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Life is Strange: True Colors review
Life is Strange: True Colors is a non-linear story about people with supernatural powers, just like the three previous parts of the series. The main character of the new game is Alex Chen. She can read other people's emotions and control their feelings, that look like multicolored auras. Alex will have to use her gift to find out the truth about her brother's death. The emphasis in True Colors is on the branching story with six endings, that depend on the decisions of the heroine. Variability, however, is not the only achievement of True Colors' writers. Any story, even the most engaging one, would look worse if it were told in an implausible, deadpan world populated by poorly written characters. But the new Life is Strange doesn't have that problem: Its world looks alive and real and its characters are believable. Here are three key elements that make Haven Springs and its inhabitants easy to believe.
One of the main mechanisms for advancing the plot in the new Life is Strange is dialogues with the ability to choose one answer or another. The choice often depends on what you know about the person you're talking to and how you feel about them. It's hard to feel emotions about characters without a past: you don't know who they are, what they've been through and what they're up to now. There are such characters, for example, in Twin Mirror, which is a nonlinear game like True Colors. The editor-in-chief of the newspaper, who is very fond of cuddling (apparently, because of loneliness), the pharmacy owner, who recently moved to the city and tries to pass for a local, the little daughter of the hero. These characters are just images, which the developers of Twin Mirror did not have enough playing time to reveal. Images necessary to create the illusion of life when the hero appears.
The residents of the mining town of Haven Springs from Life is Strange: True Colors, on the other hand, were living life to the fullest long before Alex came to visit her brother in Colorado, and continue to live off-screen - while the heroine goes about her business. At least that's what the writers of the new Life is Strange are trying hard to convince you of.
So Gabe, Alex's brother, moved to Haven Springs a few years ago. He met Charlotte, and they soon hit it off - and Gabe became a second father to the 10-year-old. After settling into town, he started looking for his sister, whom he hadn't seen in years - for a reason that obviously shouldn't be spoiled. Alex he did find. Already after his brother's death, the heroine finds a note in his desk with many numbers belonging to all the Chen A. Gabe stumbled upon in the phone book while looking for his sister.
And that's just a small part of the story behind the character that the writers take out in the first chapter finale. Gabe's past helps evoke the emotions that Zack Garriss spoke of. His affection for his sister explained Alex's motives. His death gave the protagonist her motivation. His relationship with the people of Haven Springs spawned stories, funny and not-so-funny, that arise in the dialogues between the characters until the finale of True Colors.
Gabe is not the only character who has such a detailed past in the new Life is Strange. All the important residents of the city for the story have it, so the game's world doesn't look like it was created just for the player and the heroine. Haven Springs is a place that existed in the past and will continue to exist after Alex leaves it.
Another example that shows, how skillfully the authors of the game work with the past of their characters, is the story of Steph, who is familiar to the fans from Life is Strange: Before the Storm. In the new game this girl will play a more important role than in the previous one, and the authors decided to include her into the True Colors storyline just to make sure that for the old fans of the series there is a character with clear and familiar past at once.
You can get acquainted with the history of the city and its inhabitants in True Colors with the usual elements of the series - notes containing additional information about the past of the characters, and banners that tell about the upcoming events in Haven Springs. In addition, Alex, like the heroes of the previous parts, has a smartphone, where she receives texts from her friends. And the main character is able to read other people's emotions, thus knowing what pleases, frightens or angers this or that character. Almost like a mind reader, but it is not always about emotions at the moment - sometimes Alex hears fragments of phrases said by someone in the past thanks to her ability.
All this makes the world of the game more lively, but one of the most important storytelling tools for the writers of the new Life is Strange was the social network, where all the residents of Haven Springs sit. For MyBlock, the writers wrote a huge amount of text in the form of short messages from the characters. They're quick to read, each message matches the character of the person who wrote it, and everything written reflects what's going on in the game itself.
The social network is not an alternative to numerous notes with a minimum of useful information. It is an important mechanic, giving the impression that the residents of Haven Springs communicate not only with Alex, but also among themselves. In MyBlock, they discuss Alex's arrival, joke about Gabe, who is very worried about it, grieve after his death, post a reminder to bring an item that reminds them of Alex's brother to the memorial. Then they gradually come to their senses, returning to their usual lives, and soon begin discussing preparations for the annual festival, and someone leaves a post saying that Gabe would have loved the event.
And quite unexpectedly, the mechanics with the social network are revealed if you come across his old, unread messages already after Gabe's death. It's not that big of a deal whether you're attached to him or not, because it's a moment that everyone understands. You don't have to have strong emotions for a character in the game to imagine how someone who recently lost a loved one and found his old messages in his phone might feel.
It's hard to say whether the developers of True Colors wanted to speak out on the subject of digital immortality, but they did so anyway - and quite successfully.
Interactive environments were also present in previous installments of the series. In Life is Strange, players could always spend more time exploring the locations than it took to progress through the story, and listen to the main characters' thoughts on the surrounding objects - memorable photos, notes, interior elements, musical instruments, and the like.
In True Colors, the surroundings are much more detailed, and the number of interactive objects has increased noticeably. And there is more sense in these objects, because all of them, again, were created primarily to animate the world around Alex. And to give the player the feeling that behind the loading screens the heroine and other characters were doing something - writing notes in their diaries, rearranging things in the rooms, unpacking bags after a long journey, playing video games and listening to music.
Gabe's former apartment is full of things that remind Alex of his brother. There's the guitar he gave his sister, the foosball trophy made with a whiskey bottle, and the console Gabe used to play racing with Ethan. At the music store where Steph works, you'll find things that speak to her hobbies, like the drum kit she'll play in one of the chapters near the finale. And at the local bar, run by the town hero Jed, who saved a group of miners from death ten years ago, you can reconstruct the history of all of Haven Springs from vintage photographs.
The interactive environment is an essential part of any game similar to True Colors. In Twin Mirror, you can wander through locations and interact with objects in the same way. But in the new Life is Strange interactive items don't just give the player more information in the here and now - they complement the overall story, give a better understanding of the characters, evoke the very emotions Zack Garriss was talking about, and give additional meaning to the past and future events.
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