With a bright red cape tied around his neck, nine-year-old Chris Erikson enters a pitch-black room as the door behind him slams shut. A smoky apparition appears in the distance, and the option to “tame” the monster pops up on-screen. Holding his hand out, Stranger Things-style, his foe gets smaller and smaller, and eventually disappears.
Chris has just defeated the “water eater”… or rather, his water heater in his home.
Whimsical scenes like this are the backbone of Dontnod Entertainment’s latest offering, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. After making their mark on the graphic adventure genre with time travelling teen drama Life is Strange, the French Studio has released this free-to-play title as a prequel of sorts to the upcoming Life is Strange 2.
Captain Spirit puts you in the shoes of Chris on a snowy Saturday morning, an undisclosed amount of time after his mother’s sudden passing. The Erikson family is still in mourning, and as his ex-athlete father copes with life through 10AM beers and basketball games, Chris creates the alter ego of Captain Spirit to become the hero of his own story.
Despite being set in the Life is Strange universe, Captain Spirit is very much a standalone game, and you’ll be able to appreciate the narrative even if you haven’t played the previous two titles in the series. The setup to Life is Strange 2 only shows up briefly towards the end, and it’s obvious that main goal here is to ease new players into the franchise, while satiating existing fans as well.
That’s not to say that Captain Spirit doesn’t feel Life is Strange-esque, though – with its fantastical visuals being juxtaposed by a haunting acoustic guitar track, there’s a sense of bittersweet melancholy that permeates throughout the entire game. It’s a reflection of Chris’ attempts to remain optimistic while navigating through a broken household, and while your mileage may vary depending on your own life experiences, the overarching theme of childhood escapism is one that most will be able to resonate with (who hasn’t fantasised about being a superhero at least once?).
Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who’s played a graphic adventure game – revolving around completing Chris’ “awesome list of things to do”, you’ll explore the Erikson household and solve item-based puzzles to drive the plot forward. These aren’t challenging by any means, but it’s the titbits of information you find along the way that reveal more about the characters and make you want to keep playing.
Life is Strange is probably best known for its mechanic to rewind time during gameplay, and while that is notably absent, Captain Spirit makes up for it with a little feature of its own. When interacting with objects, you can sometimes activate Chris’ “superpowers” to open up additional options, which often lead to endearing results (clever camera work during these moments add on to the illusion as well). It’s a small addition, but one that helps to strengthen the motif of childhood imagination.
When it comes to art style, Captain Spirit retains the same hand-painted aesthetics of its predecessor, and character models have received a slight graphical upgrade thanks to the use of Unreal Engine 4. That said, however, several issues from the first game persist – the characters could stand to be a bit more expressive, and lip-synching is still off to an almost uncomfortable degree.
Thankfully, strong voice acting by Chandler Mantione (Chris) and Nick Apostolides (Chris’ dad) help to alleviate the flaws in animation – Mantione manages to strike a delicate balance between childhood vulnerability and hardened resignation, while Apostolides skilfully captures the essence of a man slowly spiralling out of control. Chris spends the majority of the game alone, but the few interactions between the father and son provide some of the best moments in the game.
It’ll take around two hours to uncover everything Captain Spirit has to offer, and while you could actually complete it in a lot less (you don’t have to fully complete Chris’ list to trigger the ending), it’s best to take your time to interact with every single item to get the full picture. Save for going back to retry a few dialogue choices, there isn’t much else in terms of replay value, but that’s to be expected from a game as short as this.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit offers a big story in a small package, and – considering that its completely free on PC, PS4 and Xbox One – is a game that you should try even if you aren’t traditionally a fan of the graphic adventure genre. The game definitely has its flaws, but just like its titular hero, it tries its best and largely succeeds.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is the perfect starting point for players looking to try more narrative-driven games, and will satisfy those looking to scratch their Life is Strange itch while waiting for the sequel to drop in September as well.