I’m a 90’s kid and for us there are a few things we adore right up to this very day. Gaming was a big deal for me like many others and no genre captivated kids, teenagers and even some parents none other than survival horror. Resident Evil, Silent Hill and even Alone in the Dark made an impact and for years were some of the bestselling games. This has been lost and now most horror games focus on relentless gore and pursuing stress over tension. But some indie developers and hardcore fans are keen to turn the clock back and give us a retro treat that’s eager to turn our stomachs. I introduce Vaccine onto the stage.
Vaccine is a 90’s survival horror inspired game where players take on the role of a lone operative who’s racing against the clock to find a cure. Their close friend is infected with a deadly virus and it’s only a matter of time before they change into a nightmarish creature. With time a major factor and all sorts of horrors awaiting the player how else could it be any worse?
What is bizarrely complex and terrifying about Vaccine is how the layout of your environment dramatically changes each time you start the game. Everything takes place inside a creepy mansion and each time you enter everything changes from the room sets, item locations, and enemy placements. This brilliantly raises the tension to extreme levels and ensures players have absolutely no idea what the hell to expect behind each door.
It’s an impressive gameplay dynamic that keeps the experience engaging and thought-provoking while the challenge never becomes repetitive or dull. Unlike games such as Resident Evil where you can remember where vital resources are located, Vaccine never gives you that honor. This is a game about learning tactics and pacing your actions as you walk into the unknown each time. Overall, Vaccine induces stress, horror, and tension into a beautiful mixture of gameplay styles.
Even the aesthetics are a fantastic reminder of how cheesy yet wonderful 90’s survival horror was. The photorealistic (at the time) rendered backgrounds, horrid controls and the unnerving soundtrack all brought a smile to my face. They all pay a great homage to the genre. Even though elements such as the fixed cameras being awkwardly situated at times or the control a little too clunky for their own good, this never ruined the experience. These did benefit in some way to create a stronger sense of tension and helplessness for the player.
Although my biggest gripe with the game is the lack of a map. This became infuriating in the later stages when the mansion becomes so complex that one wrong turn can easily result in failure.
What was a concern is how the game can present itself to be unbalanced in enemy damage. NPCs such as zombies can take a huge chunk of life from you and with little in terms of self-defence can prove devastating in certain situations. They move quicker than you expect and can’t be knocked over or pushed back far enough to give you a chance to escape. Being cornered in a room by just one can easily result in Game Over. Crawlers were another issue and in all honesty, there’s only one tactic to deal with them in the beginning stages of the game until you obtain actual firearms that deal more damage.
One moment which really ticked me off was how one of these crawlers stood next to explosive barrel and took a minimal amount of damage while a few knife strikes could kill them quickly. However be mindful their nimble and quick to strike repeatedly.
These balancing issues wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the lack of a save/checkpoint system. Which isn’t a bad thing as this can escalate the tension and your approach to tactics when playing the game. It also reminded me fondly of Resident Evil 3’s Mercenaries mode. You are advised to play the entire game in one sitting to discover the true ending.
Vaccine is in all respects a trial and error format with a strong sense of player adaptation. You learn from your failures but you also develop your tactics and survival techniques. An example would be to spray a repellent and attack a stronger enemy while you have those very few seconds of protection. It’s also about knowing what perks to upgrade and when to do it just as much as venturing out to find more resources. There’s a huge risk factor presented to players but the sense of reward is amazing.
The challenge can be overwhelming at first and I understand why some people may get infuriated. But this is definitely an experience worth sticking out for and with failures comes more knowledge and it’s up to players to try out different tactics and actions to overcome certain situations.
After learning a few tips I fought my way with sheer brutality right up to the very end. But obtaining the vaccine is only the beginning as there’s an interesting and unsettling mystery to solve. Each time you obtain the Vaccine the mansion’s layout resets and you find more clues and keys to the ultimate mystery. New elements such as puzzles are introduced and even a mini-boss comes into play. The puzzles do become a little obscure and racing against the clock didn’t help me feel at ease, especially when the timer still counts down even when you’re on the puzzle interface.
I was captivated by Vaccine and even though my first complete run resulted in failure, I was brought back into the game without hesitation. My failure was being 30 seconds away from success as I become lost too often. The lack of a map was extremely annoying in this position and couldn’t see why there was no visual aid to guide me through areas I’ve explored already.
None the less I found this a treat as a survival horror nut! While I still think the lack of a save-system or a map can make multiple runs a little tedious, I immensely enjoyed the experience Vaccine offers. This is a recommendation to horror fans and those like me who loved 90’s survival horror. It’s brutal, rewarding and brilliantly engaging that the problems I had with it, weren’t so bad overall.