The Caffeine Demo Gives Me Hope, But I’m Not Sold
By David Lins
When you’re a horror snob, it’s hard to find games that you really enjoy. Ever since Amnesia (and, perhaps moreso, Slender) we’ve been seeing a ton of horror games pop up with the same premise: you’re some dude, you’re unarmed, and you’re not alone. Horror developers seem to think that the only reason Amnesia was scary is because you couldn’t defend yourself. They think they’ve finally struck horror gold.
Following in that same formula, Caffeine’s demo places you on an abandoned spaceship, shows you a few spooky shadows, and asks you to figure out what the hell happened. The demo is very short (watch my playthrough here) but it lets us know exactly what kind of game to expect from the full version.
First, we’ll talk about the good stuff. Caffeine nails two things that a lot of weaponless horror games miss: atmosphere and isolation. When exploring around the ship, your enveloped by this eerie silence; you almost take comfort in the fact that you’re alone, but within moments, the game lets you know that someone is watching. As you turn the first corner, you’ll see a shadow, accompanied by one of those typical “hey, a jump scare is happening!” musical cues.
Boom. Right there, we have our tension and our atmosphere. We now know that something else is on the ship—is it a friend, or a foe?—and the beauty of the demo is that we never see anything again. I kept expecting more jump scares, but that was it. From there, the atmosphere takes center stage, which was a nice welcome after playing too many games that think a jump scare around every corner keeps the game scary. Caffeine is confident that one jump scare is enough to set the mood and keep things tense.
Then there’s the isolation. Good horror, especially in games, involves facing the horror alone. Amnesia: The Dark Descent is a prime example of this; imagine if Daniel had a goofy, comic-relief buddy during his stay at Castle Brennenburg. Would you still dread opening every door? Would the sudden sound of footsteps still catch your breath and stiffen your spine?
Of course, it’s not enough to just be alone. In order to feel truly alone, there should at least be hints of civilization, and Caffeine nails this. You’ll find overturned coffee cups, ruffled papers, even a few everyday notes from workers on the ship. It looks as though everyone had to pack up and leave in a hurry—but perhaps you weren’t the only one left behind. Then you remember the shadow, and almost wish you were.
Yes, Caffeine has some promise. But there are still the pressing issues in my mind, the little grievances that prevent me from getting too excited. For instance, that shadow appears to be just that: a shadow. He’s drawn on a whiteboard, surrounded by post-it notes that at first come off as scientific but quickly degrade into mad scribbles that say things like, “he sees me” over and over.
Suddenly, the mystery—one of the joys that a game like this can create—fades. You now know that people on the ship were aware of this shadow, and that some even tried to study it. You also know that it’s basically Space Slenderman because apparently its presence makes people scribble like a fool and draw spooky pictures on whiteboards. Any hint in the back of your mind that maybe the shadow was just a figment of your imagination is gone, and it cheapens the horror.
It bums me out, because Caffeine has potential. It could be a fantastic horror game, and it shows enough confidence in its own atmosphere that it doesn’t rely too heavily on jump scares. I just hope some of that confidence bleeds into the writing, so that we don’t get another boring “spooky entity chases you” game.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/david.jpg” ]David Lins is a freelance writer from Pennsylvania that has loved video games since he was old enough to hold a controller. He enjoys all sorts of games, but prefers difficult or terrifying ones. Currently, he plays too many roguelikes. When not writing about his favorite hobby, he loves to drink beer, write fiction, play tabletop RPGs or board games, and hang out with his friends and family. He also has a passion for technology and loves tinkering with his phone, computer, and other devices. Follow David on Twitter for “hilarious” or “insightful” tweets about nothing in particular. [/author]