Within five minutes of booting up Vaccine, I was already cursing whatever design decision caused the developers to use the archaic control scheme of the early Resident Evil games. I can only imagine it was because of sado-masochistic tendencies, because it certainly isn’t to make the game more fun. The similarities don’t end there though, because to the untrained eye, Vaccine looks very much like the original Resident Evil, and it even features similar looking characters, pixelated 32-bit 3D graphics and the same, static camera angles that used to feel so atmospheric.
Vaccine begins by offering players with a choice of either a male or female character, each of which come with subtly different strengths and weaknesses. At first, these differences won’t seem to matter, but unlike Resident Evil, Vaccine features roguelike features including an experience system that carries over from one play through to another. That’s handy, because Vaccine also has a permadeath mechanic, and the mansion in which it takes place resets and is randomly generated with each game.
The premise is a simple one – whichever character you choose has a fixed amount of time to explore the mansion and return to the other character (wo is bedridden with a deadly virus) with a vaccine. Inevitably, you’ll fail often in the beginning, but as you become used to the bloody awful controls and the stupid, outdated camera system, things will get easier, if only because as you make kills and do other things, your character will grow stronger.
I actually quite like the idea of vaccine. The concept of a procedurally generated mansion in the style of Resident Evil is a good one, and adding a time limit increases the suspense factor immeasurably. On that note, adding a time limit to a procedurally generated world has both strengths and weaknesses. Yes, it creates a real sense of impetus, but it also results in some really frustrating backtracking should you end up at the end of a series of rooms that go nowhere, and ultimately leave you needing to backtrack a long way.
And, that will happen, because very little is certain in Vaccine. The starting room always contains a knife, but once you step outside, all bets are off. I’ve been killed within about twenty seconds by the Vaccine equivalent of a Resident Evil licker several times, and in one game (just one) I found a shotgun and a handgun very early, and became an avenging executioner of incredible (albeit shortlived) power.
I’ve never played Vaccine on any other format, but on Nintendo Switch, I found this often brief, repetitive style of play quite interesting and I would probably even say it was good, were it not for the controls. I keep going back to them, so let me explain – playing Vaccine really is like playing a game from 1996, and it feels unrealistic and restrictive in a modern game, especially considering that Resident Evil had scripted encounters that allowed players time to react or run. Vaccine often doesn’t, forcing players to use unwieldy controls to escape tough encounters because they have no weapon.
Actually, playing on a mobile device changes the experience in Vaccine in several ways. For starters, whilst the control scheme is always bad at best, it is bloody awful when playing on the move. On the plus side however, playing on a small, crystal clear screen feels about the right size considering the deliberately pixelated art style. I’ve already talked about the benefit of small, short plays, and although you’re about to read about why overall I can’t recommend Vaccine, I do feel that it might be played at its very best on the Switch.
Unfortunately, despite some cool ideas, I mostly found Vaccine frustrating. The control mechanism, the time limit and the randomness of items in the world all compound to create an odd and often unfair experience. The controls feel as if they were used to artificially make the game harder (which is annoying) and the randomisation of items, dead ends and enemies just feels strange in a semi-real world setting like a mansion. What works in the Binding of Isaac’s hellish cellar, for example, is the total disconnect from reality.
As a result, I can’t recommend Vaccine without reservation. On the plus side, it is quite cheap, and there is a decent possibility that if you like it, you’ll be able to replay it many times. It looks decent on Switch, but the controls are especially frustrating, and beside from that it’s the same game that has already been launched on the other consoles. Hardcore fans of survival horror can probably consider themselves in good company, but anyone else should consider any purchase carefully.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.