When Dontnod announced that they would be releasing a precursor to their upcoming sequel to the critically acclaimed Life is Strange for free, I almost immediately found myself going through the Steam store to make sure I could add The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit to my library.
With their well written and realised series having already spun off a prequel, which while an amazing experience was not developed by them first hand, I was eager to see where they would take the world of the series next.
Enter the tale of Chris, a ten-year old comic book fanatic living in a small home in a sleepy American town with his widower father. In this there already existed some worry, as young characters within gaming tend to be quite difficult to realise, as either their perspective is too different for the player to appreciate or they are written with a maturity far beyond their years.
I was pleasantly surprised then to find that Dontnod had managed to balance those factors to give Chris enough of a childish whimsy in his available actions and voice acting (small kids often being some of the hardest to make feel real in media). I think a big part of what aids this is the ability to make some actions become “super” actions. Which a simple held down button turning on the TV in a regular fashion becomes using telekinesis to magically turn it on! And in this we found a really great play on player expectations.
In Life is Strange our main protagonist, Max, had the power to reverse and manipulate time which became one of the focal points as the story progressed. Before the Storm played with this existence of the supernatural in the setting well, making you guess if something happening could be part of this strange world or not. Within The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, however, the team cleverly frames many of these power scenes to make it seem that there could be more to these powers than just the vivid imagination of Chris before showing at the last second something that gives the trick away.
I fully expect this modifier mechanic to appear in Life is Strange 2 to bring another way to interact with the world. Another new mechanic which is often not seen in games of this ilk is an active button to respond to actions off screen, like that in the game of Chris being called to breakfast by his dad and you being able to respond with a “I’ll be right there!” while playing in your room. If used correctly, this could make for a much more natural feel to the world moving forward so I am definitely looking forward to seeing this.
With breakfast had, and the difficult relationship that Chris has with his father being established in a personal and very believable way, you are left to play out Chris’ Saturday morning activities, which include everything an imaginative 10 year might want to do; unlocking your dad’s phone to play the latest mobile game on, defeating the evil minions of your rival, and making sure your superhero costume is complete, making up just some of the activities you can get up to.
With these actions comes the greatest triumph of the game in my opinion, as you feel the sense of childish whimsy as Chris goes about these actions but you as a player have that looming dread above it all as you worry what his washed up dad may do if his play gets too out of hand. It is already difficult for most games to get us to be invested as much in a character during a play through hours long, but The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit manages to do this with barely an hour to play with and this really speaks to the strengths of the writers for the series as well as the talent of the VO artists to put this over.
As your day progresses and you continue on your super powered adventures, Captain Spirit has the wonderful cutaways of changing the scene to show what Chris is imagining in that moment. Switching a tripped geyser back on in the dark closet in the back of the house becomes a black void with an evil presence watching your every step as you approach the step. Battling the evil snowman in the back yard becomes an epic fight punctuated with an amazing, if firework aided, fire ball slinging battle!
As is to be expected from an entry in this series, the music choices for each scene and area have been well made to invoke the emotions that you’d expect. Whether it's the opening title crawl moving into Chris’ room or the brooding theme given to Captain Spirit’s arch rival.
Littered throughout the game are other little nods to the world at large, whether it be where Chris’ mother went to school or the art book of a certain photography teacher, there is enough for a keen-eyed player to pick up on and appreciate.
With all these things in place, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit comes together to make something that any fan of the series should play, and that anyone with a spare hour or two should definitely consider experiencing. Considering that different actions throughout your play through subtly change the ending of this short prelude to Life is Strange 2, you will almost certainly find yourself returning to the game to play out other options and find as much as you can throughout. I can wholeheartedly suggest giving it a go while also suggesting those who are sensitive to the themes of alcoholism at home and its effect on young children go into it with the correct frame of mind. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit treats this difficult topic with the right level of respect, however, being aware of the effect this can have on you going into the game is only to your benefit.
Features include: Knowledge of all things geeky. “Over 9000!” achievement points in World of Warcraft. Groantastic Puns. Marking out for canadian heels.
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