The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is a free first glimpse into the extended universe of Life Is Strange 2, which is set to debut later this year. Starring a 10-year-old named Chris several years after the events in Arcadia Bay, the entire episode takes place during a lazy Saturday morning several miles away in a new town named Beaver Creek. With original developer DONTNOD back at the helm, the adventure once again leans heavily on environmental storytelling and dialogue trees, as you piece together the youngster’s life story thus far – and begin to uncover some unsavoury truths.
Without spoiling too much, the episode toes the trademark Life Is Strange line of balancing the optimism of youth with the realities of growing older. Chris’ mother has recently passed away, and his father (a former NBA prospect) has turned to alcohol to cope with the cards that life has dealt him. The boy’s relationship with his clearly abusive widowed parent makes for difficult viewing; it’s a dynamic that swings recklessly (and regularly) between unconditional love and heartbreaking resentment.
Of course, the entire episode is viewed through the lens of Chris – a clever and resourceful individual who knows how to deal with his Dad’s temper and also uses his imagination as escapism. This is where Captain Spirit comes in: a fictional superhero that the boy’s invented, and who permeates his every thought. There are scribbles of the character littered all around the house, and various other toys and objects represent supervillains and allies. All of them can be interacted with to further the story.
It’s a wonderful snapshot of how a child’s mind works: the house’s boiler represents a water monster, which Captain Spirit must slaughter by switching it off; there’s a snowman in the backyard, his spiked hair constructed out of cigarette butts and bottle tops. You start your Saturday morning with a list of ‘Awesome Things to Do’, and it’s then down to you to explore and tick everything off one by one, filling in Chris’ backstory along the way. The small set is densely packed, and you’ll easily get a couple of hours out of the short story – if not more.
DONTNOD has definitely not lost its touch; despite the absence of franchise favourite characters like Max and Chloe, you can “feel” the Life Is Strange in this short story – the jangly folk soundtrack, the heavy subject matter bubbling beneath the surface, the intricately detailed backdrops. While the explorable environment may not be massive, every inch of it feels like it has a purpose; there’s a voyeuristic appeal to the episode, with the lives of a troubled family laid out before you if you’re willing to look.
But you do have to dig for it; there’s really nothing to this short story if you’re not willing to look. Dialogue is kept to a minimum and most of the content is completely optional – it’s more walking simulator than this series has ever been. Which is fine if you care to search for all of the secrets that Chris’ house harbours, but if you’re not feeling it from the offset, then it’s unbelievably easy to gloss over the episode’s good bits.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit thoughtfully examines a troubled childhood through the eyes of the 10-year-old living it. This non-linear episode encourages you to explore, refraining from beating you over the head with its difficult subject matter. It’s building into something, and it’s hard to determine exactly what that is with DONTNOD being so coy about its plans for the sequel. You need to really dig into the experience to get anything out of it, and while we found the backstories of the small cast to be well thought out, it’s hard to know what purpose they will serve yet.