REVIEW – Life is Strange gives us a new adventure of superpowers, emotion and cute characters. On this occasion, we do not play it by chapters separated by time but as a complete game. Unfortunately, although the title is still entertaining, it lacks the strength in the story and narrative rhythm to get us excited.
In Life is Strange True Colors, Alex Chen will embark on a journey with emotion and mystery. The new entry in the multiple-choice narrative adventure saga introduces us to a never-before-seen heroine with the power of empathy.
The latest iteration of the famous teenage epics published by Square Enix, Life is Strange: True Colors differs from its predecessors by one particularity: It was conceived in the offices of Deck Nine Games, which already produced the spin-off Life is Strange: Before the Storm. The game is thus a departure from the vision of the original creators, Dontnod. It tells the story of young Alex Chen, who has come to the mountainous setting of Haven Springs to find her long-lost brother of eight years. But his life is taken away by a disturbing accident, whose darker side motivates our heroine to investigate. A tragedy she intends to solve with the help of a special gift.
The colours of Heaven Spring
After a tumultuous youth spent in foster care, Alex Chen is happy to drop her luggage into the more hospitable walls of her brother Gabe’s flat. Gabe has taken up residence on the first floor of a bar in a small mountain town, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. The local atmosphere quickly inspires us with a warm feeling. The composition of the place, full of small shops and flowery spaces, is particularly charming. One quickly forgets its indelicate textures for its more complimentary and shimmering colours. It’s a pity that it’s impossible to enter most of the buildings, this freedom is granted to the places you will have to do. Also, exploration is mainly limited to a large alley of shops that make up the city’s bulk. The houses seem strangely absent.
Its lovely ambient sounds support the friendly atmosphere of the surroundings, the delightful melodies of composer Novo Amor or the few licensed tunes by Radiohead, Phoebe Bridgers and Gabrielle Aplin. And since Alex is a music lover, she (all too occasionally) provides us with superb guitar songs, dubbed by the candid voice of the artist mxmtoon. The soundtrack of True Colors is not necessarily the most generous. Still, it is always exhilarating and fits uniformly in the musical essence of the saga, with its soft, pop and folk tunes.
We only regret that the dialogues have the annoying tendency to overlap and get mixed up on the technical side. Add to that a handful of sound and visual bugs and rather lengthy loading times on PS4, but nothing too significant to spoil the adventure.
Alex Chen and her empathy
At the beginning of our adventure, Alex Chen’s past remains a beautiful mystery tentatively revealed in his diary and phone records snippets. We know, however, that he is marked by what she describes as a “curse”: his power of empathy, which allows him to sense and manipulate the emotions of others. These manifest themselves in coloured auras: red for anger, blue for fear, or yellow for euphoria. But the appeal of this somewhat flexible talent lies above all in its ability to reveal the thoughts that accompany the emotions, which may hold secrets. And when these are particularly intense, then it is possible to enter them, as it were, to observe the world through the eyes of our target for a short time. Let’s face it, the power used at every corner rarely impresses in its execution and is never accompanied by significant crashes or dizzying loss of control. Still, it does grant its owner natural compassion and serves the emotional purpose of the game.
Deck Nine Games has managed to craft an engaging heroine endearing with her self-conscious giggles and simple actions. However tortured she may be, Alex is nonetheless a responsible and dedicated character who generally acts for the good of others, as long as you let her. True Colors enjoys typically more or less delicately constructed characters. Visually, they benefit from convincing and natural facial animations thanks to the motion capture work done. If among Chen’s friends, we’ll leave behind a relatively apathetic Ryan, we’ll be more seduced by Steph’s ardour, who will rightly receive her dedicated DLC on September 30th. The inhabitants of Haven Spring, although few, each have their minor problems, which are interwoven with your own. And then there are others, relegated to the background, that will act as pleasant side effects. You can help a man find his dog or assist an amateur ornithologist in a competition; your interventions will almost always have visible repercussions.
A human adventure – and an investigation
Unlike the other episodes in the series, this one abandons the episodic format. A decision that naturally benefits our overall experience and also allows us to forgive some overly abrupt conclusions. But it does not prevent us from noticing the irregularities of rhythm and some lengths. Thus the first chapter takes care to install its setting and its characters, to the detriment of a particularly linear stage whose triggering element only occurs at the very end. Generally speaking, the adventure likes to languish in its moments of contemplation, our heroine having the leisure to indulge in moments of introspection; helpful to bring more and more material to the character. But if the game manages to offer a relatively deep human adventure, the primary investigation lacks spice, reversals or simply striking acts.
Similarly, the story sometimes struggles to move, although it does have a handful of solid moments. Some supposedly poignant sequences sometimes fail to achieve the expected effect. Nevertheless, the plot succeeds without difficulty capturing the interest around the mystery of the brother’s death and maintaining its questions until the denouement.
After the first chapter, the rest of the game gives way to more exploration, which we would have liked to have been conducive to an investigation that turns out to be relatively backward. Despite the free movement, the game takes us by the hand most of the time or is satisfied with simplistic research. There are few occasions where reflection is emphasised. There are a few good ideas, such as this rather refreshing life-size role-playing game that invites us to a fantasy quest.
Still, paradoxically, it prevents the narrative thread from progressing because of the predominant place it occupies. Like the other saga episodes, the stakes shine instead by the moral choices that are relatively generous without being singularly impactful. Whatever the case, we always have the pleasure of consulting the usual summary of our choices and the paths not taken at the end of each chapter. And in case of regret, each one can be replayed.
+ A very sweet human adventure
+ Well-constructed characters
+ Very good soundtrack choices
– The main plot that often takes a back seat
– A rather limited exploration
– Some pacing issues
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Deck Nine
Style: Adventure game
Release date: September 9. 2021