True Colors Doesn’t Need Superpowers To Be Great

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Life is Strange: True Colors, being the third game in a well-known franchise, shakes things up with an arguably more personal tale of tragedy and relationships than its previous instalments, all without making the superpowers the focus. Playing through this roughly 10-hour adventure, True Colors reminded me of the first game in the franchise but through a more optimistic lens, by making it more about the people that inhabit Colorado’s Haven Springs than the environments they inhabit.

True Colors puts you in the shoes of Alex Chen who, gifted with the ability of superhuman empathy, goes on a small-town adventure to find out the real perpetrators behind her brother Gabe’s death. With the game set in the small town of Haven Springs, all of which is explorable, the cast includes just around 10 characters, with one making a return from Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

While Alex’s powers seemed quite corny the first time they were shown off during the game’s reveal, what developer Deck Nine manages to accomplish with it is a great testament to the storytelling skills of the team. This is the second Life is Strange game developed by this team, who previously made the spinoff/prequel Before the Storm. Perhaps it should have been obvious that True Colors really wouldn’t focus too much on the supernatural like the two other mainline games in the franchise given Deck Nine’s previous work, which helps the game stand out from the rest.

The “powers” in True Colors are a great tool for diving deeper into characters’ backstories and fleshing them out in a way that doesn’t rely on exposition dumps. The franchise has always had its characters have their own inner monologue constantly commenting on the state of the world and other NPCs, but while the same is present here it’s only to expand on Alex’s character herself. A large part of the game sees Alex willingly choosing to let go of her own feelings in order to help others, which really gets the limelight in the game’s last act. This gives Deck Nine the freedom to give each character their own desires and fears, many of which can be explored in side activities throughout the five chapters in the game.

And yet, it feels like the only reason Alex has been given her ‘superpower’ is because that’s a franchise requirement, as the game could potentially function well without it. Replace Alex’s empathy based powers with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes, and you can see how her ability to understand the mental state of others really doesn’t warrant as much use as the game might want you to believe. Of course, one of the hallmarks of a Life is Strange game is the dramatisation of little moments, which more often than not serve the game well.

This is where True Colors shines, with excellent motion capture and voice work that goes beyond the previous two games to provide a more ‘cinematic’ experience. Comparing the boost to visual fidelity in characters and environments in this game to its previous instalments is downright insulting to the latter, although there is a change in art style across the games as well. Life is Strange: True Colours tries to bring the visuals up to modern standards of ‘AAA’ games while retaining some artistic choices made for the previous games, some of which feel like they could have been left behind like certain UI elements. Couple that with the unacceptable performance issues on the PS5 versions that I played, and I can see some people getting nauseous every time they pan the camera around. This is due to the game’s frame rate cap of 30fps, which to my eyes isn’t done well enough for a smooth experience. Compare this to Insomniac Games’ 30fps cap on the last-gen version of Spider-Man games and it’s a completely different league. Deck Nine says that it capped the frame rate to 30fps for a “cinematic, performance-driven” experience, but the game’s PC port, as well as the upcoming Life is Strange: Remastered collection, suggests otherwise with them targeting 60fps.

It’s a shame though as the performances here are genuinely heartwarming with a lot of thought and care put into every word that comes out of anyone. It reminds me of one of the early scenes in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End where (spoilers!) Nate and Elena are simply chilling on the couch playing a video game, with perfect motion and voice capture. Surely if that game, along with Naughty Dog’s magnum opus The Last of Us Part 2, also known for its “cinematic” storytelling, can get away with targeting higher frame rates on the new PS5 without putting its developer’s storytelling skills in jeopardy, then there is no valid excuse for the game’s horrid performance any time you step out of any interior in Haven Springs. At least Deck Nine is aware of this along with certain immersion-breaking bugs and glitches that it is working hard to fix in the coming weeks.

On a more positive note, I have to applaud the music choices and soundtrack for Life is Strange: True Colors, which once again are fantastic in setting up Haven to feel like a real town. While the game doesn’t provide any real next-gen features when played on the PS5, its subtle use of the DualSense’s adaptive triggers is appreciated. The console version of the game also offers an optional ray tracing option, which when turned on will feature ray traced shadows in the game. I personally wasn’t able to find any meaningful differences between ray tracing turned on or off, but considering both instances are locked to 30fps, it doesn’t hurt to go for the extra visual flair.

As is tradition for the franchise, True Colors presents the player with many difficult choices throughout its five chapters, most of which I felt were the strongest in the franchise. This mostly comes from how well I got to know characters like Steph, Ryan, Pike, Eleanor, Duckie and everyone else. Most of these choices don’t revolve around extremely larger than life dilemmas, and instead, put the personal battles each of them got through front and centre in the face of a tragedy. I also like the fact that gameplay is broken up by occasional minigames like Foosball or a PacMan clone and one hilariously charming RPG segment, complete with turn-based combat and character stats.

All of this is to say that despite its current technical issues, Life is Strange: True Colors is another great entry in the series with powerful themes, intriguing stories and well-realised characters. Whether the game is worth its asking price will depend on how much you care about the franchise’s focus on storytelling over pure gameplay variety, which True Colors does manage to balance better than the previous 3 games.

Having finished the game along with collecting all of its trophies (achievements on PC/Xbox), it took me just about 10 hours which did require a little bit of backtracking. This is without going back to make different choices and seeing how they affect the ending, although that shouldn’t add too much to the game’s length. Regardless, I’m quite content with the ending I got, which perfectly wrapped up the many stories that Haven Springs and its residents have to offer.

Life is Strange: True Colors is out now on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Nintendo Switch. It costs Rs. 3,499 on PlayStation, Rs. 2,999 on PC (Steam).


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