Out of all of the games announced at this year’s E3, DONTNOD’s The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit surprised me the most. Not so much that a game set in the Life is Strange universe is in development, but that they’re releasing it completely free, months before Life is Strange 2 is set to release. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a demo for LIS 2, as it has more content than a demo typically would, and isn’t really a vertical slice of the game. It’s more of a prologue that happens to be free. So anyway, what is this game?
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is something of a side story set in the same universe as Life is Strange. You don’t need to have played Max and Chloe’s adventures to make sense of this one, but there are some mentions of characters like Mark Jefferson and Pizzadawg to establish that they take place in the same continuity.
Unlike in Life is Strange and Before the Storm, which take place from the perspective of teenage girls in high school, the main character in Captain Spirit is Chris, a lonely ten year old boy who is obsessed with superheroes. His mother has passed away recently and his dad, Charles, is struggling with being a single father. Like with the other games in the franchise, gameplay mostly consists of walking around the place, interacting with objects and performing simple puzzles.
Rummaging around wardrobes and letters reveals more about their past, such as Chris’ mother being a comic book illustrator, and Charles’ problems with alcohol and anger management causing him to lose his job and potentially custody of his son. These conflicts are made more poignant by Chris’ naive worldview, where whilst he clearly sees the problem with his father drinking at 9:30 in the morning, he is more concerned with playing with his toys and looking forward to Christmas. Whilst it portrays Charles as a conflicted figure who, when he is sober, tries to be a good dad, it is clear that Chris’ home life is far from ideal.
The twist in this game is that occasionally, the game segues into Walter Mitty-esque imagination sequences. In these, a water heater becomes the monstrous “Water Eater”, and a small tunnel in his garden becomes an ominous dungeon. Throughout the adventure, Chris pretends to be his superheroic alter ego, Captain Spirit, and one of the activities you can do is assemble your superhero costume out of items around the house. Captain Spirit also gets to use his superpowers in these sequences, which Chris may or may not possess in reality. You also get to role play with his toys, like in the intros to the Toy Story films, which was a lot of fun. These sequences are very charming, and feel pretty relevant in this age of omnipresent superhero films and media.
You could probably zoom through the critical path of The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit in less than an hour, but there are many side activities on Chris’ list of awesome things to do to complete. Some of these are hampered by annoying adventure game logic, where often the only solution is to just roam around the place and click on everything hoping for a reaction. Furthermore, because the episode is limited to Chris’ house and backyard, with the main activities being to explore around the house and interact with your father, it doesn’t quite have the same flow that the other Life is Strange games had. They were generally more linear, sure, but there were less occasions where I was just wandering around figuring out how to progress the story.
On a technical level, I would say that it surpasses the original Life is Strange. There were none of the weird lip-sync or frame rate issues that that game had, and the quasi-watercolour art style looks amazing.It also allows you to skip through dialogue that you have already heard if you have clicked on an object more than once, which is a good feature. Whilst the game’s scale is quite small, with Chris and Charles having most of the dialogue, the performances are very good, and drew me into the story. As with the other Life is Strange titles, the soundtrack and score are superb . I’ll contend that the faces look really weird when they have to cry, as their eyes get really red in the space of a single shot and the tears look strange, but I am definitely nitpicking at this stage.
In the end, however, I had a great time with The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, and it has made me even more excited for Life is Strange 2, which will be arriving this September. It is an emotional insight into a troubled family from the perspective of a young boy. This episode, and Life is Strange 2 (which this leads into) are a good entry point for people who haven’t played the first Life is Strange as well. The fact that it is free is even better, meaning that there is no cost to checking it out to see if it is something you would enjoy.