Caffeine is the latest in a new breed of games, the indie horror walking simulator. Set in the distant future, in which the entire population are heavily addicted to the titular substance, you play the character ‘Small Child with Lead Feet’, who has been abandoned in his dorm upon a Caffeine mining space station. In fact, everyone has abandoned ship, as you soon discover the entire crew has vanished suddenly, through a collection of post-it notes apparently all written in the same hand-writing.
I will concede that the game is very effective, as I too found myself developing an addiction to caffeine in order to feel something during this play-through. In order to give you the whole experience, I will describe my time with it completely, barring the technical issues that I will get into later. So I start in the bunk and manoeuvre around. This isn’t too bad, and the first puzzle is solved with ease. Time to navigate the ship! Only, not really, as the protagonist travels at the speed of someone with a concussion trudging through invisible treacle. I became less frightened of what would be around the corner, and instead hoped that I would one day reach it. This was made worse by the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I was meant to be doing, causing the time to drag further as I scoured room after room, dead end after dead end, just looking for the objective. I pushed buttons and I didn’t know what they did, I flipped switches and I had no idea what they did. I received achievements for walking into rooms that had literally nothing in them.
Eventually, at end of one unnecessarily long corridor, and then down the end of another unnecessarily long corridor, I found a missing bit of piping. Purpose! Sweet purpose! After ten minutes I had discovered an item that I could pick up (that wasn’t a chair) and I waddled my way back. Finally. This powered a lift, ‘I’m making progress again’ I cheered. Then the lift went back to the start, and that cheer turned to a long line of words that would need to be censored.
So I figured there must still be something here I’ve missed, something in this masterpiece must have alluded me. That was when I fell down a hole. There are no saves, there are no checkpoints, and there is no escape from that hole when the lift is gone. Hard games are challenging when they do this. Horror games raise the stakes when they do this. Boring slow games get infuriating when they do this. There isn’t a restart button either, you must force quit and restart.
I did eventually replay and discover that the obvious answer was to get back on the lift that I had just left and that that would take me to a new level, one that I then pottered around for five minutes, before the game ended.
Graphically it is great. The textures are high quality and the lighting works well, casting heavy shadows and bright sparkling flairs. Outside isn’t just pinpricks of light, but large planets drifting by, giving an impression of the possible larger world. The music is also extremely creepy, with the sound design panning from ear to ear, giving you the sense that something is constantly behind you.
Again though, there are problems. The game is a clear instance of ‘if I can I shall’. There is no reason for an un-optimized indie game to run at 4K. I doubt that extremely capable computers could run this game at a decent frame rate, while AAA titles would no doubt rack into the 100’s. I struggled playing this game on its almost lowest settings, and that cuts out a majority of indie game players.
The lack of gameplay also demonstrates that this is more of a graphical showcase than a playable one. Besides picking up the occasional item, which glitches away 50% of the time, there was nothing but walking around. I never once saw a shadow until the endgame, and then it was blocking a doorway and so I had no option but to walk into the damn thing.
Despite being playable with a controller, it for some reason does not extend to the menus. There’s no full-screen, meaning no matter what resolution you have it at, there will be a window around it.
At its completion I cheered, but there was no one left to hear. The game had taken too long. I was alone. So alone. In response, I simply decided to walk around the corridors of my house aimlessly. It was the same, but with a better plot
Caffeine- Episode 1 is available now on Steam.