Free Demo Highlights Slick New Engine and Tone
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit (Captain Spirit for short) is a generous gift from Dontnod Entertainment. This self-contained Life is Strange extended Universe chapter is available free-of-charge on the PS4, Xbone and PC. It ditches the shaded aesthetic of the company’s engine and instead uses the tried-and-true Unreal Engine. The results are unspectacular, but perhaps this is the point.
- Revisiting the same room and finding something new to interact with
- Smoking in your tree-house
- Lying to the elderly
- Showing your toys no mercy
In what could easily be hokey and saccharine, Captain Spirit puts you in the shoes of Chris, a nine year old boy who often escapes into superhero fantasy. His dead-beat alcoholic father consistently lets him down and he must fend for himself. The tone is actually sincere and tinged with melancholy. It never over-steps its miserable narrative and only hints at the darkness of the single parent situation. Chris is fine, things could be better but his situation is not exactly dire. Thankfully the game organically follows him and his inner-voice towards what to do on a productive Saturday morning. Small stake stuff that doesn’t abuse the potential drama bubbling under the surface.
Chris must kill time while his dad gets drunk in the background watching a basketball game. His dad promises him he will take him to get a real pine tree for Christmas in the afternoon. Of course promises are made to be broken when you’re a depressed alcoholic, but in the meantime, you can guide Chris to achieve his playful to-do list, or you can just do chores like an obedient parent-pleaser. Either way the tiny sandbox house and yard environments make for compelling cookie-crumb discoveries. These stem both from what Chris’ fantasies perceive and what is actually real.
Poking around pays off when Chris discovers truths about his father, hidden in the cupboard in a shoe box, in the outside garage and more. In-between blowing up his arch-nemesis (a snowman) as alias Captain Spirit, Chris also learns adult concerns, and does not quite know how to grasp them.
When the player has had enough of exploring, interacting and checking off the frivolous list, they can choose to wake the father up. This triggers a forced scene where a nosy neighbour enquires what is happening. You can choose to lie to her or get the story straight and say you are worried about your dad. Either way it does not matter as the lady has already made up her mind, and the dad reacts pretty much the same way regardless. The demo ends with a scene that hints at the subtle weirdness that ties it to Life is Strange. Other connections come from the background of Chris’s parents, and some familiar names from the first Life is Strange game pop-up in some unexpected places.
Technical / Gameplay
Captain Spirit takes about two hours if you soak it all in. It is a lot tighter than Life is Strange in that the game mechanics feel more responsive and fluid. Additionally, the Unreal Engine improves the overall pacing between actions and cut scenes. There is a dynamic feeling in such a small space, it makes you wonder how living the world of Life is Strange 2 will feel in a bigger environment. The controls take on a different aesthetic when Chris can interact as a super-hero; here his imagination takes over and telekinetic and unexplained things happen. They are very minimal but strange events, and it is never explicit if Chris really does possess some sort of power or not.
Dontnod took a break from Life is Strange to make a very broken, not very good vampire game Vampyr. Life is Strange: Before the Storm is the painfully melodramatic prequel that shockingly did not even have super powers or time tinkering. It is good then that Dontnod are returning to their subtle indie sensibilities (complete with whispy guitar folk music) as Chris will apparently return in the sequel.
Captain Spirit is a sort of glue that holds together their first effort with what is it come, and thankfully it seems to have cast aside the pointlessness inherent in Before the Storm. Captain Spirit a low-key tale that essentially showcases the new engine, and the strengths of the first game, but it brings nothing new to the series.
Disclaimer: all images were captured/taken on my PS4