Dontnod Entertainment have certainly been busy of late. This year so far they’ve released a full game, this free prequel episode, and announced two further games, one of which comes later this year. They’ve certainly come a long way since their 2013 debut, the interesting yet forgettable Remember Me.
Announced at E3, Captain Spirit is a free prequel to Life is Strange 2 (the first episode of which releases in September). Although with no real knowledge of what the Life Is Strange sequel is about, it’s hard to determine how it will follow on, other than that the Captain Spirit lead character Chris is confirmed to appear somehow.
Despite being a fan of Dontnod’s previous work, the reveal trailer for the game did seem incredibly twee, with Chris imagining a world where he is the superhero Captain Spirit. I did worry that the dialogue and writing would be absolutely insufferable. Thankfully it’s the complete opposite. While there are moments where you think ‘that’s not what a kid would say/do’, these moments were also present in the first Life is Strange. Like that game, you’re able to look past these infrequent inconsistencies with the dialogue. However, what you can’t look past is some of the incredibly obtuse puzzles you’ll encounter.
The game (or you could call it a demo) all plays out in Chris’ house and garden area. If you hit the touchpad you’re given a checklist of things to accomplish before the story progresses and the game ends. A lot of the descriptions come from Chris’ overactive imagination – from fighting a water monster (help fix the boiler) to travelling to an alien planet in a spaceship (his dad’s car). Some of the puzzles to complete the tasks are straightforward and require nothing more than investigating the environment while others require hilarious leaps of logic, none more than finding the PIN code for your Dad’s phone.
Although there are numerous letters around the house detailing important dates in your Dad’s life, the PIN code is none of these. If you don’t want to know the answer to this ridiculous puzzle then stop reading this paragraph and if you manage to figure it out on your own then I tip my hat to you. The answer? “Hawtdog”. How and why? Well it’s a mascot-like character that appears during the game and you need to spell that out as you would by typing in the numbers on a mobile phone. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a keypad with letters on them I had to look it up online. I would love to know the designers’ reason for this code as opposed to, I don’t know, Chris or his mother’s birthdays.
There was another numeric puzzle as well which I also had to look up the answer to. It had a more sensible solution but after the last one I had pretty much lost my patience with some of the puzzles at this point.
Despite the reveal trailers’ tone, Captain Spirit certainly goes places. Child abuse and alcoholism are prominent story beats, and these are areas that should be approached carefully. Now I have never experienced child abuse or alcoholism thankfully so it’s hard for me to comment too much on this part of the story, but from my limited perspective it does seem to handle the subject matter well. Near the start you’re shown bruises that resemble a handprint on Chris’ arm; it never explicitly states what’s going on but it’s pretty obvious, especially when you near the game’s conclusion. I personally found it quite hard to watch/play in certain areas, including the section where they show why your father is a single parent and what happened to your mother.
If the main goal of Captain Spirit was to get me excited for Life is Strange 2 then it is mission accomplished. A few blips aside, I enjoyed spending my time with Chris and the open ending makes me wonder more about Life is Strange 2. There’s a slight hint at what supernatural element might come into play, but with the game spending so much time in the imaginary world Chris creates, who knows what is real and what isn’t? And while it may not convert those who didn’t like the style of gameplay or indie-inspired musical choices of Life is Strange, Captain Spirit is available for free, so you have no excuse not to at least give it a try.