The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit Review - Bursting with Energy, Life and Brutal Reality
When Dontnod released the sleeper hit Life is Strange back in 2015, few would have expected the incredibly emotional experience we were to be subjected to. Fewer still would have predicted a highly anticipated sequel being in the works given it’s sudden appearance and release.
Roll on 2018, and here we are eagerly anticipating the sequel series, with Dontnod providing a small palette taster with The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Released for the grand total of absolutely nothing, it provides a creative, enthusiastic and charming couple of hours that are absolutely worth experiencing and paves the way beautifully for the coming series.
A Superpowered Hero, Without The Time Travel
We step into the shoes of the lively Captain Spirit, a young boy called Chris living with his father Charles in their snow-swept home as Christmas approaches. Chris is an eager protagonist, a far cry from the shy Max Caulfield or emotionally burdened Chloe Price; displaying the naivety of youth and the infectious enthusiasm of imagination.
Dontnod tap into childhood nostalgia almost at will - toy soldier fights, dastardly made up villains, the desire to impress his dad. While these may be typical tropes, it’s hard not to be drawn into Chris’ imagination and be swept up in the glee of his musings as you interact with his environment and learn about his early life. He’s a character with energy and zeal, giving the short episode a real feel good factor and enjoyment.
He’s not only a well thought out character however, he’s voiced expertly and with nuance for the moments when his excitement is brought into contrast with some of the world around him. If Chris is to be the protagonist of Life is Strange 2, he’ll make a fantastic change of pace to typical video game avatars.
Familiar Gameplay, With a New Twist
Of course, gone are the time-bending powers and the smack-talking interactions of the first season and Before the Storm. Instead, Dontnod have introduced a couple of mechanics built around Chris and his imagination. Some interactive objects are now infused with the possibility of being victims to Captain Spirit’s powers, like blowing up a snowman for example. This can lead to a couple of genuinely surprising and humorous moments, breaking up the standard observable or minimal use objects in the world.
It’ll be interesting to see how this mechanic is used in the coming season, and whether it can adequately replace the aforementioned skills of previous protagonists.
What isn’t surprising or new however, is the way Chris interacts with the world. Once again, the player is given a small space to explore, with various objects to view, thoughts to exclaim and minor puzzles to solve. It’s nothing spectacular or fresh, but the use of Chris’ character to embed these tasks into the environment is impressive -- you wouldn’t think much of doing the dishes or taking out recycled beer cans unless the character you’re playing as wouldn’t be expected to perform those tasks; and switching a boiler off has never been so daunting!
If you’ve not been a fan of the "walking simulator" genre, this is unlikely to change your mind. Choices also make their appearance too, but it’s unclear from this short snippet of the story how they’re going to impact on the narrative. Dontnod chose to keep this aspect relatively low-key and minor in the episode, so it’ll be interesting to see how that develops.
Charming Naivety, With Darker Undertones
It’s not all excitement and happiness in the world of Captain Spirit however, as it wouldn’t be a Life is Strange universe without some emotional turmoil. Wandering the household, you’ll discover the reason behind the glaring void of Chris’ mother, but most prominently the conflicted persona of his father, Charles. Dontnod do an excellent job of delivering a nuanced and clearly fractured father figure, a man who is both dearly loving towards his son while simultaneously offering a darker, less empathetic side.
In its short runtime, there’s moments of genuine tension, sadness and emotion as you piece together Chris’ world and discover the environment he both revels in and is subjected to. Particularly for people who have experienced similar childhood moments, it’s a narrative undercurrent that will resonate with some very strongly. Charles is never made to be a villain or a stereotypical asshole for example -- he can be humorous and understanding with Chris -- as the story fleshes out his backstory struggles in order to help allow us to empathise with his issues.
The atmosphere never becomes too foreboding or down-trodden luckily; and the heavy moments are treated with care so as to not suffocate the star of the show, but you’ll quickly notice a more intricate story building behind the scenes. If Dontnod can maintain this level of care and fantastic world building with darker themes, it could prove a powerful emotional concoction.
A Worthy Presentation
The world of Captain Spirit is built with the same art style as the previous seasons, with a different backdrop to what we may have been used to with Arcadia Bay. Chris’ room is full of life, colour exudes from his outfit and the attention to detail to craft a convincing universe is exceptional.
Graphically, the game may not be as show-stopping or jaw-dropping of regular AAA titles, with some textures lacking detail and audio cues at times slightly out of sync, but these are minor nitpicks that won’t detract from the overall experience or delivery. The Life is Strange series and Dontnod’s other works have never been graphical masterpieces; but they’ve always demonstrated a creative and personal touch with their art style which brings their worlds to life.
What is undoubtedly top of the quality department however, is the soundtrack. Both the first season and Before the Storm had impeccable music scores with a selection of wonderfully chosen tracks. This latest taster follows in the same expert mould, blending an emotive and stunning soundtrack within the backdrop of the game. Dontnod have nailed the use of music once again.
A Tantalizing Look At Things To Come
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit squeezes more emotion and genuine empathy into 2 hours of game that few can manage in 30 or 40. It establishes a believable and infectious protagonist who provides a fantastic parallel to the typical, broody lead characters we’ve become accustomed to and establishes a world full of intrigue and meaningful themes.
The gameplay formula has remained largely unchanged, with the main new mechanic yet to be seen in how it matches up to previous versions we’ve been given to work with. When you consider this as a free episode to prelude the upcoming season, it’s a fantastic experience that’s well worth your time, despite it’s short length and limited insight. A credit must also be given to the soundtrack, despite the creative but less-than-stellar presentation.
Donning your cape, painting your armour and equipping your superhero mask has never felt more playful or gleeful, and I’m excited to see what emotional adventures our young hero next gets himself into.