When a sequel to Life is Strange was announced, many fans of the series speculated just where the series could go. Given the definitiveness of the first game’s ending, venturing back to the same setting and characters would never satisfy everyone. Dontnod has cleverly revealed just how the franchise will continue with a prologue for the upcoming second season titled The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. The eponymous superhero is the creation of young Chris Erikson, a boy dealing with the aftermath of his mother’s death in a car crash that left his father alone to care for Chris. In the fashion true of the series, both light and darkness can be found in this situation, as a complicated portrait of the father, Charles Erikson, is painted: a grieving widower unprepared for single parenthood who finds solace in drink and a former professional basketball player chasing the ghosts of his past, who expresses his anguish in abuse and projection onto his son. A duality exists in this portrayal, as moments of sincere love and care for Chris are tempered with expletive-filled exclamations at the basketball game on the television and increasing consumption of alcohol. Like any imaginative child put into this situation, Chris finds his own solace in Captain Spirit, a persona he can inhabit that does not fear the villains bent on taking him down (led by Mantroid, a clever portmanteau of the names Mantle Street and Asteroid Drive, the intersection where Chris’s mother was killed in a hit-and-run). Through exploring their house and taking on the responsibility of adulthood from Charles, Chris becomes a hero in his own life as well, a crafty way to pull at the heartstrings but also introduce the larger mythos of the upcoming season.
The entire episode plays with the idea of Chris thinking he has superpowers and subtly shows that he may, in fact, have some sort of latent telekinetic power, which comes to a head at the end. What this focus means for the season is unclear, and with Chris’s role in the story to come also unknown, the possibilities are boundless. Even without this reveal, the structure of Chris thinking he is a hero by doing chores around the house and playing out his fantasies as Captain Spirit is quite moving. Charles clearly supports his son’s passion for superheroes, even though a few glib comments about the subject are sprinkled throughout, and, in doing so, shows that he is not the worst father the boy could have. These layers do not condone or excuse the fearsomeness of Charles’s drunken stupor or the verbal abuse turned physical indicated by Chris’s bruised arm. Dontnod takes care to make the situation relatable to any who have experienced a similar upbringing while also not overdramatizing or exploiting the subject. To make the player fear aggravating Charles—of even being in the same room as him—is a masterstroke in immersion, and one that shows the emotional heights of the season’s predecessor can still be reached through a different lens.
References abound to the original story as well, from Chris’s mother attending Blackwell Academy (where the first game is partially set) to a book by Mark Jefferson, Max’s photography teacher. These nods are exciting and show perhaps a deeper connection to the original season than might be expected. Max’s time manipulation is called a superpower by Chloe and could be explained in this game even if Max never does show up. Even if she does, the role she will play is unknown and could be seen as fan service if not handled well. Still, such possibilities are tantalizing, and, if nothing else, they further cement the connection between the two entries. Nevertheless, for fans of the original game, these little nods do a lot to make players feel at home even with a new cast of characters and the familiar mechanics polished and refined.
The technology of the game has caught up to the times, with crisp visuals, smooth transitions, and graphic options even Before the Storm was lacking. This new engine looks to be powerful enough to accommodate the superhero nature inherent to this new season and will go a long way in making the experience worthwhile. At the core, the gameplay and mechanics remain true to the previous series. Players explore the household, commenting on some objects, picking up others, and using them to complete their objectives. The trademark Moments of Calm (scenes where the player idles in one location as music plays and the camera plays with perspective) remain intact, as do puzzles such as solving the padlock code in the garage and unlocking Charles’s cellphone. Short and sweet, enough content is present to whet the appetite left by what made the series so accessible in the first place. Nice touches including the microwave operating in real time, using the phone to call the numbers on a post-it note, and the ability to write in the snowfall outside add to the immersion. The fear of disturbing Charles having learned his temper and unpredictability in such a short amount of time is truly praiseworthy, as is squirming in choosing whether to awkwardly lie or sheepishly admit the truth to nosy neighbor Mrs Reynolds at the end of episode.
In the short amount of time players have to try out the new mechanics and get reacquainted with the old, Dontnod sets up a new story that could be as emotionally resonant as the first game, but in different ways. Given the age difference between Max and Chris, the same exact situations cannot play out, nor should the story be the same. Superheroes are as popular in the gestalt as ever, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and The Incredibles 2 to My Hero Academia and One Punch Man. The unique chance to tell a compelling adult story from the point of view of a child—one who may have superpowers at that—is oh so delightful, and if anyone is up to the task of taking what is popular and familiar and subverting expectations to craft something raw and beautiful, Dontnod has that locked down.