When Life is Strange was released in 2015 I had never heard of developer Dontnod Entertainment. I hadn’t played their previous game, Remember Me, and had no idea what to expect from their new episodic series. It turned out though that Life is Strange would be something unique and quite special. In fact, we named it our Game of the Year in 2015 as well as placing it 14th on our 50 Best Games of All Time list. So my expectations were pretty high when they announced the next game set in the “Life is Strange Universe” at E3 this year, but could it possibly live up to the original?
A Boy’s Life
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit takes place over the course of one snowy Saturday morning and tells the story of Chris, a young boy who has recently moved to the small town of Beaver Creek, Oregon with his father after his mother was killed in an accident. The relationship between the father and son, and specifically how they’re both dealing with their grief takes center stage in this 2-hour, self-contained episode which also serves as a prologue to the upcoming Life is Strange 2
Chris spends his afternoons like many boys his age, dressing up as a superhero and playing with his action figures. He has a vivid imagination and the game does a fun job of showing you the way in which he sees things during these fantastical adventures, the world around him transforming from reality to fantasy. The family car for instance might actually be a rocket ship and the noisy water heater may be an evil monster which Captain Spirit needs to slay. The game does a great job of capturing that innocence and wonder of being a kid and playing make-believe, but for as entertaining as his imaginary adventures are, you get the impression that Chris is also desperately lonely.
His father, Charles, struggles much more openly with the loss of his wife. He drinks beer for breakfast, shrugging off any questions or concerns when Chris questions him on it, and passes out in his chair while watching the basketball game on television. The shelves in the living room are full of trophies and team photographs as a tribute to the life he once had as a high school sports star, and a reminder of simpler and happier times. He’s a profoundly sad character who has the weight of the world bearing down on him.
The relationship between the two is affectionate but tense. It’s clear that Charles loves his son, but he’s struggling with how to deal with his grief and raise his child alone. His drinking is clearly out of control, he yells and curses at his son who also shows signs that the abuse may have moved beyond the verbal at one point. While the behavior is obviously horrific and it would be easy to write Charles off as the typical asshole dad character, the writers have done a fantastic job of making him a complicated, sympathetic character. He’s not seeking to be a bad father, but his life is crumbling apart around him and he doesn’t know how to cope.
Just For One Day
If you’ve played Life is Strange you’ll be immediately familiar with how the game plays. You walk around the environment, interacting with the objects around the house and taking part in conversations with multiple dialog options. The home is worth exploring thoroughly as there are many items that shed some light on the family and the struggles that they’ve gone through. A nice little touch is the ability to hold down the left trigger when you interact with certain objects to use your “super powers” on them. For instance he uses his power to raise the garage door (with a little help from the garage opener hiding behind his back).
After you finish your breakfast you’re free to explore the home and complete the various tasks scattered about. Chris has made a list of all of the heroic deeds that he needs to complete throughout day and they range from using his dad’s empty beer cans for a little target practice on the front porch, to gathering the materials necessary to complete the costume for his alter ego, Captain Spirit. Each of the quests is optional so you can do as few or as many as you please, but each one is entertaining and different, offering new gameplay and more insight into their lives. I highly recommend doing as many as possible even though a couple of them are a little hard to figure out.
Visually the game uses the same art style as Life is Strange but it looks much better this time around thanks to their switch from Unreal Engine 3 to 4. The character models and environments are much improved from the original game and it seems to run much smoother as well (I played on the Xbox One X). The voice acting is a little hit or miss (as it was in LiS) but it’s servicable, and once again Dontnod gets an A+ for their use of indie music in the soundtrack, especially the Sufjan Stevens song ‘Death with Dignity’ which is featured throughout the episode and is used to great effect.
Fathers and Sons
A game like The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit ultimately lives or dies by the quality of the story that they’re telling, and thankfully this tale is a worthy successor to the saga of Max and Chloe. It’s emotional, heartfelt, and beautiful in it’s simplicity. It’s not trying to be something more grandiose and epic than it needs to be and that’s refreshing in an age when everything is trying to be bigger, bolder and more ambitious. While it’s a simply told story, the characters are nuanced and relatable. They’re just trying to navigate their way through a life that has thrown them one of the toughest challenges a family can face.
As an introduction to the second chapter of Life is Strange, it does a great job of introducing you to a familiar but seperate part of this world, and I can’t wait to see what awesome adventures await us next.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is available now for free on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC