life is Strange: True Colors below…
Narrative adventure games only have so much time to give the players information about the characters and world they’re in, since there doesn’t tend to be a whole lot of extra exploration you can do aside from following the main story. True Colors uses its supernatural gameplay mechanic to overcome this hurdle and set itself apart from others within its genre - the pieces it gives you don’t feel like heavy exposition detracting from the story, or forced in an attempt to make an annoying character (*cough* Mac) seem more likeable, but instead build slowly over the course of the game, without the need for the townspeople to unleash their life stories on you completely unprompted.
True Colors also hugely emphasises its choices-and-consequences system throughout the game - minor choices influence small dialogue changes, whereas major choices can impact how the story plays out later down the line. This includes the decision of who Alex should romance - the fun-loving musician Steph, or the slightly awkward, introverted park ranger, Ryan (or neither, if the player chooses). But what really sets the game apart here is that although your decisions definitely matter, none of them are made to feel right or wrong. There isn’t a true ending to aim for, and neither of Alex’s potential partners feel overwhelmingly like the ‘correct’ choice - the game respects the player’s decisions regardless of what they pick, and the subtle changes you’re rewarded with feel organic no matter what.
It’s safe to say that where True Colors really excels is in creating a world that feels truly alive, with fleshed-out characters who are impossible not to care about, despite the game’s short (but sweet) 10-hour runtime. It’s a standout example of a narrative adventure that, while still prioritising its story, manages to include all these other elements that get you so much more invested in it than you would have been otherwise - I promise that this one will stick with you for a long time.
This piece is part of a series looking at outstanding games within a certain genre, exploring what makes them special compared to their peers. Read more: It Takes Two, Splatoon, Hades. Follow the author on Twitter at @NerdyJourno.
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