If you were watching the Microsoft E3 Press Conference, surely you know I promptly lost my shit when the Life is Strange music started playing and DONTNOD’s logo showed up on the big screen (sorry for shaking you uncontrollably, Harry). And then after the trailer, they had the audacity to hit me with the “it’s 100% free”? Sign me the hell up.
In a presentation hosted by Square Enix at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California earlier this month, we got to meet with producer Luc Baghadoust and writer Christian Divine to see what DONTNOD had in store. Well, they had more than just a demo for Captain Spirit: they opened up with telling us The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit would not only be a free game, but it would take place in the same universe (and timeline) as the previous titles, and your choices will carry into Life is Strange 2. Yes, you heard me, Life is Strange 2.
Captain Spirit takes place in a town called Beaver Creek, which is also in Oregon like Arcadia Bay. It’s a little nothing town out in the middle of nowhere, and your new protagonist is a nine-year-old boy named Chris – a lonely kid with a wild imagination. As Luc said in the E3 presentation, you don’t have to play Life is Strange or Before the Storm to play and understand Captain Spirit, but you’ll clue in on some cool easter eggs if you do. The game is totally free to reward fans of the series and in hopes of bringing newcomers in and encouraging them to pick up previous titles.
[alert type=”blue”]Now, much like the previous Life is Strange games, and even Detroit: Become Human, Captain Spirit is a game based on choice, with a flexible storyline. To keep it as spoiler-free as possible, I’ll take you through each of the categories we at The Koalition rate our games on: story, graphics, gameplay, sound, and value.[/alert]
This is actually a very difficult story to grade, for a multitude of reasons. First of all, it’s at maximum, a three-hour game. Secondly, its purpose is to be vague and keep you guessing as to what is going on, and what Life is Strange 2 is going to be about. I completed all but one task in Captain Spirit, and at the end of it all, I thought “what the shit? What could the next game POSSIBLY be about?” So, disgruntled with my inability to come up with some sort of theory on what story the next game will tell, I went to sleep.
Promptly at five in the morning, I shot out of bed – I was ironically dreaming about the game – knowing exactly what my theory on the story was. Having just (finally) completed Life is Strange: Before the Storm and starting a new playthrough of Life is Strange, overall themes of both titles were fresh in my mind. I am very confident in my theory and will share it in a few weeks time in a separate post. I want to give people as much time as possible to play it and come up with theories themselves.
Taking those factors into consideration, the short freebie still has a heavy narrative. Despite being more of a sandbox title than the last two, it doesn’t lack the emotion and storytelling we’re familiar with. Captain Spirit has a lot of possible hints at the next game’s story. We were told that some hints were totally red herrings, and others were actual peaks into the Life is Strange 2 story. This is to give the players freedom of coming up with their own theories with as much evidence as possible.
The game encourages you to explore, read all the things you find in the environment, all while pulling you in to further explore the universe’s lore. Captain Spirit had a purpose, and its purpose was served. Without spoiling too much, prepare for all the feels. Captain Spirit can really hit home for anyone who has experienced loss, poverty, and hardships with their parents, to name a few. The last scene especially (I’m not saying a word!) hit home for me.
Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm were both developed in Unreal 3. Captain Spirit got an upgrade to Unreal 4, and even though the franchise has a very artsy aesthetic that isn’t attempting to be super realistic, the improvements in graphics are very noticeable. Frame rate seems to have improved, mouth movement is much better, and the environments seem to be much more detailed.
The hardwood floors throughout the house had impressive reflections from the light coming in through the windows, the walls of the garage showed believable wear and tear, and Chris’ footprints in the snow seemed to be physically accurate, so to speak. The sequences in Chris’ imagination were also very vibrant and had exquisite detail.
The biggest improvement graphically, however, is the character’s faces. In both Chris and his father, Charles, you really get a sense of emotion with the addition of micro-expressions. When Chris is frustrated with something, his face scrunches up, and his eyebrows angle inwards; it’ll be interesting to see this type of detail when we’re introduced to more characters.
Gameplay in The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit overall felt a lot smoother than other Life is Strange games. In Captain Spirit, there are timed dialogue sequences; you can now encounter a piece of dialogue that you can respond to while still in another action. At the beginning of the game, while Chris is in his room, his father calls out for him to come eat breakfast. You can tell your dad you’re coming, ask for more time, or simply run out of time for a total of three possible responses. Each one of those responses opens up a rather diverse dialogue tree.
The one thing that did frustrate me, however, was how objectives could at times be unclear. One of the optional objectives read as something along the lines of “We have our team of heroes, but we must keep an eye on Mandroid and his team of villains!” This objective had multiple parts to it, and figuring that out took me a little longer than I had expected. While in other Life is Strange games you are given objectives with clear descriptions, these are written in more of a narrative sense, from Chris’ point of view. While I see where they’re going with this change, I hope things in Life is Strange 2 are clearer to avoid confusion.
Having the ability to really explore without feeling tied down to a linear story was quite enjoyable. I liked having the option to go back and forth between areas on my own accord. In previous titles, you were bound to whichever area the story had brought you to. For example, any time you went to the dorms in Life is Strange, once you were in, you couldn’t go back out with confidence until you completed everything. Once you left the dorms, that was it, that visit was over. I would have loved having the option of going back and forth just for the sake of further exploring areas. If this is going to be a continuing trend in Life is Strange 2, I am all for it.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is definitely made to be played multiple times. Based on just the first decision the game opens up with, there are multiple possibilities and dialogue options for a scene later on. It may be a short game, but I feel like it will definitely take a couple more completions to unveil everything it has to offer.
One of my favorite parts of any Life is Strange title is the music. The original game had songs from alt-J, Foals, and Breton, to name a few. Before the Storm also had a fantastic soundtrack with most of the tracks by the indie band Daughter, and featuring tracks from other popular artists such as Brood. The soundtrack for this game was no less impressive and still fit with the franchise’s aesthetic.
My only gripe with the soundtrack and this is honestly just me being selfish, is that there were only two songs throughout the game. Now, it’s a free, two-hour title, so I should be grateful for getting any sort of licensed music at all. While Sufjan Stevens’ “Death with Dignity” is a great song, it was used frequently. There is another song used briefly in the game, but I am not sure what song it is. Having a mode to maybe playback through songs from previous soundtracks (much like the “remix mode” in Before the Storm) would have personally been a cherry on top for me.
You may notice I gave The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit a 100 in the value department. The game is free, offers benefits to Life is Strange 2 when it releases this September and has something for fans and those who are new to the franchise. There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t pick this title up, especially if you enjoyed the previous titles.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit will be releasing on Tuesday, June 26th, 2018 on PC (Steam), Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and will cost nothing. DONTNOD and Square Enix have confirmed the game will stay free “forever.”
This review of The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit was conducted on the Xbox One with an early access code provided by Square Enix.