The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit was a very odd announcement at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2018. It was something new from Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix, the folks who brought you Life Is Strange, but it wasn't exactly a Life is Strange sequel according to the developer. Instead, this free outing would have hooks into the story of Life Is Strange 2, while acting as its own standalone tale.
In reality, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit fulfills two purposes. It shows off Dontnod's new expertise with Unreal Engine 4, offering improved graphics and new dialog options over the Unreal Engine 3-based Life Is Strange. Captain Spirit also stands as an episode 0 for Life Is Strange 2; it's seemingly free because the publisher and developer are drumminh some hype for the first episode of that series coming on September 27, 2018.
Given these two focuses, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit largely succeeds.
For one, the writing from the team over at Dontnod Entertainment is still pretty sharp. Captain Spirit tells the story of a young boy named Chris Erikson, the only child of a widower and alcoholic living in rural Oregon. Chris' mother died in a car accident and his father has spiralled in response, spending his days drinking and reliving the glory of his basketball past. To cope, Chris imagines himself as a superhero, Captain Spirit, engrossing himself in a colorful world of heroic make-believe.
Captain Spirit takes place over the course of one lazy Saturday. Life is Strange episodes were previously 5-7 hours long, but you can finish most of this standalone entry in around 2 hours. As Chris you roam around inside and outside of his house, interacting with very few other characters. He plays as a young boy would, imagining his relatively mundance task as the actions of his superhero alter ego. Some scenes do an interesting sleight of hand to make you think Chris has powers before showing you the reality, which was a cute touch.
Captain Spirit isn't really a happy story. Chris himself is upbeat, but the loss of his mother, Emily Erikson, is still a fresh wound for him and his father. Mementos of her litter the tiny home: her sketchbooks, novels, and records are packed into corners and closets, giving you a rough outline of the kind of person she was. Depending how much you explore, you'll get a full picture of the family situation, with bills and newspaper clippings showing the past and present of the Erikson household.
It feels real. Chris feels like a boy trying his best to cope with situations beyond his control. His father Charles is a drunk, hopping between being a good man who loves his son, a widower who who sees his dead wife in that boy's eyes, and a broken shell of someone who never reached his full potential. His inability to control himself and find a stable home for his son feels honest. He's not the monster Chris fights in his imagination, but he is the problem the kid has to deal with. When Chris has to cover for his father in one of the few interactions with someone outside of the house, that moment reminded me of situations in my own past. Captain Spirit is heavy with the eyes of adulthood, but the child's perspective keeps it balanced.
There are some issues here and there. Notably, Chris gets the most love as the main character in terms of vocal performance and animation, and his father mostly works as well. The third character that appears isn't up to snuff: her animation is a bit off and her voice acting didn't entirely fit. It's fine, because she's only a small part of a very short game, but it did act as a speed bump in the experience.
The original Life is Strange was ultimately about sacrifice and coping with loss, through the lens of superpowers and friendship. If Captain Spirit is any indication, Life Is Strange 2 looks to be dealing with the same themes, even if the cast will likely be different. It's the same world, with small references to Blackwell Academy and Arcadia Bay here and there.
What Captain Spirit doesn't do is present a complete story. It's very much a prelude that brings up several questions: What was Chris' mother doing the night she got into her accident? How complicit is the father in the bruise Chris has on his arm? What is the deal with the folks next door, who seem pretty important? Captain Spirit is a teaser for something bigger, with that "something" probably being Life Is Strange 2. The ending card even says "Meet Chris Again in Life Is Strange 2".
Captain Spirit is the first lap around the course that is Life Is Strange 2. It's not enough to indicate the exact shape of that upcoming game, but you're definitely meant to roll right from this experience into the next. It's a strong, confident, "We still know what we're doing and we've gotten a little better at doing it" from Dontnod Entertainment. While I was skeptical about Captain Spirit when it was revealed at E3 2018, this is exactly what I needed to prepare myself for Life Is Strange 2. And you can't argue with a price tag of "free".
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is the endearing, heartbreaking tale of a kid who imagines himself to be a superhero. It's not very long at 2 hours tops, but Dontnod Entertainment uses this teaser for Life is Strange 2 to show they still have the stuff to tell a great story. Captain Spirit isn't really a complete story though and you'll leave this experience with more questions. Ones that will likely be answered in the next game.