At Microsoft’s E3 presentation, amidst the farefare of new Halos and Fallouts, the company introduced the latest from French, indie developer DONTNOD: The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. While the trailer didn’t give too much away about the game’s plot and where it fit with previous titles, the game was eventually revealed to be a free prequel to the forthcoming second entry to the studios hit Life is Strange. Yesterday, Spirit dropped across multiple gaming platforms, and while it isn’t the first instance of playable father/son relationships that I’ve taken up this year, it certainly managed to grab my interest, albeit for very different reasons.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit puts players in the shoes of Chris Eriksen, a boy living in Beaver Creek, OR with his father after the untimely passing of his mother. Chris is at an age where he is intelligent and perceptive enough to understand and even embrace the grim realities of life with a dad barely holding it together enough to provide for his child, but still in possession of a strong enough imagination to escape these truths via an intricate fantasy world of his own creation. At the center of this protective make-believe is Chris’s super-powered alter-ego Captain Spirit; a customizable hero who can bend any and all matter to his will.
In its initial presentation, it isn’t hard to imagine Chris and his surroundings fitting into DONTNOD’s Life is Strange universe. Both the game’s beginning credits and cutscenes are interspersed with wide shots of captivating landscapes and the gentle thrum of acoustic melodies, much in the way that Strange made time for interludes between plot developments. Also present is a palpable undercurrent of adult-driven melancholy — and even danger. For all of Chris’s wild imaginings and curious explorations, the harsh truths of the real world are still undeniably present: his mother’s death, as well as his father’s resultant alcoholism and aggression that often place Chris in a position of caring for the both of them well ahead of his time. The narrative, a choose-your-own-path-style snapshot of a Saturday in the boy’s life, isn’t all morose drudgery, but tragedy often peeks through the cracks of his solitary play.
As far as actual game mechanics go, Spirit isn’t all that different from others of its genre, with a heavy emphasis un-timed choices and optional environment exploration. Because the game play takes place from the point of view of a child, the fonts of the game directions are brighter, and certain areas of the map take on more colorful and even fanciful tones than others. For example, when delving into areas that are unknown or even scary to Chris, the scenery takes on a surreal quality that is almost alien in nature, and only reverts to something more recognizable once it has been conquered. In a similar vein, players are given the option to alter reality with Captain Spirit’s matter-twisting abilities, though only through a series of clever misdirects and shaky camera angles that are more a nod to DONTNOD’s previous supernatural leanings more than anything else.
As a short, one-chapter prequel to the next entry in the Life is Strange anthology, Chris’s awesome adventures don’t take very long to navigate. A cursory (though not entirely negligent) play-through took me a little over an hour and a half to finish, and probably wouldn’t stretch much longer given a more detailed run. However, even at its most bite-sized, it managed to be more than enough to have me both rooting for Chris and fearing for the innocence his circumstances are constantly threatening, and in endearing me to its precocious protagonist, Spirit also accomplished something I hardly thought possible. Somehow, I am even more excited for Life is Strange season two, and I can’t wait to see what role Chris will play in all of it.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is available to download for free on the Playstation and Microsoft Stores, as well as Steam.
4 out of 5 Hotdog Men