Having minutes to save yourself and your colleagues from an impending spaceship explosion due to alien activity sounds pretty intense. In fact, it’s very intense, stressful even. The Captain Is Dead is a videogame based on the board game of the same name. Which is a great change of pace, considering every videogame and its mother wants to be a board game nowadays. There’s also a hint of Star Trek in there, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The Captain is Dead is a turn-based, strategy game. The player is allowed to choose four different characters, which basically act as classes, to see them through the duration of the game. With the spacecraft on the verge of destruction, you and your crew are tasked with fixing the ship's jump core to escape. As with everything, it’s not quite as simple as fixing the one essential part. As you’re constantly under attack, other areas of the ship will begin to fail and need repairs.
Each turn, your crewmates have a set number of action points they can use. The key thing for each crewmate is their ability to repair parts of the ship. Naturally, it’s not as easy as just sending crewmates about the ship fixing stuff. In addition to repairing the ship, the crew can operate parts of the ship, retrieve skills or tools, trade with crewmates they encounter and teleport from one part of the ship to another. It’s a delicate balancing act, one that requires plenty of due diligence to ensure success.
Transitioning from board game to videogame was surprisingly fluid for The Captain Is Dead. It’s obvious this adaptation is faithful one, just from comparing the game's visuals to its board game counterpart. Gameplay-wise, it becomes clear pretty quickly that this keeps consistent to how its board game equivalent plays out. Each skill is basically a card, as if you were picking one up in a board game. You require so many of these skill cards to perform specific tasks (such as using the torpedoes).
With a good adaption of the source material, we move on to how well The Captain Is Dead plays, and it’s absolutely brutal. Each turn, the player is given a new alert. They’re colour coded, which is nice, and come with three different challenge levels - yellow, orange and red. These alerts trigger so often, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with everything going on. Very rarely is there a let up, but you’ll always have those games where you rattle off three or four red alerts in a row. It can be so quick to become bogged down and just lose any faith. A lot of the time, giving up seems easier than trying to push through.
Naturally, you have to push through. You’re bound to fail a lot more often than succeeding when you first begin The Captain Is Dead. In fact, even after half a day’s worth of total play time, I find myself floundering the failure pool more often than not. At times, it can be frustrating. A game can snowball no matter how well you think you have it under control. Watching a game you’ve poured time into completely tearing itself apart thanks to the game’s RNG can be painfully disheartening. There are times you fail, throw yourself back in your chair and wonder what you really could have done to prevent your most recent failure from happening.
Which is a shame, because those deflating runs can often ruin an otherwise well made game. A successful crew is one that is planned out well, yet the best planning cannot be a counter for the more unfair scenarios - unfair scenarios that appear in abundance. In addition to parts of the ship breaking, your crewmates can suffer from anomalies. These anomalies do nothing short of cripple your crewmates and what they can achieve. Suddenly a repair plan that was going to take a turn will take three or four, as everything else begins to pile up.
Outside of the luck versus skill gameplay, The Captain Is Dead is actually a lovely looking game. Your crew's ship is a striking leviathan of colours, making it easy to navigate around. Opening up, we also have one of the more entertaining strategy game tutorials. Narrated by Kevan Brighting, known for his work as the narrator in The Stanley Parable, offers an hilarious introduction here as the games Omnipotent Space Wizard. It’s just a shame everything you’re taught is mostly thrown away for a luck based game.
At the end of my time with The Captain Is Dead, it was easy to pick apart a lot of little things the game does well. Sadly, the gameplay loop falls far short of the mark simply because of how luck-based it happens to be. No level of skill can keep you from consistent failure if the game insists on taking the ability to win out of the players hand. For most players, it will become a tedious attack on their desire to succeed. For the few committed to this masochistic style of game, well, they’re likely the kind of people beating Dark Souls with an accordion anyway.
The Captain is Dead (Reviewed on Windows)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
The Captain Is Dead does so many things well independently, but is held back massively by the pure luck factor of the games events. There’s a great game in here, but it’s marred by miserable gameplay experience in which victory is snatched out of the players’ hands regardless of their skill level.