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The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is a short and charming but often sombre narrative game by DONTNOD Entertainment (the creators behind the original Life is Strange) that acts as a stand-alone prequel to the upcoming Life is Strange 2.
The game takes place on a lazy Saturday morning at a snow-covered Beaver Creek home, a small fictional town in Oregon (the same US state all previous Life is Strange games were located) where we follow ten-year-old protagonist Chris and his adventures as Captain Spirit, a superhero alter-ego of his own creation that aids him in facing his often harsh circumstances.
Chris’ mother, with whom he was very close, has recently passed away and to further complicate things his father has turned to alcohol to numb his overwhelming grief.
I must admit that, at first, I was sceptical about Captain Spirit. The reveal trailer at E3 made me cringe a bit and I wasn’t too sure that playing through a light-hearted story as a pre-teen kid would be something that I enjoyed. But the game turned out to be much darker than I imagined, delving into a range of mature themes such as alcoholism, grief, and loss, keeping with Life is Strange’s masterful use of juxtaposition.
DONTNOD has also done an outstanding job of developing Chris’ character and it truly felt like I could see the world from this young kid’s eyes. From insightful dialogue, and even the well-timed lack of it, to the mannerisms seen in animations, Chris was relatable and believable, and an interesting vehicle with which to explore Captain Spirit’s narrative.
For the most part, Captain Spirit’s adventures run parallel to Chris’ reality, with some moments throwing you into a fantasy world, such as Captain Spirit dramatically subduing a monster (or rather turning on the heating in the boiler room).
While the story puts most of its focus on Chris and his struggles, there are a handful of clues hinting to a much larger story. Whether it is an article on protests fuelled by unexplained shootings, the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Chris’ mother, or the very intriguing conclusion of this story, it is clear that DONTNOD is weaving an intricate tale filled with another healthy dose of twists and turns.
Considering their earlier work, I personally think they are one of the most exciting and daring developer of narrative-driven titles around.
Captain Spirit has a slower and more staggered pace than previous Life is Strange games and also takes a less linear approach, with director Michel Koch calling it a “narrative sandbox”. Because of this, the game can make you feel slightly lost at times compared to the more scripted and controlled approach of Life is Strange and Before the Storm.
The game starts with Chris sitting at his desk and adding the final touches to his drawing of the eponymous Captain Spirit, providing you with the opportunity to tailor the superhero to your liking. Will Captain Spirit wear a helmet or a mask? Will his outfit be vivid and colourful or dark and intimidating? While these might seem like simple aesthetic changes, your choices here will also influence the demeanour of Captain Spirit.
After this, you will be tasked with finishing a list of “awesome things to do”, such as collecting all the items for your superhero costume or defeating the evil Snowmancer (a snowman in the garden), and it’s totally up to you which comes first. Certain special actions, denoted by a colourful and animated display of text, will allow you to interact with the world as Captain Spirit. This usually leads to a display of Captain Spirit’s powers such as turning on the TV with telekinesis (or rather the remote hidden behind Chris’ back).
In all honestly though, you actually don’t have to complete any of the objectives but it is important to note that the decisions you make and actions you take will carry over to Life is Strange 2. Like its predecessors, the game is about uncovering a story and along the road you will discover a string of additional narrative elements that tie in to the greater Life is Strange universe. If you’re an avid fan of the series, Captain Spirit boasts a plethora of very intriguing hints and nods to previous games and the upcoming sequel. So take your time and explore, I promise you won’t regret it.
One thing that is apparent from the get-go is DONTNOD’s use of a considerably more capable game engine, namely the Unreal Engine 4 (as opposed to the previously-used Unreal Engine 3). The graphics are crisper, the textures more realistic, the animations smoother and, most notably, the game boast considerably more advanced lighting, which the developers have used to beautiful effect throughout the game.
But with this beauty comes rather demanding system requirements and there were times that my reasonably-powerful PC — GTX 960 2GB and 8GB RAM — had some trouble keeping up. Considering that the game world is quite small and not necessarily a graphical marvel of gaming, this seems more like bad optimization than demanding graphics. I also occasionally received errors (which threw me back to the desktop) such as Unreal crash reports and warnings about my lack of video memory. With that being said, fortunately the game never actually crashed and this was more of a minor inconvenience than a game-breaking problem.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is an endearing and well-crafted entry in the Life is Strange universe that sets a very intriguing starting point for the upcoming Life is Strange 2. Admittedly, to me, it wasn’t as captivating as its predecessors due to its staggered narrative pacing and open-ended “narrative sandbox” approach. But, with that being said, Captain Spirit still boasts a poignant and powerfully relatable narrative, emphasizing its creators’ dedication to crafting truly human and thought-provoking narratives.
Beyond its ambiguous narrative elements, the developers have also designed a detailed, atmospheric and remarkably beautiful setting, whether it’s the dreamy and tranquil snowy landscape of Beaver Creek or the fantastical world of Captain Spirit’s adventures.
Life is Strange 2 will be releasing for PC, PS4 and Xbox One on 27 September 2018.