LOS ANGELES – At E3 2018, Square Enix went to great lengths to highlight three games from Western developers: Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Just Cause 4 and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Shadow of the Tomb Raider pretty much speaks for itself (Lara explores ruins and fights bad guys; it's fun), the other two games paint an unusual – and intriguing – picture of Square Enix overall. An over-the-top, open-world, big budget action game and a whimsical, short, free adventure game suggest that the company wants to provide something for everyone.
I saw hands-off gameplay demos for both Just Cause 4 and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit at E3 2018, and the contrast between the two games is striking. Just Cause 4 is all about causing as much mayhem and destruction as possible on a national scale; The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is about using childhood imagination as a coping mechanism for loss. In the past, it seems like Just Cause 4 would have taken center stage and Captain Spirit would have gotten its own little booth off in the corner. But Square Enix appears to be taking each game, and each's game audience, very seriously.
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Just Cause 4 is the more approachable game of the two, from a traditional gameplay perspective. The game takes place in the fictional South American country of Solis: a large and varied land, full of rainforests, mountains, deserts and cities. Rico, a soldier of fortune who finds himself overthrowing corrupt banana republic dictators on a fairly regular basis, glides around with a parachute and a wingsuit, wreaking havoc and overthrowing evil militias with guns, explosives and improved weaponry. (By using balloons, repulsors and electricity, he at one point during the demo transformed a crane and a cargo container into a whirling dervish of destruction.)
All of this is fairly familiar territory for the Just Cause series. Where JC4 distinguishes itself is in its weather system. The weather in Solis is constantly changing, and subject to extreme conditions. In one level, Rico had to redirect a tornado by destroying four gigantic "wind cannons" (just roll with it; the game clearly does). By taking advantage of the tornado's procedural destructive power, Rico could glide on its currents, use it to wipe out enemies or simply watch as it gobbled up trees, cars and entire airplanes. It was quite a sight to behold, and it definitely has some potential for fun, emergent gameplay. (Rico destroyed the last wind cannon with the tornado itself, for a bit of poetic irony.)
On the other hand, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is a small, quiet game that counts on emotional resonance rather than frenetic gameplay. This game takes place in the Life Is Strange universe. As such, it uses slightly cartoonish graphics and a mild layer of fantasy to explore slice-of-life issues like friendship and family.
In this case, the game centers on Chris: a nine-year-old boy with an incredible imagination, but not many friends. Having recently lost his mom, Chris retreats into an imaginative adventure where he becomes Captain Spirit: a superhero with the ability to control matter. The game divides its time between wandering around Chris's house and inhabiting Captain Spirit's comic-book world.
Dialogue and exploration take center stage here. Chris can choose how to interact with his well-meaning but distant dad, who clearly loves Chris, but would rather watch basketball than spend a Saturday with his son. As such, Chris entertains himself, taking on "quests" from a hand-drawn list. You can choose how Chris designs Captain Spirit's costume (Helmet or mask? Light or heavy armor? What color scheme?), as well as how he confronts foes like the Water Eater (a malfunctioning water boiler) or the Snowmancer (a snowman outside). Gameplay is mostly just pointing and clicking; you can't die, or fail, or have a huge impact on the world around you.
I don't know if I'll wind up playing either Just Cause 4 or The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, but I'm very glad they were both on display. Gaming isn't a monolithic hobby; there's a place in mainstream gaming for both enormous battle simulators and understated everyday drama. Just Cause 4 will cost $60 and come out on December 4; The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit will be free, and come out on June 26. Both titles will be available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.