As Chris, the protagonist of The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, enters a fantastical dark realm of his imagination, he looks around the vast and ominous land, empty of any life. “How could anyone live here,” he wonders. “It’s kind of sad and lonely.”
This two-hour mini-episode - which is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC for free - is a deeply emotional glimpse into the sad and lonely life of Chris and his family. Despite its short length, the episode’s poignant writing marks a strong starting point for the narrative that is to come in Life is Strange 2. Just like the past entries in the series, it expertly tackles complex everyday subjects like death, alcoholism, escapism, courage, and identity with depth and heart. However, it’s how the level of maturity the writing possesses in exploring these topics juxtaposes Chris’ innocence as a child that makes this particular episode feel special and worth your time even if you haven’t played past entries.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit focuses on a new character in the series, a little boy named Chris who lives with his father. His father is an alcoholic, still struggling with the death of Chris’ mother and finding solace in addiction. Chris’ source of escapism from his lonely real life is an imaginary world in which he is a hero named Captain Spirit. Through this persona, he makes the mundane seem extraordinary: He pretends he can turn on the TV with his superpowers (he’s just using the remote control); he sees the house’s water heater as a sinister monster named “the Water Eater” that he defeats in order to bring warmth amidst the winter chill (he’s just turning the thing on); and he sticks a firecracker into the Snowman (which he built in the first place) in the house’s backyard, “exploding” it and saving others from its icy terror.
It’s all endearing and heartwarming, making you smile from ear to ear - perhaps all the more because these are the moments in which Chris is able to feel like a “normal” kid, one who doesn’t have to deal with the absence of his mother and the abuse of his father. The writing handles the complexity of his abusive father with the nuance his character deserves: his father has an addiction problem, but it’s clear that it’s from a place of pain, and he struggles to balance it with being a good father to Chris. He asks Chris about the bruises on his arm, clearly feeling guilty over having inflicted them. He cooks Chris breakfast while knowing his food can’t compare to that of Chris’ mom, and drinks from a third can of beer for his own breakfast.
Despite her absence, Chris’ mom feels present throughout the entire episode through references, photographs, drawings, and mementos, making her feel like a proper character instead of a plot device that serves the characters of Chris and his father. While the events of the episode show how Chris’ father affects him, much of the exploration of the items around Chris’ home focuses on the effects of Chris’ mom in their lives. Chris loves art, reading comic books, singing to Frozen, playing with dolls as much as with action figures -- all things he clearly gets from his mother. There are nods to past entries that will get fans excited to speculate, sure, but more importantly, all the small ways that create a frame for her character make this usage of the dead mother trope feel a bit more refreshing.
Just as the narrative doesn’t depict Chris’ father as a screaming alcoholic nor as a father without real and concerning flaws, it doesn’t treat the amusing and thrilling scenes of Chris as Captain Spirit as separate from the scenes in his everyday life as a child who cannot imagine his pain away. The narrative of The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit excels because it weaves these dualities together to create a powerful vignette in the universe of Life is Strange.
The small sections of gameplay have never been the strong aspects of Life is Strange games, and just as before, they can be fun but are practically unnecessary. It’s the inclusion of a tranquil and emotionally evocative soundtrack, a color palette that amplifies the specific moods of each setting that represents different themes, and superb voice acting, that makes it impossible to not love or be emotionally touched by this episode.
Like with past entries, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit shines brilliantly when it focuses on its story. This episode is as saddening as it is charming, and it balances the two magnificently while making sure to include moments of suspense and mystery. While past Life is Strange episodes were criticized for jarring dialogue, the dialogue here matches with Chris’ character and personality perfectly, already establishing a new (extremely) likable character in this universe. Despite being a bit of a standalone episode, this has to be one of my favorites in the entire series. In just two hours, DONTNOD Entertainment succeeded in making me already invested in Chris and his family’s story. If I was already excited for Life is Strange 2, I’m looking forward to it even more now.
Versions tested: PC