STAFF REVIEW of Vaccine (Xbox One)

Thursday, March 9, 2017.
by Adam Dileva

Vaccine Box art I knew absolutely nothing about Vaccine, created by Rainy Night Creations, before it fell into my lap. From the initial screenshots I looked at, it instantly had a Resident Evil / Alone in the Dark vibe to it, so I was intrigued to give it a go. To say that those games were used as its inspiration is putting it mildly, as Vaccine tries to emulate what made those games so great 20+ years ago. Where issues start to arise is that sometimes games don’t age all that well, for numerous reasons, so emulating them with said faults and issues might not be the greatest gaming experiences to be had these days. But not all is dull, as there are some redeeming qualities, so let’s see if Vaccine is worth the money, time and commitment.

The story to Vaccine is as basic as it comes, you need to find a vaccine for your infected team member within 30 minutes, a trope we’ve seen used countless times before. I’d delve more into the story, but that’s literally it. “Despite all your efforts, your friend got infected again. Find a vaccine before the time runs out.” is what greets you every time you begin the game over once again, and that is the motivation for the bleak narrative.

As you begin the game you’ll choose between a male or female protagonist, searching for the vaccine for your infected team mate (the one you didn’t choose I assume). It’s your job to save them, but you must do so within a half hour or else they’ll turn. Now, there’s no getting around the large elephant in the room: Vaccine is trying to be like the original Resident Evil, to a fault. There are fixed camera angles, terrible combat mechanics, and some of the worst controls that I can remember in recent memory.

I get that Rainy Night Creations is most likely paying homage to Capcom’s titular PS1 classic, but man, there’s so much cross over that it’s hard to not label it a ripoff in many ways. After noticing the low resolution splash screen and choosing between two characters, a voice even says “Vaccine”, trying to emulate that classic Resident Evil opening line with a gritty tone. Oh, and the whole journey happens inside a massive randomly generation mansion. Sound familiar yet?

The biggest redeeming feature about Vaccine is that there’s an experience system where you gain XP for nearly everything you do, from opening doors to attacking enemies. This XP can be spent to upgrade your character’s many different stats, though given that you’re going to be dying dozens of times and having to restart over from scratch, you’ll probably want to boost your health and damage to start off with. Each character has slightly different starting stats, but nothing drastic enough to make the decision game changing.

You’re then thrown into the game, with no tutorial or explanation for anything other than the 30 minute timer counting down, and that’s it. You don’t know who you are, why you’re there, what the vaccine is, nothing. Granted, there are some snippets of information that can be found littered throughout the mansion in your journey, but it’s not terribly engaging or interesting. Speaking of the mansion, once you die for the first time (which won’t take long), you’re going to wonder why the layout is different than minutes before. Well, the mansion is randomly generated every time you start the game over, so there’s no memorizing rooms, items, monster spawns, or anything else, as it changes each time you start anew. This in some ways is great, as it makes each playthrough unique, interesting, and adds replay value, but soon you’ll learn the frustration of that randomization, which I’ll delve into shortly.

First let’s talk about the controls, as this needs to be put out there. Remember the tank controls from the original Resident Evil, where up moved you forward, down backwards, and left and right just rotated you? They were called tank controls, and they were awful 20 years ago, which is why the series improved on them since then, so why you’d want to mimic one of the worst mechanics a game had is beyond me. Tank controls are clunky, unintuitive, and are going to cause you many deaths, which results in starting all over. To ready your weapon, most likely your knife that’s always in the starting room with you, you have to hold Right Bumper, then A is to attack (or shoot once you get a gun and ammo). The B button will allow you to sprint for a short while, but you won’t need to worry about that for quite some time, until you learn how to deal with Vaccine’s unfairness.

The controls wouldn’t be such an issue if you weren’t pressed for time, but given the time constraint, you need to learn how to deal with them quickly and early on if you want to make any sort of meaningful progress. It’s going to take a lot of failed runs to simply learn how to run through doorways and take corners without having to stop and rotate if you want any chance of actually beating the game to completion.

Couple in the fixed camera angles and you may have flashbacks of being attacked by an enemy you didn’t see because the camera wasn’t facing the right way. Expect that many times here, as you’ll die numerous times from an enemy hiding behind a door or corner that you can’t see until it’s too late. Many deaths are unfair and not your fault, for more reasons than just the controls and camera angles, as the randomization of item placement as well is surely going to also cause you dozens of deaths.

Just like the rooms, items and monsters are randomly placed throughout the mansion as well, so in one run you might find a gun and ammo like I did, and the next dozen nothing but proxy mines and ammo (without the gun). This randomization of the items can really work for you, but it can also cause massive frustration, especially once you run into the wanna-be ‘licker’ monsters.

These enemies take a lot of attacks to kill, and there’s no way to do so with your knife without dying, but you also don’t want to waste your pistol and shotgun ammo on them either, as you need those for the ‘tyrant’ boss that guards the vaccine. So your only hope is to find a repellent item, which will cause enemies to not attack you for 10 or so seconds, even if you’re beside them and attacking them. This means that if you get unlucky with the item randomization on your run, find no repellent and run into a ‘licker’, you’re basically guaranteed to die and have to start all over. If you end up using your ammo and mines on them instead of the boss, then you won’t get the vaccine either, so you’re forced to play a certain way and hope that luck is on your side.

So you’ve managed to get extremely lucky with the mansions randomness, somehow defeated the boss and brought the vaccine back to your friend! Yay, you win right? Nope. You’re greeted with “Despite all your efforts, your friend got infected again. Find a vaccine before the time runs out.” nce again. What? Didn’t you just do that in 10 minutes? Oh, now you have only 20 minutes to do it all over again, albeit with your currently leveled character.

So you only had 20 minutes this time to get the vaccine, but you managed to bring it back. That’s surely it now right? “Despite all your efforts, your friend got infected again. Find a vaccine before the time runs out.” is what you’re greeted with once again. I’ll save you the agony, as you actually need to find the vaccine up to 9 or 10 times to actually ‘beat’ the game, with each run having a shorter time limit. Monotony is no joke in Vaccine.

Each run you need to prey to your gods though, hoping you’ll get lucky in your item drops and that the items you need, like keys, will actually spawn. I’ve had multiple runs where I checked every corner of every room and was unable to find a key or any way to progress. I’m sure I was missing something ever so slightly, as it’s very difficult to see items that can be picked up (they sometimes sparkle, once again, like Resident Evil), and I didn’t see the items I needed to progress, causing me to have to restart once again.

I keep comparing Vaccine to Resident Evil, which is something I don’t generally like to do, but there’s no way around it. Even visually, it looks like a PS1 era Resident Evil game with its muddy texture and very blocky character models. Even the environment looks incredibly basic and ripped right from the era, so while some will enjoy its retro style, others are going to find it looks absolutely terrible in terms of today’s standard. Myself, I’m somewhere right in the middle. I appreciate the feel it’s going for and influence, but it’s been 20 years since then, and many improvements have been made. The audio seems to fit right in with the setting and era as well, though there’s no real queues for when enemies are nearby, or behind a door, which would have prevented many unfair deaths.

Unless you’re a diehard fan of the old school style of gaming from the 90’s, you’re going to most likely hate the first few hours of Vaccine, as you’ll die unfairly a majority of the time. The other times you die will be due to poor controls, bad camera angles, or plain unluckiness of the randomization the mansion gives you. I know that doesn’t sound like a good time, but something weird started to happen once I figured out Vaccine’s intricacies (or simply learning to deal with them), as it started to become fun, somewhat.

Leveling your character’s stats does have a noticeable impact, and once you come to terms with having to die many times to make progress, the frustration somewhat goes away. Not completely, as there are still many issues, but there’s interesting ideas here, even if they are ones we’ve played 20 years ago. Even though I compare it heavily to Resident Evil, don’t expect any horror or tense situations, as this is more of a survival game more than anything horror based, even with the zombie enemies.

Starting a game off incredibly difficult and then getting easier as you go seems like backwards game design, but if you can reach that apex of gameplay and bring back a vaccine or two, subsequent runs become actually much more enjoyable, again, as long as the randomization gods are on your side. Given that you have to restart each time you die, Vaccine is decent for those wanting a game to sink 10 to 20 minutes into now and then, but if you’re actively going to attempt to ‘beat’ the game, get ready for some serious frustration. “Despite all your efforts, your friend got infected again. Find a vaccine before the time runs out”.

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 4.0 / 10
Sound: 3.0 / 10


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