There’s really no reason not to play The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, though looking at the name alone you might be confused as to what it is. Announced at E3 and releasing tomorrow, it’s a standalone episode within the world of Life Is Strange, acting as a prelude of sorts or appetiser for the second season which is due to start later this year. Oh, and it’s free.
Please note: there will be some spoilers for the character and situation presented within Captain Spirit after this point.
What’s much more important than its price is the story that it tells. Max and Chloe are absent here and we instead meet Chris, a 10-year-old child who starts the episode playing with his toys in his room. He’s Captain Spirit, you see, the leader of a superhero team fighting against the minions of Mantroid. While the episode is set in and around Chris’ home, his childlike imagination helps to add layers to the environment as you explore the more sandbox environment.
What this mini-story shows best is how deftly Dontnod can handle a difficult subject. From the outside looking in, Chris is a child with an active imagination that’s often painted onto what he’s doing by the game. Activating his super powers with the left trigger and putting on Captain Awesome’s cape cues dramatic camera angles, elsewhere power invisibly emanates from his open hand to make a log burn more vividly in the furnace, and he can even be transported to entirely different worlds when, for example, venturing into the dark room that houses the ‘Water Eater’ – that’s the boiler to you and me.
However, it’s quite apparent that he’s imagining all this because of his environment, having recently moved between states and lost touch with his friends from school. Looking at a trophy on his cabinet prompts him to talk about wishing he could play baseball once more, but he’s now living in Portland in the middle of winter and doesn’t seem to have managed to make many friends at school. Of course he’s going to retreat into his fictional world, playing with toys and hiding away in his treehouse.
Then we meet his dad, Charles, at the breakfast table. At first, he’s just a single dad who’s now trying to learn how best to look after his son on his own, but then he picks up a beer can. He’s a drunk and he’d much rather watch the basketball on the TV and fill out his stats book while draining a bottle of whiskey, sinking deeper into his own fantasy world instead of facing his personal demons. He might have promised that they’d go and buy a Christmas tree after the game, but it’s obvious that’s never going to happen.
Suddenly it throws Chris’ character and his creation of Captain Spirit into a different light – the lyrics of Sufjan Stevens’ Death With Dignity also take on more meaning. Now it makes sense in a very different way why he descends into his imagined world, but this troubled domestic life is portrayed in a more subdued, less sensationalised fashion than we’ve seen elsewhere. It’s clear that there’s domestic abuse here, with bruises up Chris’ forearm, but we view this through the child’s eyes. He’s basically left alone to go and explore the house, to play or, as I did, do household chores. You’re loosely led by a list of potential activities, such as constructing all the parts of Captain Spirit’s outfit or going to confront Mantroid on his homeworld.
As you dig into the various nooks and crannies, you’re given the freedom to explore as much or as little of house as you want, finding letters, comics and more that flesh out the world and the family’s story. You discover what happened to Chris’ mother, about who Charles used to be before he became a layabout drunk, find teasing ways in which this scenario connects back to Arcadia Bay and how it could lead into Life Is Strange 2.
Really this is all about character creation and world building, but there’s also a distinct maturity to the way that it handles and portrays domestic abuse. There’s none of the hyperactive sensationalist action of Detroit: Become Human’s infamous scene, but a nuance and depth to the extent that I instinctively found myself defending or covering for Charles’ abuse when given the choice.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is light on actual awesome adventuring, but it certainly has the spirit of Life Is Strange throughout and shows a notable maturity and nuance in its depiction of a troubled household.
Version tested: PlayStation 4
Also available on Xbox One and PC