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Life is Strange: True Colors’ Wavelengths DLC is an essential part of the franchise

The focus returns to Steph’s story

Steph, sweating in the heat, pointing to her head Image: Deck Nine/Square Enix
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Life is Strange: True Colors centers on Alex Chen and her once-estranged brother Gabe, but Life is Strange: Wavelengths, the DLC released in October, refocuses the story to True Colors’ important side character, Steph Gingrich. People who played Life is Strange: Before the Storm know her fairly well, as will anyone who pursued a romance with her in True Colors.

Almost more of an epilogue to Before the Storm than a prologue to True Colors, Wavelengths is the best of Life is Strange, fleshing out the vaguely supernatural world with a character grounded in reality. Wavelengths is a much smaller experience than True Colors, set entirely inside the Haven Springs record store Alex comes to know and love. It’s an intimate look at a period of change in Steph’s life. She moves to the charming, rural town on a whim — or rather, a bet — after leaving Arcadia Bay for Seattle.

inside the record store, with a pride banner Image: Deck Nine/Square Enix

Wavelengths begins on Steph’s first day as the new local DJ and manager of the record store. Controlling Steph, I take over the booth to play music, answer caller questions, manage the record store, and mull around on a Tinder clone. It’s all very simple and well written, a quiet slice of Steph’s life that belies the isolation Steph feels as a queer woman in a rural town that’s supportive, but doesn’t quite get it. It also tops off the trauma of surviving Arcadia Bay, which left a trail of death, regardless of the ending you chose.

Wavelengths is focused on a theme that frequently intrigues me in games, movies, and books: How do the regular people in those worlds, the ones without powers and major storylines, cope with the trauma left in the wake of someone else’s story? We see the answer to that in Wavelengths, where Steph recognizes that she hasn’t faced down her past; she’s simply left it behind. We see this through Steph’s reflections and ruminations as she’s working in the booth and at the record store, in sometimes stilted and flirty conversations on the dating app, or in answering questions as a “radio psychic” on her DJ shifts.

steph in a radio booth inside a record store Image: Deck Nine/Square Enix

These stints as a “psychic” feel particularly clever — instead of having actual psychic powers, which wouldn’t necessarily be surprising in a Life is Strange game, Steph uses her d20 to roll for folks’ futures, and I get to interpret that outcome myself. These on-air conversations end up revealing a lot about the people of Haven Springs, about being a queer person in a small town, and about running away from your past.

It’s a short, precise experience with none of True Colors’ big twists and turns, but feels just as impactful as that main story — reminiscent of True Colorsmasterful live-action role-playing sequence, which again tosses supernatural elements aside to focus on sheer human nature. Wavelengths ends up right where you’d expect it to, right when True Colors begins. Somehow, Steph feels like the same character, yet still forever changed.

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