Review | The Captain

Before you reach the title screen you are greeted with static, over which is read the first stanza of the poem ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley, the significance of which is not obvious unless you know the poem, which ends ‘I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.’ A mysterious introduction which sets up what you’re about to experience. 

The Captain is a point-and-click, choose your own adventure set in a truly united year 2200, with space exploration having been a huge success, and free movement possible between planets, Captain Wilmu, a husband, father of two, scientist and trained space shuttle pilot, is well suited for an uncomplicated research mission to Mars, however, when he gets there his space anomaly research subject causes no end of trouble.

You wake up in the cockpit of your craft, and your first task is to reinstate the power to your ship. Unfortunately, the power switch is on the floor above and the elevator needs power to function. This presents a nice tutorial puzzle to familiarise you with the controls and style of the game, and once you’ve regained power the ships computer starts to fill in the story.

The Captain Story
Bad news, captain…

The ship explains that you are no longer on Mars, and that in fact you’ve gone through a wormhole which has whisked you away to another part of the galaxy. It’s OK though, because we can just go back thro….oh, it’s disappeared… and it’ll take just over 43 years to get home… and you don’t have enough fuel. There is, however, a nearby planet with fuel for you to harvest! Hurrah!

Once you use your handy star map to set a course for the planet you can choose to speed up your 18-day journey, or have a wander around the ship. I decided to explore and didn’t really find a lot….there are doors which open but you aren’t able to go through – it seems that functionality is added as and when you need it, rather than being there from the start – and the cargo deck has nothing in it at the moment. So, after a slightly disappointing exploration I hit fast-forward to find out what was awaiting me out in spaaaaace…..

The Captain Starmap
The star map provides an overview of your possible destinations.

Once I reached the mystery planet I had two choices, contact or harvest. Contact heeded no results, so harvest was the only available option…but not until I’d managed to find some oil to lubricate a disturbingly pervy LPV shuttle in the cargo deck to get me there. Again, this was simple little puzzle which was spelled out by the ship’s computer, although the dialogue sequence was a little confusing due to the grammatical mistakes born of English not being the developers’ first language. Still, after LP(ER)V was satisfied I decided to spend a while harvesting enough fuel to get to the next planet on the star map (and back again, just in case).

The Captain Harvest Dialog
Time to harvest some fuel!

This planet presents the first of two types of environment featured in this demo – this one purely for harvesting fuel, which I imagine would also extend to other crucial supplies in a fully-featured game. It also signals the end of the tutorial-driven game play experienced so far. From here it seems like you’re on your own, and free to manage your time as you wish – the master of your fate.

I could have happily spent the rest of my time just harvesting fuel; it’s an oddly relaxing process although I can see it being tedious for some, however, that wouldn’t be particularly useful for this write-up, so I dragged myself away and powered on to the next closest planet. I had a choice of two that weren’t too far away and picked one which housed a space resort and a mysterious artefact that everyone wanted to see! After a funky but oddly out of place music sequence for landing, and some back and forth with my shuttle, I discovered that unfortunately I didn’t have a reservation and couldn’t get any further, so I upped sticks, went back to harvest some more fuel (satisfying) and headed to the other one.

Upon arrival my ship notified me of a distress signal from the planet and of my obligation under starfleet regulations that I had to respond to it (great). So, after trying and failing to make contact with anyone, I decided to land…at which point my shuttle broke and, after some banter with my shuttle (who by this point was actually growing on me in that sort of ‘you’re annoying but kind of funny’ way), my next mission was clear: find a way to fix it.

The Captain shuttle
Success!…Shuttle,, what’s that on the floor?

This is the second type of environment featured in the demo – the point and click puzzle game play. The solution was again, a simple puzzle which accidentally took a turn for the horrific when a frozen man and a meat preparation machine were combined (I don’t want to talk about it!) With a fixed shuttle I jetted off, and was rewarded with an ‘ending screen’ for the planet.

After getting the ending screen, I immediately wanted to see how else it could have played out, so I came back to the title screen, went back in to the game and flew to the same planet. This time, I was presented with a choice of either picking an ending I had already achieved to close off this planet (and ‘prevent repetitive game play’ – brownie points gained for this option) or play again. I played again and picked some different, less meaty, options and gained another ending.

The Captain ending selection
Select a previous ending, or play again?

This is a really nice feature of the game as, I assume by design, you cannot save and continue your adventure in the conventional sense, you must either start a new game (which remembers your actions and already achieved endings but starts from day 0 – although the initial tutorial puzzles are already solved) or reset your game which starts totally from scratch. Choosing an already achieved ending on a planet gives you any items you gained when playing it the first time, and means that you can still progress the game without having to replay content you’ve already completed. The fact that the timer resets back to day 0 allows you to replay planets without being penalised in time spent, however, this feature could be abused if time spent playing is planned to effect later game play and endings.

After collecting a few endings, I headed back to the hotel planet and managed to figure out how to get myself past security and checked in to the resort. This planet presented a series of more complicated puzzles to solve feeling more like a traditional point-and-click adventure, and, I imagine, represent a difficulty level increase that would be continued as you progress though a full game. I spent some time playing through to gain the possible endings here and really enjoyed the way that making certain decisions blocked you from certain parts of the story but gave you different items to take away with you.

The Captain Decision
Hmm, decisions, decisions…

The ultimate goal of the demo is the reach the anomaly which you can see on your starmap. Once you get there, the game fades to credits over what would be the continuing story. You could simply do this by reaching the first harvesting planet, collecting a bunch of fuel and heading straight there, or by hitting as many of the planets on the way as you feel like- it makes no difference in the demo, other than to your time spent. It would be interesting to see if this were the case in a full game – whether or not you could forego any exploration and attempt to reach your goal in the shortest amount of time possible, or whether you would be required to complete certain puzzles along the way to progress. The dialogue as the game fades out suggests the latter.

The overall goal of the game appears to be to get home to your family whilst there is still a family to get home to. It would be cool to see what Sysiac do with the overall endings depending on time spent achieving this goal and the choices you made on your journey – I think you could really have some fun with this.

The Captain has a lot of potential to be a great game. The demo, whilst lacking a little in motivation (there is no reward for reaching your goal) is fun to play and provides a lot of play-time, considering there are effectively only 2 levels and a tutorial in place. The fact that you can replay levels to gain multiple endings and different items is an interesting mechanic and, if used effectively, could be really interesting in a larger game. The ability to fast-complete levels with already gained endings is an excellent addition to the replayability mechanic.

Things I would like to see in a fully-featured game:

  • Some sort of gameplay involved in harvesting fuel.
  • Better localisation of dialogue.
  • Something to do on board the ship whilst travelling between planets – otherwise auto-speed up this process by default rather than making it a choice.
  • Some interesting over-all endings affected by planetary endings gained over the course of gameplay and time spent reaching the end.

Unfortunately, The Captain did not reach its fundraising goal on Kickstarter, however, you can download the demo and sign up to follow their progress and hear about any developments via their website

**UPDATE: Sysaic Games got in touch to say they are still working on the game and are still hoping to release it – 01/09/2017**

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