For those of you lucky enough to have avoided a creative writing class in high school or college, let me introduce you to a person the rest of us have met on more than one occasion. Let’s just call him The Profound Writer. Most writing classes have at least one. The Profound Writer is mostly interested in people recognizing his genius. To display said genius, he was very fond of writing two person stories or plays, where there was no plot, no real setting to speak of: just two people arguing about philosophy, or the state of the world, or life and death. Maybe you called him out as a shoddy writer, and maybe you didn’t, but in the end it didn’t matter. To the Profound Writer, anyone who criticizes his work simply doesn’t understand its significance: plot, character development, and overall entertainment value be damned.
And wouldn’t you know it: the Profound Writer went out and made himself a video game. Caligo is an walking simulator developed and published by Krealit, an indie games team whose previous projects have included a top down shooter called I Am Weapon.
I mention that only because it feels so odd to see a studio that has one foot so deeply embedded in the world of violent action games suddenly decide that it wants to make a thoughtful, introspective narrative-driven experience. But after the hour-long playtime that it took to finish Caligo, I’ve realized that there really isn’t a ton of thought that was put into this game.
Caligo is the story of you: some guy, who appears to have died. He wanders through the afterlife, and then through several creative interpretations of his life. Or at least, that seems to be what they are. It’s never very clear. Nothing’s clear in Caligo, and you’ve even got two narrators—you’d think they’d be able to shed some light on the situation.
Well, not exactly two narrators. The entire time your protagonist is walking through these dreamlike areas, you’re having a conversation with some mysterious figure of the afterlife. Death, or some sort of devil: again, it’s never very clear, because they never say anything important. The entire hour of dialogue you listen to between these verbose fellows is replete with what I’ve come to think of as “Alice” speak.
So let’s talk about Alice In Wonderland for a minute. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland was a book that led to a sequel that led to countless screen, theatrical, music, and artistic adaptations. Its popularity with both children and adults appears to be in the simple, yet effective poetry and style of Lewis Carroll’s writing. Through Alice and the asylum of creatures and characters that she meets, silliness is made profound in unique and unforgettable ways. Up is down. Left is right. Sanity is madness. That sort of thing. For this odd style these books and films meant a lot to many of our childhoods. It also led to some of the worst writing ever.
Writers desperately want to seem clever: to seem profound in a sly sort of way. The problem with that is it’s a fairly rare thing to have that talent. It’s why writers like Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, and Dorothy Parker are so memorable. So with a lack of insights to offer the world, a lot of writers attempt instead to pass off unremarkable ideas wrapped in what might appear at first to be unusual or unique points of view.
In Caligo, there’s a ton of this kind of talk. Attempts at sounding profound that might fool someone who really isn’t paying much attention. But all it takes is the briefest glance at the dialogue to realize that these guys are talking out of their ass. There’s no real plot, no character development, no action: it’s the video game equivalent of listening to two philosophy majors get a little drunk and start arguing about the nature of the afterlife.
It is tedious, and it leads to nothing. There one moment in the entire game when you are allowed to make some sort of choice, and that is at the very end, and it still means zilch.
I will say that the developers did find some good moments to show off a sense of scale. The visuals themselves are fine, even if you do get the impression that there was a Unity Asset four packs for the price of one sale that inspired this thing. However, there were a couple of scenes where Krealit did a fine job of creating some appropriately huge scenes and dioramas for you to walk your way through. But beyond that, there’s so little that I can point out that makes Caligo worth anyone’s time.
I’m not exactly fond of shitting all over indie studios, but the level of pretension and insincerity you’ll find in Caligo is just too much. Walking simulator fans will find it amateurish and sloppy, and a lot of other people are already under the general impression that walking sims are elitist crybaby machines to begin with. We don’t really need more games like this coming out and confirming that attitude.
2017 has been such an incredible year for gaming: we’ve got indie and AAA games alike that are smart, unique, and a feast for the eyes. There really is no reason to find yourself wandering deep into Caligo’s pretentious afterlife any time soon.
Review based on PC code provided by the publisher. Caligo was released on September 22nd, 2017 for the PC.