Shallow Curiosity – Californium Review (PC)
It’s a strange old world, Californium is a weird game. Drenched in 60′s themes and tones, it’s hard to quite nail down exactly what the game is. It’s interesting, yet distinctly safe in its mechanics. For a game that feels like it has a lot to say, there’s very little to truly experience.
Californium focuses on Elvin Green, a former writer trapped in a rut of booze and narcotics during the 1960s. The bulk of the game consists of walking around highly stylised Californian streets, all while tripping balls Cracks in the fabric of reality start to emerge, TV sets start to talk, it’s clear everything is not as it seems.
The core, and arguably only, mechanic at play is holing left mouse button while staring at various things. Runes are dotted across each environment, often hidden, upon highlighting them the world begins to split. Shades of 1950′s science fiction oozes through, slowly creeping into the perceived reality.
Rifts between the two realities act as the driving force behind the plot. Elvin’s character is fleshed out through interactions with the various NPC characters dotted around the street. General chatter with each of the NPCs can provide more than a few moments of confusion. It’s clear the game wants to be surreal in all aspects, including its dialogue.
Californium makes numerous nods towards issues of the time. Communism. Drug use, racism and Vietnam all pop up, but never leave much of an impression. Acting more like reminders and signals of when the game is set, rather than anything profound. The game works best when the player is left dazed and confused by the events around them, not when there’s nudges to remind them when the game is set.
Blindingly bright colours, tinged with cartoonish designs, allow Californium to be visually interesting. Presentation is both bold and beautiful, capturing the attention of the player. Clever trickery is often deployed to create trippy imagery, feeding nicely into feel of the game’s world.
For a game that’s not exactly in need of a hefy PC, Californium perform al that well. Frame rates tend to drop in certain sections. Bugs tend to pop up, with some of them forcing the odd reset of the game in order to progress.
The main problem Californium suffers from is that it’s interesting to look at, but not to play. Runes are often so well hidden that the game shrinks into clicking at everything in sight. It’s a boring process that quickly chips away at any player interest or investment. Californium is a curiosity that fails to build into anything more.