Never has a game felt more like a warm hug than Life is Strange: True Colours. The third in the Life is Strange series, it follows the story of Alex, a girl who has been in and out of the foster care system, and who has now travelled to the town of Haven Springs to be reunited with her brother Gabe. The foster care system would potentially have been rough enough but when coupled with Alex’s unique abilities, it’s been a difficult few years. Alex is an empath. She sees people’s emotions like an aura around them and if she gets too close can end up taking on those same feelings herself; anger, sadness, fear and joy being the ones that the game deals with specifically. It’s made for some challenging moments and now the plan is to start a life in chilled Haven Springs where she can take the time to figure out who she is and what she wants now as a young adult.
Here’s where you come in.
True Colours is a game all about choice and you are firmly in the driver’s seat. Following the same format as the previous two, there are five chapters to play through and the experience is very much like watching the most immersive movie you’ve ever imagined. For non-gamers this is a perfect game to get involved with as it requires minimal gaming in a conventional sense and instead simply requires you to engage with Haven Springs and the cast of characters that live there. As with any great story, things are not what they seem and when tragedy strikes the town almost as soon as Alex arrives, you must use her powers to understand what has happened.
That tragedy, which was never hidden as the inciting incident and was featured prominently in the trailer pre the game releasing, is that Alex’s brother Gabe dies. Whilst this may seem like a huge spoiler, narratively it’s just the catalyst that uncovers something deeper going on in the town and I wasn’t expecting much from it when I started to play, other than to get the story rolling. The surprise to me was how much the writers managed to do with Gabe as a character in the time you have with him in game. I loved Gabe. He is the absolute hub of your world. He connects you to others, he welcomes you in and draws you gently into his life. From the history he and Alex share as siblings all the way through to him constantly popping into the local flower shop to buy apology flowers for his girlfriend (for another ill-timed one liner); he feels like your goofy big brother. And it hurts when he dies.
Thematically this game packs a punch dealing with death, degenerative illness, broken families and hopelessness. So many emotive subjects and it handles them deftly, honestly and without losing that feeling of embrace that it cultivates right from the start. This game is a safe space. Your actions and choices will have consequences and bad things will happen, but you are not alone and via the characters and their sense of community, the developers never lose the hold they have of your hand as you are guided through the narrative and its many possible strands.
Around town there are clues and bits of information to be found by way of objects imbued with the emotion of the person who has clung on to it, giving interesting and sometimes vital information into the mysteries of this small town. And as Alex gets more involved with life in Haven Springs, the choices get harder. We’re dealing with people’s feelings after all; what would you do? Would you let that person live with their anger, with their sadness, until it consumes them? Or would you take it away? Would you play on their biggest fear to get to the truth? And are you prepared for the consequences of your actions whatever you decide?
If this is all sounding a bit much, fear not. The moments of nail-biting decision making are interspersed incredibly well in this brilliantly paced game. One of my favourite parts of True Colours were the “zen moments” that are built in as moments where Alex takes time out to process. In these moments the game is actively encouraging you to stop and breathe. Take a minute. Listen to the gorgeous soundtrack, enjoy calming Haven Springs vistas and be in the moment. And when you’re ready, let’s continue. The soundtrack on its own is brilliantly selected and each time you hit a zen moment, it’s like a little head massage for as long as you care to stay in it.
When you’ve made a choice that has consequences in the game, an icon displays in the corner of the screen to signpost for you, “Hi there, that’s going to matter later.” Often that icon will be followed by immediate feelings of regret at the “fuck you” you just frivolously threw out at one of the other characters in the moment (because they were being sassy and Alex is in turmoil damn it!) particularly when you weren’t expecting it. Some of the choices are clear points of divergence for the story but others are much less obvious. It’s one of the biggest achievements of the whole Life is Strange series and especially True Colours that it wants to suck you in so that you are making those smaller choices organically. For the bigger choices; well if you’re like me you could be sitting there indecisively for a good couple of minutes trying to figure out the weight of what you’re about to do and how it will impact everything moving forward. As in life, you can make a choice with the best of intentions and yet the outcome is not at all what you had imagined. And unlike other games, Life is Strange doesn’t allow the handy save slot so that you can undo something that didn’t work out so well. You live with the choices you make, and those ripples keep on going…
Though the way the story is going may not always be that pretty, aesthetically the game is absolutely beautiful. It’s an incredible achievement from the developers; particularly given that the game sits across multiple gaming platform generations and handled remarkably well on launch. The graphics are stunning and within minutes of being in Haven Springs it was somewhere I’d love to live myself. The creators and developers haven’t gone for photo realism for the characters or the settings and yet what they have created is a sense of heightened beauty and style that is a big part of sucking you into the compelling bubble of a place that is Haven Springs.
That feeling of immersion is compounded in how the community in Haven is promoted with great success through the use of Alex’s phone. The town’s social media network is always popping off about something. Checking out her phone in game was always an interesting read. Text messages and town banter that are constantly reacting along to the story you are creating, all help to intensify the feeling that you are actively involved in Alex’s story and with such well-defined characters it’s not long before you fall in love with them all. Alex’s growing bonds with the towns folk and these new formed friends form a backbone to the story that becomes ever more important as things progress. And as Alex connects with others and allows a little joy into her life, the new haptic technology in the PS5 dual sense controllers kick in to enhance the immersion helping you feel each hug that Alex accepts as her reserve and caution slowly reduce.
Time, energy and love has so obviously been put into scripting believable characters that are diverse and inclusive in physical attributes, personality and lifestyles. It’s a small town and there are small town concerns but none of those are about bullying or belittling who someone is. This is a town that supports each other and celebrates their differences. (Don’t expect not to get ribbed on town chat when you’ve done something stupid though; there will be banter!) It’s an idyllic snapshot which perhaps isn’t that grounded in reality but honestly, who cares? This is escapism and fantasy and for a game that is already dealing in more than its fair share of emotion, why add senseless negativity to the mix.
Life is Strange: True Colours is the perfect remedy to a hard day at work. When you need to be taken out of yourself for an hour or two to clear your mind this game is the answer. It manages to be introspective whilst at the same time letting you walk the path of someone who feels supernatural levels of empathy for others. Everything comes together for a truly immersive experience and although the ending mechanic left the final culminating scene feeling a little clunky, the unique pay-offs created by your choices are still worth it. It’s a game that made me gasp, tear up and feel moments of such wonderful joy and for that alone it’s a huge success in my eyes.
We all need the good vibes that this game brings to the table.
Grief, loss, fear and anger will permeate your journey with Alex but so too will kindness, generosity, happiness and love. Through it all, and if you let it, Life is Strange: True Colours will be right there by your side to scoop you up, right when you need it most.