In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2021, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new staff picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
Life is Strange: True Colors is a big hunk of mature cheddar—the cheesiest game I've played this year. Come on, with a name like True Colors, the tone of the game was set to be sickly sweet—the type of sweet that makes your teeth hurt and stains your tongue an artificial blue. Yet here I am months after my visit to Haven Springs calling the adventure one of my favourite games of the year.
You see, Life is Strange: True Colors hits a lot of beats I can relate to. As with the original, I'm about the same age as the main characters. I’m a bisexual, ethnic minority who has a tendency to enjoy rock music, plays guitar, and has a patch denim jacket I’ve been working on since I was a teenager. Shit, you got me. True Colors is annoyingly my kind of thing, and when its characters are as wonderful, thoughtful, and well-acted as they are here, the result is that I begrudgingly adore the game.
Despite the cheesiness inherent in the series, it’s also incredibly sincere: a slightly supernatural slice of life story that better reflects real friendships, flirting, and relationships than any other games I’ve played. Where the previous entries dabbled in time travel and telekinesis, in True Colors the required superpower comes in the form of sensing and reading the emotions of others. It’s really just a form of telepathy but with the added layer of being able to eventually influence and change people’s emotions. But even when you know the thoughts and fears of your friends, even when you know their deepest secrets, the right thing to do or the best action to pursue isn’t clear. It’s muddled and inelegant. Even with all the facts in front of you, right there, it’s hard to know what’s best for the people closest to you. And that’s just life, isn’t it?
More than once during my adventures with Alex Chen, I got up from my seat and paced in front of my desk. I knew the game was going to ask me for a choice, a decision, a path that I didn’t want to decide upon. And when I wasn't fretting, I’d giggle, sulk, and smirk my way through it all like I was watching a CW show—like I was discovering Supernatural all over again. In the best possible way, it’s as close as these experiences get to a chick-flick.
Aside from the game pummelling you with emotions, Life is Strange: True Colors also delivers a gorgeous environment to investigate. Ordinarily I’m not a very patient player, but for Life is Strange I’ll explore every nook and cranny of Haven Springs—every fake band poster, every conversation option, every shop. I want to absorb everything. The record store is so detailed I can almost feel the vinyl in my hands. The flower shop is so well stocked I can almost smell the earth and pollen. It’s vibrant and wonderful and I want to book a holiday to a place that doesn’t even exist.
What carries the game through, though, are the performances. Alex is played by Erika Mori, who went on to be nominated for a Game Award and a Golden Joystick. Although she is undeniably the star of the show, Han Soto as Gabe, Eric Emery as Ryan, and the return of Katy Bentz as Steph pulls the story together wonderfully. Their jokes and friendly rapport reminded me of going to parties and sitting down with a group of people you don’t know yet. From laughing about old pranks to supporting you when you’re down, the cast all succeed in painting a picture of old and new friendships perfectly. And it’s not like I got much of a chance to make new friends my own age in 2021, did I?
The characters and relationships of Life is Strange: True Colors are so good that the death of Alex’s older brother Gabe early in the game hits hard. The marketing and even the Steam page prepare you for his death, but it's still sudden and almost random. Your mind swims at all you could have done differently to prevent such a devastating loss, but of course it's unavoidable. You miss him, the town misses him, and you feel his absence for the remainder of your adventure. You wish you could ask for his advice, characters reflect on how he could have helped them, and some of them even wish Alex had died rather than Gabe. But I was glad to have known him; I was glad to have met and loved Gabe before he passed away. Impressive stuff Deck Nine. The tragedy will make you gloomy, but there's also romance in the air in Haven Springs.
Ryan and Steph are both potential matches on your journey. Ryan is a kind, bird-watching, outdoorsy type with a smile that makes you swoon. Deck Nine takes time to show you how he’s good with his dad and the kids of the town, and that he really wants to take care of Alex if you’ll allow him. Steph, on the other hand, is a rock goddess, radio geek, and a LARPing genius. She’s the coolest nerd you’ll ever meet, and has passion in bucket loads for the things she loves, which could include Alex, if you were so inclined to date her.
As Life is Strange: True Colors came to a close, what hurt more than the twists and turns of Alex’s story was leaving my imaginary relationships behind. It makes you care for whatever partner you choose deeply by the end of the game, and whoever you don’t choose still feels like a best mate, confined in that little box by your desk. It’s sad, but hey, I can always play it all again, can’t I?
In a year where I couldn’t live my life to the fullest, Life is Strange: True Colors was a respite. I could feel like I was moving to a new place, meeting new people, and maybe making a difference to the life of someone other than myself. I fell in love with people, friendships, relationships, and places—all luxuries which 2021 did a damn good job of preventing. But here in Haven Springs, I could allow myself to fall in love, just for a moment.