Dontnod’s Life is Strange episodic narrative series is one of my favourite gaming experiences to come out of this generation, so you can bet I’m keen as hell for Life is Strange 2 coming later in the year. Cue my excitement, then, when the developers announced at this year’s E3 that they would be bringing out a special standalone game set in the same universe in just a couple of weeks, and that it would be absolutely free.
The Awesome Adventures Of Captain Spirit is a whole new, self-contained story set in the town of Beaver Creek and centered around a boy named Chris Erikson and his dad, Charles. As the game introduces Chris we discover that he is obsessed with superheroes, and even has an imaginary super alter ego himself — the titular Captain Spirit. It also becomes apparent very quickly that Captain Spirit is a kind of coping mechanism for Chris, whose mother has recently passed on, leaving a broken and recently alcoholic Charles to hold the family together. As fantastic and well-written as the main characters in Life is Strange are, the plight of the teenage girl has never been a completely relatable one to me, but I now see just how much more that audience must get out of the series. There’s something about the fragility of childhood and vulnerability of a highly imaginative and empathic young boy in a toxic environment that cut through to me in a big way, more than I was expecting. There’s some pretty heavy stuff here but the writing chops of the team at Dontnod must be commended, there’s more powerful storytelling in this hour-long experience than most games can manage in a dozen. By the time I had to choose between defending the grieving Charles despite implied domestic abuse or condemning him in front of a third party I could feel my insides twist in knots.
Clearly waiting for Fortnite to update
In terms of gameplay, this is pretty familiar territory for anyone who’s played the Life is Strange games in the past. The whole game is based on one Saturday in which Chris and his dad are at home together, it’s very much a ‘slice of life’ style look into their lives as opposed to a forward-moving narrative and it works perfectly in this short format. After a couple of conversations, Charles falls asleep in front of the TV and Chris is free to roam his house and yard, where the only real objective is to put together an awesome homemade superhero costume and then wake Charles up in time to buy a Christmas tree. Chris can freely walk around and inspect and interact with objects all over his home, eventually opening up new options and interactions until his objectives are complete. It’s simple stuff but of course the real appeal of this style of game is being immersed in the lives of these two people and piecing together the situation by carefully exploring the environment. There are a couple of new tweaks to gameplay thrown in here as well, things like holding conversations in real time with characters at a distance, or performing augmented versions of an action by way of a contextual button press. It’s not a whole lot of difference but it bodes well for some new ideas to make their way into Life is Strange 2.
I’ll get you one day, snowman, and if I don’t – global warming will
Perhaps the most striking thing about The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is just how confidently Dontnod have nailed Life is Strange’s visual DNA. Where the stylised, painterly look of the first series (and the Deck Nine-developed prequel series) looked great and did well to mask seemingly low production values, Captain Spirit leverages improved technology to push the aesthetic to new heights. Lighting and effects breathe new life into the world and improved animations couple with buttery smooth performance to give every scene a fantastic sense of place. It wouldn’t be a Life is Strange game without a dreamy and evocative soundtrack full of original and licensed tracks, either. This time the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Bat For Lashes lend their work to the game, and those optional hands-off music sequences where we watch the characters just reflect on life are back and just as emotionally affecting as ever. There are so many beautifully scored, visually accomplished and movingly written scenes crammed into such a short experience that I wonder if they can even keep it up at this level for Life is Strange 2. If they do, expect me to be a blubbering wreck come September.
It might seem outrageous to award a perfect score to what initially seems like an hour-long teaser for another, upcoming game. What I didn’t expect to find with Captain Spirit though was not only an encouraging look in to the level of quality we can expect from Life is Strange 2, but a powerful and worthwhile experience in its own right. Add to that the fact that the whole thing is completely free and I simply can’t endorse it enough. Play this game.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher