One of the biggest surprises to appear at E3 this year was the announcement for Life is Strange 2, developed by Dontnod, makers of the original game. What made this announcement truly remarkable was the lack of detail in the trailer. Watching the trailer does not tell you anything about the game – no characters, no story hints, nothing. Instead, Dontnod made The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, a free game set in the Life is Strange universe. This is a bold move, with Captain Spirit becoming the main form of promotion the sequel is going to get. Even when PT broke all the rules and generated tremendous excitement for the cancelled Silent Hills, we never got to see whether this marketing strategy was actually successful. Speculation aside, let’s dive into The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.
There are some minor spoilers, of course.
Life is Super Strange
We are dropped into the perspective of Chris, a 10 year old boy with an active imagination, better known as Captain Spirit. He loves superheroes, cartoons and basketball, and he’s freaking adorable. Everything he does is backed up by his own internal logic of being a superhero and the constant pursuit of fun. Chris doesn’t completely understand everything that is going on around him and that fits perfectly with the Life is Strange series. Every time you are faced with a choice, the far-reaching effects are unknown and children are generally less aware of the consequences of their actions. This also allows Chris to go about doing things in a way that an adult never would. He can get over-excited or make silly leaps in judgement and this is reflected in the options available to the player. His positive energy is infectious and it turns mundane tasks into heroic undertakings.
This feeling is also conveyed through the new “super-move” mechanic. Sometimes, when faced with an object, instead of simply doing the task e.g. heating something up in the microwave, you can “super” do it. If you want to super-cook your mac & cheese, you INCINERATE IT with Captain Spirit’s mind powers! A new time mechanic was also briefly teased, in that, when you are called for breakfast, Chris’s dad gets more irritated the longer you take to go into the kitchen. It seems that the time you take to do things can affect conversations and options which may be important in the full game. Minor new features include a streamlined control scheme for non-controller users, moving away from the unwieldy drag-to-select interface.
Every hero has a tragic backstory
Chris is an only child and lives in a cabin with his dad, a failed college athlete, his mother having died in an accident. The game involves Chris entertaining himself by pretending to be a super hero, fighting monsters and going on adventures. However, all of this is set against the backdrop of his father’s depression. You are free to do what you like, but every major event is linked to the dad. While talking to him, you see a broken man who makes promises he can’t keep. He is negligent not only to Chris, but also to himself. The game shows this explicitly, but it also drops lots of little hints, like indirect mentions of child abuse and the fact that you have the option to do all of the chores that would otherwise go undone.
The characters are engaging and the dialogue seems better than ever. In the previous games, there were some lines that just wouldn’t sit right, but Captain Spirit was notably consistent. Similarly to the prequel Before the Storm, there were lots of cut-scenes that really added to the experience. Occasionally, instead of seeing reality, you would watch Chris enter the world of Captain Spirit and explore alien worlds, fend off evil creatures and use his amazing powers. It was truly immersive in the moment, the camera cutting to Chris channelling his energy and then back to the amazing feat he was performing.
However when you returned back to reality, you would see the remote control he was using to raise the garage door. When the spell is broken so abruptly. Chris’s escapism instantly goes from entertaining to heart-breaking. He knows that it’s all in his head and he is reaching the point where fooling himself is no longer an option.
Atmosphere: the greatest superpower
The gameplay has remained much the same also, interact with people and objects, make choices and get stuck on puzzles. Captain Spirit is more open-ended than the rest of the series. You are given a set of tasks to complete but they are all optional. It makes sense; whether you beat the imaginary bad guy or not, it doesn’t matter to anyone else in reality. One of the tasks is to beat your high score on a mobile game. It is locked behind the very obtuse puzzle of unlocking your dad’s phone. Save yourself the headache and look it up. This isn’t even a case of “people who write about games are dumb” à la the Cuphead tutorial. It’s absolute horseshit.
As you would expect, the game and its environments are beautiful. If you liked the art style in the previous games, it’s back and it’s better than ever. Every shelf has lots of hidden details and every interaction is there for a reason. The scattered objects help you build a sense of who the characters are, even if they are just small details. You can look at a teddy bear and see Chris’s sensitive side or inspect an old trophy cabinet to relive Dad’s glory days.
In conclusion, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit delivers in every aspect. The world is believable and immersive, which makes every twist of the knife hurt even more. Every new discovery is exciting and the tense atmosphere only pushes you to explore further. It’s a short, sweet adventure that makes you care about fictional people again, which is exactly why so many people loved the other games in the series. Captain Spirit has set a high standard; when the first episode of Life is Strange 2 comes out on September 27th, it will have big shoes to fill.