Friday, July 7, 2017

Review: Vaccine



The central question that should be posed by Vaccine is whether or not you can go back to the “good old days” of the original Resident Evil that it very closely emulates (perhaps to a fault). Unfortunately, after having spent quite a lot of time with the game, I don’t think Vaccine executes on its goals well enough to take the focus away from its flaws. There will, no doubt, be a subset of gamers who will enjoy the throwback experience. But, a combination of outdated mechanics and an overly wide swing in random factors that influence every run will create substantial stumbling blocks for the average gamer.

While I’ve seen a fair amount of complaint leveled at control in the game, when considering its goals of what it wanted to emulate, I found it reasonably workable while also being authentic. For those unfamiliar the controls are a bit tank-like in that your rotation is distinct from your forward and backward movement. There are a few control configurations available as well so I’d wager most people should be able to find a control style that suits them, though nothing will change the clunkiness of the classic scheme. Removing how you physically will control the action I will note that it at least feels a little faster than RE’s traditional sluggish movement that always aggravated me as well.

Welcome to Handheld Mode Hell...

Exploring the visuals is where some of the problems begin to show themselves, especially when considering people use the Switch in handheld mode as well as docked. I can respect sticking to the very polygonal models and low-quality textures that were very much a part of the original Resident Evil experience. Unfortunately, that won’t change the fact that in these environments finding some of the objects you’ll need to survive outright sucks. Consider that aside from larger items like a health pack there are also things like keys that you’ll need to progress and even on my monitor these can look like a single silver dot on a muddy texture that represents the floor. Now take it out of the dock and try to find the key and everything gets much worse. There are shimmers of light at times to help people find items but when you then throw in the various fixed camera angles (also authentic to the original game) distances from the camera to the object further add to the problem. In reality what you’ll find yourself doing is working from memory for what given environments look like, scan for anomalies, and then simply walk around everywhere tapping the action button “just in case”. I’ll additionally note that in handheld mode you’ll have to adjust the in-game brightness or there will be rooms that will look completely dark. There’s a slider to adjust this but it is worth giving fair warning about.

Given my love of roguelikes, and the fact that I’ve often come to their defense in terms of difficulty, that’s another area that deserves exploration. The problem isn’t necessarily that the game is “too hard” in a uniform sense. Yes, it can be aggravating that I’ve had runs where I was unable to find a gun, no matter how much I checked everywhere, but I had a pack full of ammo and then would run into 2 crawlers in quick succession, pretty much guaranteeing death and failure. The bigger problem is that I’ve had runs that are pretty well in the opposite direction, where I’ve found the gun, multiple health packs, and essentially an embarrassment of riches. This means the pendulum overall isn’t being constrained with a formula to keep the game within a defined “sweet spot” and it harms the experience.


In addition I wonder if having to find the gun is even necessary when conceptually without bullets it is functionally useless anyway and if you need to manage your resources it isn’t like that would break anything. What concerns me is that all of this difficulty, I believe, is serving to mask how little content there actually is in the game though. Once you count up the rooms, handful of monster types, and items you may encounter in your first completed run you’ll find you’ve been thrown back in with a new randomized map to see all of the same things again, just having kept your stats and inventory and the timer is shorter. Nothing fundamentally changes. While all roguelikes do essentially the same things, remixing a set amount of content through repeated play, the issue I have with Vaccine in this case is that there is so little you ultimately do. Explore, collect, encounter danger, either die or kill or evade danger, get vaccine, get back to your friend and repeat. There is the element with the laser generators that change for each pass and will have something happen if you manage to disable all 3 but it’s not enough of a hook most likely to keep an average person enduring the same loop that isn’t really that engaging the 20th or so time through.

As I said, I appreciate the fact that some elements of this game are purposely set up to be true to the vision of Resident Evil, which this is obviously inspired by. I also get that there will be people who, despite the game’s failings, will thoroughly enjoy it and be engaged by the action loop it offers. However, given the wildly inconsistent nature of it (even by roguelike standards), the issues with items being so critical and yet so complicated at times, and the fact that handheld mode is likely not going to be a great idea overall it’s hard to recommend without a substantial number of qualifiers. As noted, I think with some balancing and changing up pieces of the formula the overall experience could improve if tweaks are made but not knowing what the plans are I can only score the game based on what was provided.

Score: 3.5

Pros:
  • A mostly authentic retro Resident Evil experience
  • Some fun enhancements like CRT mode to go even further retro
  • The attempts at an overall story you may be compelled to try to see through to the end


Cons:
  • Handheld mode poses multiple issues due to scale and level of detail
  • While they’re implemented well the classic tank-like control scheme may turn modern gamers off immediately
  • As critical as items are to having successful runs finding them can be unnecessarily challenging
  • The roguelike formula isn’t as well implemented as it should be, swinging from too hard to too easy quite often and unpredictably
  • Once you’ve gotten the vaccine and brought it back to your partner once you’ve likely already seen the majority of things the game has to offer


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