The Life is Strange Universe really likes to play with our emotions, doesn’t it?
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit continues that trend, setting the scene with its familiar music style of gentle picked guitar and the flickering child like doodles which greet you at the loading screen. Soon it gives way to a snowy rural landscape and an invitation to “Press Any Button.” It’s this laid back style of DontNod’s games that I really like.
The accompanying scene setter with Sufjan Stevens “Death With Dignity” washes over you as we see the world our young hero inhabits and as we slowly close in on a small one story house in the middle of a sparsely populated area we meet Chris, a 9 year old boy playing with his toys in his bedroom.
A slightly ambiguous scene follows, where we are not sure if Chris has powers or its just his imagination and your controller rumbling will not help you deduce this further. After playing, Chris designs his Captain Spirit outfit with your help and then for the first time you take control of Chris and you can wander around his room looking at the various objects and items he has. This will actually give you a good idea of Chris’s life, past and present and Chris could almost be the younger brother of Max from Life is Strange with his thoughtful musings and jaded demeanour.
It’s pretty clear that once Chris leaves his room, all is not well in his world. His Dad drinks, even early in the morning, as a number of cans while he cooks breakfast can attest. The conversation he has with Chris shows a dad who is trying but from Chris’s view, he will always let him down. His Dad swears quite strongly so this is not a kid’s game even if you are controlling a nine year old. The story will drip feed you events leading up to where they are now, peeling back layer after layer the more Chris investigates.
As you look at old newspaper cuttings, find photo’s and his mother’s art and see who his mum and dad used to be, it is quite heart-breaking to see what has become of Chris’s life when it had so much going for it. Each decision you make for Chris will elicit a different response but doesn’t really change the course of the story as it has a specific end. An end that you can trigger at any time, incidentally after a certain point in the story. Once Chris does a certain action it sets off a sequence that cannot be broken leading to a definitive end. However, it does let you go back to before that action so you can complete Chris’ “Awesome” tasks.
It is not a long story, acting as a taster for Life is Strange 2, but it is free so even if you have not tested the waters of the Life is Strange Universe before, it is a good point to dip your toes and for those who are already familiar, it will really whet the appetite for the sequel.
Controls are smooth, Chris wanders around and once outside the cabin he can run. He interacts with people and objects with clearly defined instructions. You can look up and down as well as side to side. You can also only see interactions when standing in certain places so it’s vital to use all the space, Chris can move in. On certain occasions, Chris will be able to use his “awesome” powers. His child-imagination going wild as he thinks himself a superhero. The controller will rumble giving you that emotional connection to Chris and his powers.
Graphics are very crisp. Using Unreal 4 instead of 3 really brings up the clarity as everything is clearly defined; especially those things Chris can interact with. There isn’t much of an environment. Only the cabin, garden, treehouse and shed. Where Captain Spirit excels is in turning those simple environments into dangerous locations through the eyes of a child with a wild imagination.
DontNod are masters of emotion in their games and Captain Spirit is no exception. It’s hard not to get attached to Chris. His life sucks, his father struggling to cope with the, at first, unclear loss of his wife, his spiraling downward and his uncaring attitude towards Chris, even though you can see he hates himself and really wants to try. It’s quite heartbreaking to see and it’s no wonder Chris creates his alter ego to cope. There is one absolutely beautiful moment where Chris finds his mother’s old records and lays on the bed listening while his dad sleeps in a chair. It’s quite breathtaking and I dare to say you’ll be getting a lump in your throat as a result. Same for the final scene which will send your emotions tumbling in every direction.
Sounds are quite sparse in truth. There is no constant soundtrack. Footsteps on various surfaces stand out. His Dad ranting at the basketball game on the tv while Chris moves around the house. The familiar sound of a pencil scribble to illustrate a checkpoint. Once outside ambient sounds abound. There is also the very judicial use of music to add to the ambience.
The games main feature is to complete Chris’ “awesome” tasks. Wandering around the environment, finding keys, parts of Chris’ Captain Spirit costume, unlocking combinations and facing off against Captain Spirit’s enemies like The Water Eater or Snowmancer. The mind of a 9 year old child truly is wonderful. Chris’s ultimate aim is to face off against his mortal enemy Mantroid and the sequence while equally beautiful and dark, also smashes home how he recreates the events of the scene that ripped his family apart. It’s a striking moment which will hit you hard.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is an all too brief prelude to Life is Strange 2 but that doesn’t mean it’s not charming or engaging. Beautifully created, wonderfully executed, somewhat challenging and emotionally investing. Everything you’d want from a Life is Strange game.