Life is Strange: True Colors makes a great first impression on PlayStation 5.
True Colors is the kind of engaging narrative adventure we’ve come to expect from games in the Life is Strange series. The first chapter features a well-rounded cast of characters backed up by solid writing and exceptional acting, all enhanced by an intriguing mystery and a novel superpower. By all accounts, True Colors will be another reliably great entry in the franchise, but one surprising feature sticks out almost immediately.
This game ties the PS5 DualSense controller’s haptic feedback to character interactions and emotions. While it’s initially subtle, by the end of the first chapter, True Colors shows how developers can use these detailed vibrations to enhance the audio-visual experience of certain moments, making them physically resonant.
At the start of True Colors, protagonist Alex Chen arrives in Haven Springs, a remote village in Colorado. She’s reuniting with her brother Gabe, who hasn’t seen her in eight years and isn’t aware of her empath powers yet, for the first time. When they finally meet each other and embrace, the haptic feedback strikes.
Yes, you read that right. True Colors uses the DualSense for hugs. The controller vibrates separately on both sides upon the first hug. Then, if the player decides to hug Gabe even tighter, it intensely repeats the vibration.
This video breaks down exactly how haptic feedback works on the DualSense.
This moment smartly uses haptic feedback to connect the player with this interaction with Gabe physically, so it’s a moment you’ll remember for the whole adventure. Developer Deck Nine cleverly does this a few more times throughout this first chapter for other standout hugs, pats on the back, or beers tapping together.
When you have anxiety or are very sensitive, small interactions like those can be overwhelming and carry a bit more weight than they should. Using haptic feedback for those moments connects players to Alex’s emotional state when she’s feeling good. That’s why it’s so resonant when things get bad.
The first chapter features two major situations where Alex’s empath powers overwhelm her enough to alter her emotional state. Once it’s with anger, shown with red hues around characters, and once with fear, shown with a purple hue. In these situations, Alex channels those feelings for better and for worse. Deck Nine extends these emotive sensations into the physical world as the DualSense violently shakes in your hand.
When you’re overwhelmed with anxiety or emotion, it can feel like your whole body is shaking. True Colors doesn’t only represent this stressful situation on screen but with haptic feedback as well. The vibration comes as a bit of a shock to the player as well, as they’ve gotten used to only occasionally feeling the haptic feedback in positive situations.
True Colors again breaks that conditioning at the end of the chapter: Alex is walking on a log while in a fearful state ad it starts to break. You feel it crumbling on the controller, and the tactile response makes you legitimately panic. The feeling is only heightened when some miners set a bomb off and cause a mini avalanche that Alex and her friends have to flee from.
Typically, True Colors isn’t concerned with players feeling the cobblestone road under Alex’s feet or rain on her body. If you want that kind of experience, play Astro’s Playroom or Returnal. But by shattering haptic feedback expectations in those rare situations, True Colors highlights the importance of those moments. It also inspires hope that the DualSense’s powerful capabilities won’t go overlooked by developers.
This video gives a clear overview of Alex’s powers.
Vibrations and haptic feedback are typically an ancillary feature that doesn’t change much. And when games like 1, 2, Switch or Astro’s Playroom want you to notice it, it’s to serve more as a tech demo. True Colors is one of the first games to demonstrates how haptic feedback can be subtlety used to make players empathize with a character.
Hopefully, the rest of the game continues to use haptic feedback smartly, and developers of other narrative-focused games consider implementing it similarly complex ways that enhance the immersion of the experience.
Life is Strange: True Colors will be released on September 10, 2021.