The words "Despite all your efforts, your friend got infected again" and "find a vaccine before the time runs out", have come across my screen so many times that I've lost count. These words come from Vaccine, a survival horror game with roguelike elements developed by Rainy Night Creations. Vaccine is heavily inspired by classic 90's survival horror games in both gameplay and aesthetic, but with a handful of elements taken from more modern genres. While the combination of survival horror and roguelike may seem intriguing, Vaccine combines the dated elements from one genre with some of the worst elements of the other genre, to create a death filled frustration of a game.
Vaccine has players take control as either one of two characters, who must find a vaccine to cure the other character within 30 minutes along with discovering the mysteries behind the mansion. Each attempt will have players playing through a randomly generated level, based on dozens of non-randomly generated rooms and hallways. While exploring the level players will find keys, weapons, and other items, that will help them fight creatures and progress further in the level during their search for the vaccine. Along with the randomly generated levels, the game introduces a leveling up mechanic that can increase a player's health or the speed of picking up an item, among other stats that can be improved by using experience points that players receive for killing enemies or opening doors. The addition of these elements with the classic gameplay experience of a series like Resident Evil leads to a unique horror experience. While Vaccine's experience might be a unique take on a classic genre, it doesn't mean it's a fun or enjoyable time. The only thing players will find from this game is a lot of dying and many moments of exasperation.
Here's what I liked:
Feels like a classic horror experience – For better and for worse, Vaccine both looks and controls like a classic survival horror game from the PS1 generation. With visuals that look multiple generations old and controls that are as tank-y as it gets, Vaccine sets out to imitate classic games and does so. Going around and collecting items while shooting creatures with the pistol or shotgun feels just like Resident Evil, but with a little less polish game design wise. There are even numerous documents that players can pick up and read that explain a little about the background and story of the game's mansion, which is reminiscent of classic experiences as well.
Here's what I didn't like:
Relying on luck – One of the most challenging elements of a game that has roguelike influences is finding a balance between rewarding gameplay mechanics and difficulty. In some of the better roguelike games, the difficulty that most players experience early on in the game slowly becomes less of an issue later on, as players become more skilled with the game. While Vaccine has an element of this, the game overall feels entirely based on luck. The randomly generated levels can at times make a run feel destined for you to fail. There were numerous times where I encountered rooms right away that held enemies I had no hope of beating, as I had yet even to find a gun at that point. While I slowly did get better at playing the game, most of the time it didn't even matter as I was dealt a bad hand. Within exploring the first few rooms, I knew I wasn't going to get very far. Having to rely on a generated level to have what I needed when I needed it to be able to have a chance at any hope of progress just led to an incredibly frustrating experience that many will find infuriating.
Pause the action – One of the most questionable design choices from Vaccine is the fact that when the player enters the pause menu or a puzzle menu, the game and enemies don't freeze in time. There were a handful of times when I went into the pause screen to level up or manage my inventory only to find out that a zombie was chomping down on me. For a game that is already challenging enough, not letting players pause the action and feel safe to mess around with their inventory doesn't seem all that fair. I can understand wanting to always have players on edge, but the way Vaccine goes about with it is more irritating than edge inducing.
There's a reason tank controls are gone – I fully understand wanting to hearken back to the classic survival horror games of the 90's and create something comparable to those games, but some aspects of those games don't deserve to be brought back, specifically tank controls. Having to maneuver around the levels in Vaccine would have been much easier if I wasn't also battling the controls every second of the game. The game's fixed camera angles and tank controls led to countless times of me going through an area as the camera viewpoint changed and letting go of the controls for a second to then find that up no longer was for going up and it was now for going left or for going right. In stressful situations where enemies surround players, a single chomp by a zombie can cause the controls to change completely. In these moments where I thought I was holding the control stick in the right direction to escape an enemy only to find out that the controls switched leading me right to another enemy, it was hard to want to keep playing. Vaccine tries to create an authentic survival horror feeling game, however, the game would have been better off doing away with an outdated control scheme and trying to incorporate a more modern control scheme that would have enhanced the gameplay experience instead.
Vaccine sets out to imitate the classic horror games of old, and in that regard it is successful; however, it fails in being an engaging and enjoyable experience as a whole. The roguelike elements are not a great match for the classic genre, and the reliance the player will have on luck and having to deal with clunky controls will make the game an easy one to put down. If you are itching to play an old school horror game, then you're way better off just playing the HD remake of the original Resident Evil, than having to deal with the frustration that is Vaccine.
Score: No Appeal
Vaccine was developed and published by Rainy Night Creations. It released for Xbox One on February 21, 2017, for $9.99. A copy was provided for review purposes.