Vaccine review: A brand new take on old school survival horror

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Vaccine is a survival horror game released from one-man Spanish indie development studio Rainy Night Creations. The studio’s second game and first step into the horror genre, it’s available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii U, and Steam.

Two heroes, one house

At the outset, you choose to play as one of two characters. Whichever one you don’t pick ends up bed-ridden with a fatal virus. Your goal is to find the Vaccine (really a cure) that will save your friend. To do that, you’ll have to survive a randomly generated house filled with horrors.

Vaccine features a semi-Roguelike structure. Every time you save your friend with the Vaccine, they’ll get infected again, a new house will be generated, and you’ll have to find the Vaccine again until you can finally solve the mystery of the house. Solving the mystery involves beating up clocks, solving puzzles, and reading notes.

Aside from scrambling to save your friend, story is not a major focus of Vaccine. What little you experience is told through notes scattered throughout the house that you may not even find due to the game’s randomization. Puzzles are minimal and optional, so most of the time you’ll be focused on not getting lost or killed.

Monsters and other challenges

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Vaccine features five different enemies, but the only real threats are crawlers and the game’s randomization. Players will encounter several other enemies, all easily taken down with a knife or gun. What makes crawlers so dangerous is their speed, high damage, and large amount of hit points. The most effective way to take down a crawler is with a gun. If you find yourself without one, a combination of repellent and knife attacks will work in a pinch.

According to the developer, crawlers don’t appear until the second half of the randomly generated house. The developer also stated that the pistol will ‘very likely’ spawn during the first half, reducing the threat that crawlers represent. However, the house tends to have multiple routes, and items are often difficult to see, so you might not even find the pistol. Encountering a crawler without one almost always leads to death. Thus finding the pistol before encountering a crawler has a significant influence on whether your playthrough will succeed or fail.

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The other way the random nature of the game affects your chances is the size of the house and the rooms that spawn. Sometimes the house is quite small and the rooms are very open, leading to a successful playthrough. The items are easy to see and you can return to your friend quickly after finding the titular vaccine. Other times, there are several rooms with multiple exits and lots of clutter. Given how often room designs repeat, rooms with multiple exits can make navigation very confusing.

Cluttered rooms make finding items much more difficult. Items often blend in with the environment, including important ones like keys and weapons. Strangely, less important items (such as gum and energy bars) actually stand out more than key items. Items will flash once every few seconds, but with time as a factor, you cannot spend too much time waiting for them to flash.

Resident inspiration

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From graphics to gameplay, Vaccine is heavily inspired by early Resident Evil games. Here you pick from two characters that have similar starting stats to those of the original Resident Evil. Once you select your character, a creepy voice says the title of the game – just like in Capcom’s survival horror classic.

Despite that cool voice sample, Vaccine‘s audio is mostly unimpressive. Sound effects are almost nonexistent. Some enemies don’t even make a sound. Even when they do, their sounds are too quiet compared to the music. That music is a bit bland and forgettable, to boot. It doesn’t even change during tense moments, which could’ve helped add a few scares.

The graphics are mostly well done (other than items blending into backgrounds too much), and closely resemble Resident Evil. Some items even look like they could be found in Capcom’s game. For example, a random box you can find looks just like a Resident Evil storage box. Examine the box and the description mentions about how nice it would be to store items in it. Several enemies also look and act like Resident Evil monsters.

Vaccine also uses tank controls like early Resident Evils, with no way to change them. You move by pivoting left and right and using up and down to go forward and back, which gives the game a nostalgic (or perhaps antiquated) feel. However, the actual button layout doesn’t match Resident Evil at all. It’s as if the developer hasn’t played Resident Evil with a controller.

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While Vaccine draws copious inspiration from Resident Evil, it’s a much simpler game overall. Puzzles and inventory management are minimal here. That’s good, because the inventory menu is pretty rough. The cursor is an odd color and difficult to see, so selecting things involves lots of fumbling. At least you don’t have to use your inventoryas much as in traditional survival horror games.

One potential improvement over the games that inspired this one is that your character levels up as you play. You can choose to increase specific stats such as attack speed, damage, total hit points, and more. Unfortunately, levels don’t carry between playthroughs. Nothing carries over at all. The lack of a metagame and/or unlockables limits replayability.

Not a cure-all

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Vaccine’s main draw is Resident Evil-style looks and gameplay. Some parts are definitely lacking, such as the lack of any real metagame or other progress shared between playthroughs. Success is unfairly linked to the randomized house layouts here. This creates frustrating situations in which players sometimes have no chance of survival. Not the best Roguelike design.

Games don’t look or feel like this nowadays, and that will certainly appeal to long-time survival horror fans. You just need a lot of patience. If you’ve been craving a PlayStation One-era survival horror game for your modern console or PC, Vaccine is at least worth a try.

Score: 5/10

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Xbox One review copy provided by the developer.

Author: Bob Bambuch

Almost everybody calls him Bob, except for his wife or mother when she is angry - then he's Robert. Originally conceived in the back of a garbage truck, Bob now spends his time playing all genres of video games on Xbox One. He streams and sometimes even uploads a video to YouTube when his cat isn't busy looking up bird videos.