I was having fun with Californium until it completely broke and I was unable to continue; a few hours later I realized I mistook fun for a simple lapse of sanity and I can’t tell if I’m to blame or the game. This is usually where I say what genre the game is but I have no idea what Californium is: all I can say is that it’s first person and it’s an ‘experience’ which I’m guessing is exactly what Darjeeling and Nova Productions were going for. Maybe it can be called a puzzle game if you consider looking at and clicking on things a puzzle: I do not. Steam calls it an adventure game which makes me think they’re just as stumped as me because the only adventures I encountered in Californium were metaphorical.
As of now Californium is unbeatably broken. I got some way through the game then it got to a point where it was impossible to continue and after three retries of the chapter the problem persisted so I guess the game should see a doctor. I played a review copy so it’s possible that the glitch has been fixed, that being said the game doesn’t have much going for it anyway.
The story is about a writer named Elvin Green who takes a bunch of drugs and submerges himself in the effects as reality morphs into the worlds of the books he’s written. The whole game is narrated by what sounds like some overseer living between the folds of parallel universes who is supposed to give context but instead just criticises you for your choices and breaks immersion. I will give credit to the game for making the main character a writer and actually incorporating writing into the gameplay as every chapter starts with you finishing off some piece of writing he’s working on; most game’s that have you playing as a writer start with him looking all melancholy in front of a typewriter then the game commences with the monsters or whatever so it’s nice to actually do some writing in a game about a writer.
The game consists of you going around looking for little symbols that distort reality and merge other universes into your current one which sounds really exciting but it really only requires you to be observant, sometimes they’ll be hidden in little visual puzzles represented by glitches which can sometimes be interesting but are mostly just annoying. There really isn’t much to say about the gameplay because there’s so little, what can really be said about walking around and clicking on things, but there is something they do well in this game and that’s the art style.
The premise of the game is that you are on some powerful hallucinogenic which presents itself in the game as making everything very vibrant and colourful with a sort of Sam & Max vibe. What they do well are subtle effects like when the realities are merging each reality is represented with contrasting colours to really distinguish them, the portals that the alternate realities come out of pulsate making the world feel like it’s breathing, the music distorts and bends as you move and discover things and people you meet are actually 2D sprites that constantly look at you perfectly capturing the kind of paranoia one feels when they’re high and feel like the whole world is watching them.
There are references to quantum mechanics to plant the idea that everything happening is real which also plays to the whole high paranoia thing. I particularly like what they do with the TV’s: when you approach a TV it sets off a vision that then lets you discover the symbols that merge the worlds together, so in other words TV’s are gateways to other worlds and (if you’ve ever been immersed in a game or movie or show) they kind of are.
Now that I’m at the conclusion I get to make clear my main complaint of this game: it’s completely broken. I got to the third chapter where at some point I’m asked to go somewhere and that place is impossible to get to because a 2D sprite is in my way and after countless running around and a few chapter resets I finally stopped trying. The problems aren’t only in the third chapter either, I got stuck twice in the second chapter because of glitches making it impossible to continue (so if you’re going to play it then here’s some help: do not go into the police station right away and make sure you find all the symbols on the upstairs of the diner before the downstairs. Hell, maybe you can find some of your own game breaking glitches).
The first chapter was the only chapter that didn’t give me any grief but it didn’t stop the game from being boring. If the whole alternate reality thing makes you think that you’re going to be exploring a bunch of interesting and unique areas then you are like I was and you are going to be disappointed. You are only exploring the same small area but with a different skin on it per chapter which makes sense from a stoned persons perspective but is a lazy development technique that makes for boring gameplay.
Californium looked interesting enough to grab my attention but after actually getting into it I discovered it lacked substance and was put together lazily.
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