The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit Review (PC Game, 2018)
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is a free standalone game in the Life is Strange universe. You play as Chris, a young boy who wants to be a superhero. He lives with his Dad, a grieving alcoholic with rage issues. The pair are spending their first Christmas together without Chris' mother, who you discover has passed away. Chris is left to pick up the pieces and do everything he can to keep his father happy and become Captain Spirit.
The game plays out in a close approximation to real time. You have about 90 minutes of playtime to achieve as many goals as you can. Some are purely Chris having fun--build your superhero suit, piece together a map to buried treasure--while others are chores reimagined as superheroic events--resetting the water heater, cleaning up the house. Whatever you choose to do has a direct impact on how your adventure unfolds.
For example, after the opening cutscene, you start playing in your bedroom. You can interact with almost every toy, book, and drawing. It's a lot to take in. You also hear your Dad calling for you to come get breakfast. Being a veteran adventure gamer in the older style of the genre, I took the time to interact with every possible option in the room before leaving.
That was a mistake. By the time I got to breakfast, Dad was furious and reprimanded me for making him wait and not cooperating with him when he had a basketball game to watch. Time is an enemy in The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit and no one can defeat time.
A few years ago at New York Comic Con, I had the opportunity to visit Square Enix's offsite press location. Dontnod Entertainment, the developers of Life is Strange and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, received a massive display space at the event. The wall was covered in Polaroids from Life is Strange and a recreation of the protagonist's living room. In a series of unpredictable events (another member of the press acting terribly, my kindness and good listening skills helping to pay the bills, the last minute invite I received to go to the event at all) resulted in me interviewing the development team for the game.
The Dontnod team and I had a great conversation about game narratives, the importance of lighting, and how their focus in game development was human memory and perception. They want to tell real stories in a fantastic way. The reason why their characters develop their unique powers--the time shifting in Life Is Strange, the memory manipulation and replay in Remember Me--is a way to approach challenging narratives in a more accessible way for a wide audience.
This approach is on full display in The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. The fantasy element is Chris' superpower. He roleplays all of his actions if you choose to roleplay. His superpower is manipulating any form of matter to his whim, and I strongly encourage you to play along and watch him crush beer cans with his mind or microwave instant macaroni and cheese with a wave of his fingers. It's charming and heartbreaking at the same time.
These interactions, these moments of superheroism, are all tied to memories and interactions with his parents. His mother was a comic artist who encouraged his love of superheroes and imagination. His father was a star basketball player and coach, beloved by the entire community. Until his mother's passing, they lived a happy life with wonderful adventures. There is no indication of when Captain Spirit was created, but it is clear that Captain Spirit is the hero and role model Chris needs to be happy and function in the real world today.
On my playthrough, I did everything I could not to upset Dad. There are interactions I refused to do--play with Dad's cellphone, log onto Dad's computer, shoot a soft dart gun at Dad--because I didn't want Dad to be angry. This severely impacted what I could do on my adventure. I built my supersuit, I hunted for buried treasure, and I achieved any and every goal related to repairing or cleaning the house, but I chose to leave certain secrets unknown.
As you run down the clock deflecting any further incidents with Dad, you are eventually forced to do one interaction to wrap up the story. Because of how I played the game, that choice was stress inducing and downright terrifying. Other people might not have that experience. I have to imagine that maybe if I did choose some of the more playful interactions with Dad that this juncture might not have been as stressful as it was.
I find this new kind of adventure game where every choice actually matters utterly fascinating. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, like Life is Strange: Before the Storm, does not come with an undo button. Your character does not have the chance to keep trying again and again on certain actions to change their destiny. You make a choice and you live with the consequences. Perhaps the greatest thing Dontnod ever did with this series was introduce that "it's okay, you can rewind time" mechanic in Life is Strange episode one and slowly reduce its effectiveness in the universe. We're trained to make and commit to choices now and it makes the narrative far more powerful.
The choices you make in The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit will have an impact on your playthrough of Life is Strange 2 if you pick up the sequel in the fall. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is a demo and standalone game in one. I can't even begin to imagine what the new game will do with this information, these characters, and the abilities introduced to tell this story. I just know that The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is a must-play experience for anyone who loves narrative adventure games.