Life Is Strange 2 remains shrouded in mystery, but Dontnod’s free, downloadable prequel-of-sorts, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, gives us our first taste of what we might expect from the sequel. And even with its brief running time, differing perspective and vague conclusion, Captain Spirit suggests that the next Life Is Strange game will be even more gorgeous and fantastical than before.
[Warning: Full details about the plot of Captain Spirit are below. But the game is both free and short enough to finish in one sitting, so you can go play it and then come back here!]
Those are the most defining factors of Captain Spirit, and that’s clear from the start. Set to the devastating “Death With Dignity” by Sufjan Stevens, the opening scene introduces us to superhero-obsessed elementary schooler Chris, whose imagination extends beyond his action figure collection. Chris believes that he’s a superhero, Captain Spirit, who has telekinetic powers that allow him to summon objects with just his mind and outstretched hand. (It’s clear that these moves are a slight of hand, but his obsession with being his own hero consumes him.)
All of these fantasy powers are revealed to be a coping mechanism. In Chris’ real life, he’s a kid with an alcoholic dad still reeling from his wife’s death. It’s clear that Chris is still in mourning — but the game is also a lovely reminder that we each grieve in our own ways. Example: Captain Spirit’s archnemesis is named Mantroid, which we discover through our own reading and investigating refers to the cross-streets where Chris’ mom died. And a lot of the game’s discoveries are like that; this game is not the heavily dialogue- and choice-based one that the first Life Is Strange is. Chris stays mostly inside his own head, letting us piece together his backstory on our own.
The best scenes, though, are the superhero fights against appliances-turned-monsters. These are beautifully shot and composed scenes, hinting at Chris’ tacit loneliness. These enemies aren’t real, but they feel real, and he doesn’t know how to really get away from them.
It’s crucial that Chris is a youngin’ who’s into himself; otherwise, the game could easily tip toward a maudlin, melodramatic direction. Instead, Captain Spirit keeps the consequences of Mom’s death and Dad’s downward spiral in the background. Where Life Is Strange sometimes leaned too hard into its heady themes, Captain Spirit cuts off just before it has the chance to become a heavy-handed story about childhood abuse.
That subtlety trickles down to what is the game’s primary appeal to Life is Strange fans, however. While there’s already speculation on how Chris’ story will tie into Life Is Strange 2 — the game ends with a “To be continued” after all — it seems like Captain Spirit is more similar in tone to the other games, not directly connected to them. (There are a handful of references to the earlier games, but that’s it.) But expect Chris to return with Episode One this fall, and don’t be surprised if he brings his beautiful, heartbreaking inner world along with him.