Who knew that a nine-year-old could steal the attention of gamers that grew up on Grand Theft Auto and The Last of Us? Well, Captain Spirit certainly has enamored a few of us here.
After the Life is Strange saga, DONTNOD earned our undivided attention. Perhaps aware of this position of strength, the Paris studio is now testing the boundaries of what its audience expects, while offering the kind of fan service that even the fans didn’t know they wanted. Whether we were keen for it or not, we’ve certainly come to appreciate The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.
We eagerly dove into the ramshackle house of little Chris Eriksen over the weekend, hungry for clues linking to Arcadia Bay. Can’t say we’ve found an awful lot in that area, but what we have been assured of is the great poise that DONTNOD exhibits through its games.
In search of Max
A quick recap for those of you a little on the outside of the Life is Strange/DONTNOD furor: it’s been over three years since gamers became acquainted with the dark and mysterious, yet equally warm and fuzzy escapades of Max Caulfield and college dropout pal Chloe Price.
The story of Life is Strange is a true once-in-a-generation experience that caught everybody we know off-guard. If you haven’t played it, we highly recommend doing so. Point is, there’s a ton of excitement surrounding this year’s sequel. And, since the LiS series has attracted an army of super fans, it’s fair to say the creators can afford to be playful - even a real tease - with the unveiling of this follow-up. Instead of the usual trailers and VidDocs, we’ve been handed a unique demo that showcases the tech driving Life is Strange 2 while relating its own story.
Without spoiling the experience in any way, the first thing we really need to advise series fans is that there doesn’t appear to be a whole lot to grab hold of in Captain Spirit if hunting for clues relating to Max and co. is your main reason for checking in at the door. There are some cool Easter Eggs (a book by a certain author, references here and there to Blackwell), but otherwise this is more of an insight into DONTNOD’s new way of manipulating our feelings.
Tire tracks and snow tracks
In between the minimalist, 20-second backpack trailer for Life is Strange 2 and the (roughly) two-hour experience that Captain Spirit offers, more questions are raised than answered. Regarding the trailer, the only thing we have to work with is an embroidered backpack that has seen better days. Possibly there’s also something meaningful about an undeveloped polaroid snap sitting behind the word ‘in’ within the logo. That’s really all we get to work with.
DONTNOD has shared that Life is Strange 2 takes place three years after the supernatural events that permanently shaped our memories of Arcadia Bay. Also, we have been told to expect a new ensemble cast as well as a new location. Max Caulfield could well have hit the road, almost certainly without the companionship of Chloe Price, since making that tough choice between a beautiful friendship and the innocent township. Whatever the player decided has an impact on the world of Life is Strange 2, but DONTNOD says it has no major significance.
By far the most tantalizing tidbit of information leaked is that LiS 2 features more than one super-powered protagonist. And this is where Chris Eriksen becomes a person of interest.
Broken swings and heart strings
Again, without spoiling the closing seconds of Captain Spirit, there is a question left hanging that may point to Life is Strange 2. It’s a magical event, wonderfully woven into the world of our child hero Chris, whose daydreaming adventures we are hired to assist. The peculiar thing about it is that the revelation may not concern Chris at all. Not directly.
Life is Strange was a very intimate, securely navigated experience of a teenage girl at the center of both real and metaphysical storms. We focused very intently on what was laid before Max Caulfield, and her inquiring camera lens. With Captain Spirit, the perspective seems to be much wider, taking into account broader scenarios involving onlookers that may or may not be essential to the plot. There’s so much incidental detail providing the backdrop that the story itself creeps up on you. We’re lured into premature conclusions, thinking we’ve everything and everybody figured out, before being emotionally sideswiped.
With Max in Life is Strange, one specific puzzle linked into the next, and we could rewind if the outcome proved unsatisfactory. The meandering approach of Captain Spirit allows the personalities of Chris and his father to emerge more naturally, as a life observation rather than pure gameplay mechanics. We can drift into casual conversations that may not affect an outcome, but do affect the mood. We dabble an awful lot more with everyday objects. So, when the time comes for events to become out-of-the ordinary, it can be electrifying.
The true spirit of play
It has been so interesting watching others play through the same encounters, rushing to different judgements that affect later assessments of important characters and situations.
If Captain Spirit has impressed us with one thing, it’s how DONTNOD has mastered the art of languishing in the moment, so that the outside world seems frozen in time. It has also raised our expectations for Life is Strange 2 with regards to consequences being wide reaching and deeply affecting, even in moments where we think we’re making carefree choices. Really, nobody does melancholy better than these guys. We’ve never been happier sitting under a cloud!
The first of five episodes for Life is Strange 2 are due for release on September 27 for PlayStation 2, Xbox One and PC. If you’ve jumped into The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, you might want to take a look at one of our many guides.