I don’t think I’ve ever loved a game so unfitting of a recommend before.
Californium certainly hits all of my buttons, but I also understand and acknowledge that have an assortment of rather odd buttons. The game puts you in the shoes of Elvin Green, a failed writer that’s suffered from writer’s block ever since the loss of his daughter. Unable to channel his grief into his art, his wive leaves him and his publisher fires him. He’s a wreck, left in his apartment with nothing to do but pass the time ingesting various substances. That may be why the world he inhabits is a technicolor-saturated block of California, unable to escape from the familiar.
Of course, Elvin’s life takes a bit of a turn when he notices rifts in that reality, points in the world that allow an alternate dimension and/or time to inhabit the same space. These anomalies only appear to him, so the cardboard inhabitants of his nation state do little to help, more than happy to air his dirty laundry, but not really caring to help him. Is he high and just hallucinating or is he a sort of careless god, the same way all bad writers are? It’s a metaphor that Californium doesn’t lean too much on, keeping any semblance of story at arms length whilst it proceeds to distort the world even further. As expected, it’s a game that’s not really interested as much in answers as it is in wanting to uncover more questions. It’s a nebulous area to work in, but the execution is so well-done that I found myself not really caring. The manner in which worlds glitch into one another, sloppy and unnerving in just the right ways, makes you want to rush to find the next point.
This is, unfortunately, also where the novelty begins to wear a bit thin. TV sets across the environment ask you to find an arbitrary number of glitches in the area, many of which only visible when standing in a very specific spot. Eventually Elvin stopped feeling like a tortured mind-expander and more like a hidden object game enthusiast, often running in circles waiting for a ping of light to finally trigger. It’s offers a disconnect to a world that absolutely requires you to dive in completely to fully enjoy it, but it’s also for this reason that I don’t know who else would particularly care about the plight of this drugged-up loser or why he’s walking around an art deco Philip K Dick nation state. Someone like me, on the other hand, sees a sentence like that and already commits to withstanding a considerable amount of jank to see where it goes. If nothing else, Californium certainly goes places, and for what it’s worth, I’m glad I took the ride.