“Life is Strange” fans have said their goodbyes to Max, Chloe, and Arcadia Bay. Now, Dontnod is looking ahead to the next chapter in the series. To set the table for the upcoming “Life is Strange 2” reveal, Square Enix is offering up a free story, “The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit,” for free.
The single episode experience takes players to Beaver Creek, Oregon. The series isn’t leaving the Pacific Northwest, but it is shifting gears. Instead of starring a teenage girl, the titular “Captain Spirit” is a 10-year-old boy named Chris with a perfectly appropriate imagination.
As players meet Chris, they’ll help him design his Captain Spirit costume to fight the likes of imaginary beasts (like the “Water Eater” in the basement) and supervillains. Dontnod is taking this interlude to update its technology. “Life is Strange” was built in Unreal Engine 3, while “Captain Spirit” and “Life is Strange 2” use Unreal Engine 4.
The update is noticeable, but “Captain Spirit” retains everything that made both “Life is Strange” and its Deck9-developed prequel stand out. The art style, character design, and music all fit what players have come to expect.
Dontnod has worked to make dialog more natural. Players can now respond in some instances while moving. In the demo, this was on display as Chris’ father, Charles, called to him from upstairs. Players can choose to respond or ignore all while continuing to explore.
“We wanted to improve the feeling of answering someone,” says co-creative director Raoul Barbet. “It was interesting to us to have the feeling for the player to walk with someone near me and they can answer or not.”
Chris can also use his Captain Spirit “powers” as a different way to interact with objects in the environment. For instance, he’ll hold out his hand to turn the television on. The way the shot is framed, you can’t see the remote control in his other hand until after the TV is blaring static. This kind of visual trickery helps players buy into the illusion that Chris has mysterious powers.
“Captain Spirit” exists in a dual world. One is composed of a child’s fanciful daydreams. The other is the unforgiving real world in which Chris’ mother is out of the picture and his father is drinking before breakfast because it’s “game day.”
Another big change is the inclusion of a quest system. As Captain Spirit, Chris will have a number of objectives to undertake. However, some of them are optional.
In the demo, Chris is scared of entering the basement. However, he needs to reset the water heater. Once in the basement, the scene changes to show Chris square off against the fearsome Water Eater. Once he’s defeated the “monster,” the scene reverts back to the real world. The way Dontnod plays with the setting helps sell the idea that players are in a young boy’s shoes.
It’s as yet unclear how “Captain Spirit” connects to “Life is Strange” or its sequel. There are small nods, including a letter in Chris’ garage from Blackwell Academy, a school in “Life is Strange’s” Arcadia Bay. Dontnod has also told us that choices made in “Captain Spirit” will affect “Life is Strange 2.”
Regardless of how these three games connect, don’t expect there to be references to the Deck9-developed “Before the Storm.”
“I haven’t played ‘Before the Storm,’” Barbet tells Variety. “Square Enix owns ‘Life is Strange.’ They decided to work with Deck9.”
What we can expect is that Dontnod will tackle challenging subjects. “Life is Strange’s” most poignant moment occurs when players attempt to stop a classmate from taking her own life. Depending on what you’ve done up to that point and the dialog choices you make, you might be successful.
“It was a difficult scene to write and design,” Barbet says. “It was something you don’t really want to gamify. To gamify these choices… there’s a red line you don’t want to cross. You want the player to really feel this moment and to be responsible for this moment. Don’t forget that you are responsible for your choices. This scene was key for that. You always want more time to add dialog or animation. I think we could have improved a lot of things, but I’m happy with the result knowing what time we had and the team to do it. I think we showed respect for the subject.”
Barbet has wrestled with how to communicate how Chris and his father deal with their own struggles. It’s clear from the demo that Charles hasn’t adapted to being a single parent, but the underlying issues are as yet unclear.
“We try to be respectful with the subjects we decided to talk about,” Barbet explains. “We talked about the difficulties of being a teenager and the pressures. We wanted to do it in the right way. Having feedback from the players let us know that we have to be careful, as this is interactive. It can move people even more than a movie or other passive media, as you are an actor. When we began to work on ‘Captain Spirit,’ we thought about how we would deal with the difficulties of a kid and his father. As a kid, you want to use your imagination to explore new worlds or get rid of reality when it’s difficult.”
Based on the first look, “The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit” appears to capture what made “Life is Strange” so wonderful. It’s a formula that includes both whimsy and sadness, moving effortless between them and even blending the two as appropriate.
“Captain Spirit” debuts on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on June 26 for free. More information about “Life is Strange 2” will be announced in the coming months.