Released all the way back in 2015, the original Life is Strange is an episodic choose your own adventure game about a young woman with the ability to travel through time, trying to solve the mystery of a missing teen with the help of her punk best friend. Since the original game’s release Life is Strange has become a series, with spin offs, comic adaptations, and sequels focussed on new teens, and new super powers.
Life is Strange: True Colours, which releases the same day as this episode is published, focuses on the story of Alex, a young adult with the ability to sense the emotions of others, and read thoughts connected to strong enough emotions. After moving to a small rural mountain community, she is forced to use her powers to solve a mystery in the town, and uncover the cause of a dangerous cover up that threatens the lives of those in the community.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about Life is Strange: True Colours. We’re going to talk about the game’s accessibility features, which features could have been better implemented, and what sorts of emotional content players should brace for when deciding whether the game is right for them.
When you first boot up Life is Strange: True Colours, before you reach the main menu for the game, an on screen pop up alerts players that the game features a dedicated set of accessibility options, and asks if the player would like to jump to that menu before proceeding.
If players say yes, they are brought to an accessibility settings menu, containing a few standard options, and a few unique options I have not seen offered before.
Players can change the font used for subtitles and in game text from its default stylised font to a font called Source Sans Pro, a Sans Serif font included to attempt to make text more legible to dyslexic players. The game does not show players a preview of the alternative font in this menu, or label it as a font that may be more legible for dyslexic players, both of which reduce the usefulness of the offering, but it’s still a positive to see an alternative font option offered to players.
By turning on the Longer Choice Timer setting, players can increase, but not entirely turn off, the timer for dialogue choices during timed events. This gives players longer to mentally process the choices they are making, but does still require some degree of timing pressure to be present.
The Skip Gameplay Prompt option allows players to skip a handful of quick time events in the game, where progression is locked behind reaction speed. If you are someone who struggles with reacting quickly to prompts, this option is a useful inclusion. There is no option to give extra reaction time on those events and still take part in them, but they are at least able to be avoided if they are going to be a progression roadblock for the player.
Both jogging, and activating super powers, as default are controlled with button holds, but these can be changed to toggle presses in the accessibility menu.
True Colours, true to its name, contains colour filter options for colourblind players, including filters for Deuteranopia, Protanopia, and Tritanopia. The game also includes a filter strength slider, allowing players to pick the level of colour alteration required for them to best experience the game.
Lastly on the accessibility settings menu, we’ve got two interesting, unique, but flawed settings offerings; A brightness warning and a volume warning prompt. Put simply, when active, these settings will pause the game before visually intense or audibly intense scenes, and warn players of those sensory experiences coming up. Players are asked if they would like to go to the settings menu and briefly turn down the volume or the brightness, before proceeding and experiencing the following scene.
So, here’s why I am torn on these settings. I appreciate the ability to be warned before intense sensory moments, I recognise the value in being able to be warned, and take measures to protect oneself before visually intense scenes come up, but pausing the game and asking the player to manually alter settings briefly seems like a very strange way of achieving the desired result.
I feel like the game could have, perhaps in addition, had a setting that turned off or automatically reduced the intensity of some of these moments. Maybe a setting that causes visual flashes to be less intense, or that normalised audio volume to reduce the instances of loud noises. Pausing the game, and putting the onus on the player to make those alterations, doesn’t feel like the ideal solution for this particular set of problems.
I like that these warning based settings exist, for myself as an autistic gamer it did help me to brace for sensory data without avoiding it entirely, but I felt while playing like an automated offering that evens out these points of intensity might have worked better. As the only option on offer, these warnings necessitated frequent pauses at many of the narrative’s most intense moments, breaking up the flow of the story to put the onus on the player to alter their settings.
While not included in the accessibility settings menu for some reason, the game does feature a few other accessibility settings in other parts of its settings menu.
Subtitles in Life is Strange: True Colours are turned on by defaut, and feature speaker names as default, but these can be turned off if wanted. Players can also alter subtitle size, increasing it to make it more legible, and adding a background to increase legibility against the game world. In game text can also be made larger, and interaction text can also have a background added to it.
For players who want to be aware of when they are making major choices, you can switch on prompts that warn you before major choice moments, and give you the chance to reconsider your choice if desired.
Moving away from the accessibility settings, I want to use a little of this episode to talk about some of the kinds of content to expect when playing through True Colours, and some of the LGBT representation visible in game.
Life is Strange: True Colours is developed by Deck Nine, the developers of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, rather than Dontnot, who created the first two Life is Strange games, and 2020’s Tell me Why. One of the biggest differences between Dontnot and Deck Nine currently is their approach to content warnings. Where Tell Me Why featured a content warnings page, with full spoilers, released around six weeks before the release of the game, True Colours features no such warning system. I will be pretty vague about content warnings in this video, but anyone interested in specifics can tweet me at @ LauraKBuzz on Twitter for a more comprehensive list.
True Colours deals a lot with emotions bubbling up out of control, and people unable to control their emotions driving themselves to act in dangerous ways at times. The game also deals with some pretty rough emotions that may impact those with abusive or emotionally detached parents, both from the perspective of neglected children, and from the perspective of parents who have unhealthy emotional responses to their children. Beyond that, in a couple of branches of the narrative the player may experience first hand accounts of deteriorative mental health, presented in ways that may be upsetting for those who find those conditions distressing.
With those warnings out of the way, I was actually really happy with the LGBT representation on offer in Life is Strange: True Colours. The main character, Alex, is bisexual, and that is made pretty clear in the text of the narrative. While you are not pressured into a romance, the two main romance options offered in game are both equally fleshed out. I’m usually the kind of person who always goes for female romance options in games, as someone primarily attracted to women, but this game’s big himbo with a beard is soft, and lovable, in a very endearing way I found really engaging. The main female romance option is a radio DJ, musician, nerdy larp geek, and has ambitions beyond her town, while the main male romance option has visions of a quiet domestic life nestled away from the world. Both make for very compelling paths to explore, and are given adequate time to be explored.
Given the game’s setting in a small isolated community, I was relieved that at no point in the plot was any character’s sexuality demonised, with harassment or discrimination not used as plot points.
Having played through Life is Strange: True Colours, I am actually really impressed with the overall game. This is Deck Nine’s first attempt at making a Life is Strange game that isn’t based on existing characters and lore established by Dontnod, and they’ve created a pretty impressive first outing. There’s a couple of sections of the game that feel like padding, but they’re enjoyable and creatively thought through padding, and as a result I never really cared too much, I was having too much fun interacting with and learning about this town and its residents. Having the story take place in an enclosed setting, with a limited set of characters, was really to its benefit.
While I have some quibbles about the execution of the game’s visual and audio intensity warnings settings, and wish a set of content warnings were made available for players at launch, I feel like Life is Strange: True Colours does a decent job of hitting the minimum standard bar for accessibility, and offers more of the key settings I would expect to see in this kind of game.
It’s not pushing any new ground on accessibility, but I find it hard to be too critical of how the game handles accessibility, which is a relief, because it makes it a lot easier to recommend a game I had a really great time with.