My experience with Caffeine: Episode One began with me being able to open a locked door with a box that the game glitchedly mistook for a keycard. My experience with Caffeine: Episode One ended with me being ejected from an elevator that I was merrily riding between three levels as I tried to figure out what to do next, and ending up stuck in an empty room with no way out.

My experience with Caffeine: Episode One was not positive enough for me to want to start all the way over at the beginning to try again.

I call this a first impression out of the most intense, pitying sense of generosity. After playing for an hour – the recommended playtime for the first episode according to the developer, who said that episode one should run anywhere between an hour and an hour and a half – I feel very strongly that what I saw was everything the game had to offer…and it wasn’t very much at all.

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This is pretty much it. Hope you like bland corridors!

Ok, premise time: in Caffeine, a “quirky first person adventure game with environmental puzzles and a dab of psychological horror” currently available on Steam, you are a small child wandering around a seemingly empty and derelict space station of some sort. There’s post-it notes everywhere. And coffee machines. The post-it notes seem to imply that the coffee is important somehow (as if I needed post-it notes to tell me that). It’s up to you and you alone to get from your room to whatever place the game arbitrarily decides is the ending point for episode one.

After spending an hour wandering aimlessly around corridors so stale and mundane that I got lost simply because everything looked the same, with the only thing even closely resembling “gameplay” being the ability to pick up and drag objects along with you (and watch them spin and twirl hilariously as the most bizarre physics engine I’ve ever seen takes hold of them), I had to – perhaps a bit reluctantly – decide to toss this game into the ever-increasing “possibly well-intentioned but terribly executed” pile.

In that time I managed to solve a few of what I (generously) assume are the game’s “environmental puzzles” – including such varied tasks as taking a box off of a computer monitor, walking to a place and pushing a button, and walking to another place with an item (spinning and twirling merrily in front of me) and putting it in the right spot.

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One of the game’s much-touted environmental puzzles. Push the button.

Oh, and it’s horribly optimized too. Caffeine automatically set my computer’s settings – a computer that has and continues to run any modern game at ultra settings – at medium. Of course, when I changed them all to ultra, Caffeine ran at about 10 FPS before crashing. And continued to crash until I uninstalled and reinstalled the game. If it was a larger game and took longer than an hour to download, I’d have given up right then and there, professionalism be damned.

If it seems like I’m straining to find something to say, you’re very astute. There’s absolutely nothing going on here other than the faintest of faintest glimmers of a good idea. I half expected a bizarre and unique spin on the old zombie genre with coffee-addled space miners (apparently they’re mining the ingredients to make coffee) taking the place of the typical walking dead, but I was denied this in lieu of empty corridors, buggy, flickering water graphics and hilariously broken physics. Caffeine: Episode One seems to be trying to build up atmosphere and maybe there was a jump scare at the end of the long and buggy road, but by the time I was ejected from the elevator and trapped in a large, empty room, unable to progress, I had run out of patience and any desire I had to see where the experience was going.

The most frightened I ever got was when I was unexpectedly bumped around by a Styrofoam coffee cup that was rolling around on the floor after I knocked it off the table. Apparently the physics engine thought the Styrofoam cup was heavier than I was.

Joking aside, there were some genuinely weird, unsettling moments. If the game wasn't so buggy and broken (and if anything actually happened), it might actually have done a good job of setting atmosphere.

Joking aside, there were some genuinely weird, unsettling moments. If the game wasn’t so buggy and broken (and if anything actually happened), it might actually have done a good job of setting atmosphere.

I’m not going to rate Caffeine simply because I don’t think it’s worthy of a number at this early stage. The game that is currently available promises to be the first of three parts, the second two of which promise much more gameplay, which is at least some level of promising. But what I got to play was barely even what I would consider a demo (oh, by the way, a demo is available…which is completely laughable considering there’s hardly any gameplay here to begin with, but at least the dev respects his potential customers enough to provide one) and the idea of shelling out $20 – TWENTY DOLLARS – for a game as buggy and problem-riddled as this one is laughable. Perhaps I’ll give it another go after the second and third episodes are available, but for now, I can only suggest you and your money look elsewhere.

It should be noted here that the activation code I received from the publishers – who, by the way, is very attentive and friendly on the forums and is probably not consciously trying to bilk you out of your money – activated something called the “Caffeine beta,” which leads me to believe that even though Caffeine came off of early access last week, it may still be in some form of drawn-out beta stage. The actual item in my Steam library simply says “Caffeine,” however, with nothing indicating that it is anything other than a finished product, so I am forced to treat it as such.

Brienne Gacke
Writer, journalist, teacher, pedant. Brienne's done just about anything and everything involving words and now she's hoping to use them for something she's passionate about: video games. She's been gaming since the onset of the NES era and has never looked back.

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