Finding a vaccine within a certain time limit is a trope that is used lots by those in film and TV. It brilliantly builds the tension, sees our hero running from action encounter, to car chase and to a rooftop fight in order to deliver the vaccine and save the world. Rainy Night Creations use the the same thought process behind their brand new game, Vaccine, with one hero trying to find a cure for a terrible ailment to their partner. But does it excite and do you care one jot if the diseased survive?
Straight up and it’s obvious that the developers are clearly and openly influenced by 90’s survival horrors like Alone in the Dark, which I feel this game is a huge homage to. The premise is that from the start you can chose one of two heroes, each with different attributes according to gender, aim, stamina etc.…You’re placed in a mysterious house and the other partner is dying from a terrible illness, leaving you with just 30 minutes to find the vaccine.
…and that’s pretty much Vaccine in a nutshell.
There are no cut scenes, back-stories, or tutorials, you’re just told the basic information and sent off on your mission. The big surprise is that every time you start the mission, the house you explore is randomly generated, with different rooms, creature locations and items placed differently every time you start. As you walk around the house you have to find the vaccine within the time limit or you die and then it’s time to restart the game. You need to find the vaccine, but also solve the mystery of the house to end the horror loop. So how does it play?
Well firstly, when I talk about the Alone in the Dark influences, that comes down to the control system as well, from which it seems to be directly lifted. Back in 1993 when I first played Alone in the Dark on my old PC, I hated the controls. They were awkward, unnatural and clunky and I prayed for the day when this kind of control system would be banished to the lowest levels of hell. Fast forward 24 years and I feel like I am back in a fresh hell. Your left stick moves you forward, backwards and left and right all at the same time, which sound fine yes? But the camera perspectives change rapidly as you move across a room so you think your going right, then suddenly it’s down…oh no it’s up…. there’s a creature…oh I’m dead. That was my experience for the first twenty attempts with Vaccine. Don’t get me started about being stuck in doorways either, for I’m an expert there too. The rest of the controls, those for picking up objects and aiming a gun are tricky in a Resident Evil type way – not terrible, but not exactly throwing out much confidence.
The random placing of rooms and objects in Vaccine can be cruel and rewarding in one deep breath. One playthrough saw me getting into a room to find a gun and some proximity mines straight away. This made my progression easier and a lot more fun. Another playthrough saw me never finding any weapons, and instead I was just stumbling around, trying to run through the house whilst fleeing from creatures until the sweet death finally came. I hated the random nature of this game to begin with, BUT and this is a big BUT, Vaccine gets better.
Yes the controls are annoying, yes the camera is horrible, but as you understand things and as your skill arc increases, then so does your enjoyment of the game. I started to get excited about surviving that extra bit longer on each attempt and getting nearer to finding that vaccine. I enjoyed learning more about the house and the situation the characters have found themselves in. I’m still playing it now and I’m slowly getting further with every hour that passes. Because of the time limit and the easy death chance, it’s a very good game to jump in and out of. It would also be a perfect mobile game, but we’re not here to talk about that.
Visually the game really embraces the 90s with its blocky graphics and the way the monsters and characters move. The set up of the opening menu really made me feel like I was back in an arcade, smelling of smoke and clutching a handful of 10p coins. Some might find the look of the game antiquated and dull, while others will embrace the retro feel. The soundtrack also feels of that time with its retro styled effect and dramatic drones. It all works well enough and the tone of the game is utilized well.
I have two distinct reactions to my time with Vaccine. The first is hatred of its terrible old control system, changing camera angles and the random generating house of horror. The second reaction though is of respect and enjoyment at the increasing tension of the challenge, while getting better at unlocking the secret of the Vaccine. This is a game that you need to fail at and spend some time with in order to get the best out of it. If you can get past the issues I had at the beginning then there is a good Survival horror game in here, with a neat concept, that will make some classic gamers very happy indeed.