The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit was a welcome surprise in the deluge of E3 announcements this year. We knew Life is Strange 2 was coming since last May, and after the perfectly fine but forgettable Before the Storm from Deck Nine, it’s comforting to see Dontnod back at it. Even if it is a tiny little aside like this, they’ve managed to pack in all the things you love of their emotional machinations into a taut, two-hour fist to the gut.
It uses the core of what they explored in Arcadia Bay with Max and Chloe and twists it into a new perspective. At first glance, things look to be like a raw distillation of the accompanying Sufjan Stevens track: tender, saccharine, and aggressively indie-facing. Chris Erikson, a ten-year-old boy living with his father in Oregon, is starting his wintery Saturday morning with his action figures and a mission to save the galaxy.
His imagination is a bit bigger than his little plastic friends, though, as he also imaginations himself one of these heroes as Captain Spirit. His telekinesis powers put him at the top of the food chain, and when we first see him play out a scene, we are given a glimpse at the awareness of this game. We are given all the reason to think, you see, that Chris actually possesses the power.
But the shot then turns and reveals it as a trick of the framing of the shot. It’s the perfect little wink to the audience, telling them that the studio knows the biggest question everyone has about the next Life is Strange. And it’s not a definitive answer, either; it’s simply the exact right way to push that quandary out of the player’s head and let them focus on the story. (I will say, though, that by the end, you will understand how this game fits into the Life is Strange universe.)
It’s quite the story, too. Chris’ mother isn’t around—and you’ll find out why if you poke around—and it has driven both him and his father Charles to cope in different ways. And this, aside from succinctly capturing in that distinct Dontnod way how most of us spent our Saturday mornings as kids, is how Chris handles it. Layer by layer, you’ll peel back why this is more to him than just playing pretend.
You also find out how Charles adjusts to this gutted life, and it’s far from ideal. As he prepares breakfast for himself and his child, he’s already drinking. And as the conversation unfolds, it’s apparent this is a common occurrence. Things are put off because of it: laundry, employment, even buying a Christmas tree. It’s a dark, strained relationship that is handled remarkably well.
It colors this family is a rare light for media, one where the entire spectrum of abuse isn’t always straightforward. Especially in the light of modern culture (read: Chloe Dykstra’s post on Medium), it’s vital that people recognize that alongside grief emerging in ways often unique to the person experiencing it, abuse takes all forms. Charles looks on the outset like he could be a fantastic father—heck, maybe he was—and when it’s your father that gives that facade, it’s hard to push back and not simply accept it.
But this isn’t even the most prominent component of the short story. It’s vital, yes, but it’s just a part of the tapestry, woven by the heartbreaking, the sweet, and the everyday in Chris’ life. The mundane is filled with subtext of the ways he constructs his existence around the compromises he has to make—compromises no child should have to make. From confronting the water heater to listening to old records, it’s remarkable how much emotion each otherwise unremarkable action contains.
Don’t mistake this as a substantial journey through another whirlwind existence like with Max Caulfield. But also don’t mistake this as a throwaway freebie. It does what the best short stories do; it spins a brief but captivating thread that sucks you in exponentially deeper and harder with each word and each scene. If you’re looking for two hours of exceptional storytelling, then look no further than The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit.