Homages to our childhood are very much at the forefront of gaming right now, with so many titles playing on our sense of nostalgia. Rainy Night Creations is aiming for that effect with its take on the '90s survival-horror genre. Harking back to the days of Resident Evil and Dino Crisis, Vaccine intends to make its mark by bringing back fixed camera angles and tank controls to truly immerse the player into a time now forgotten. Are some things better left in the past?
As with some of the most famous horror settings, Vaccine takes place in a mansion where you play as one of two characters (Manuel G.P. or Rita O'Connor) poised with the task of finding a vaccine to cure your partner from the “Shredder Syndrome”. The text reads: “Despite all your best efforts, your friend got infected again” – a contradictory statement on your first playthrough that makes much more sense after your initial attempt. Unlike most horror forays, Vaccine comes with a time limit of 30 minutes for you to have both found the cure and returned it to your fallen comrade. Adding a great sense of tension, the time limit constantly decreases every time you succeed; your friend relapses, forcing you to speed up the process and uncover the mystery before it’s too late. The twist is that for each run the entire mansion completely rearranges itself, making every venture brand new.
Procedurally-generated environments are an interesting idea that keep the game fresh. Instead of learning the map you’re forced to concentrate on stealth and careful play. The downside of this is that luck plays a huge factor and can often frustrate. Starting off you will always find a knife in the first room; how the rest of the mansion plays out is a roll of the dice. Sometimes a gun will be available next door whereas other times it can take multiple attempts before any weapon is remotely close, making encounters far more strenuous. The idea may be trendy, but can lead to an uneven experience here.
A neat and rarely seen trait for this genre is an RPG mechanic. Building up your XP through defeating enemies, accessing new areas or finding new documents allows one of five traits to be upgraded. Out of the options available health and aiming felt the most useful to us, with luck, determination and stamina wasted - it’s rare you can’t outrun a foe. These traits are essential for progressing through the difficulty stages, so choose wisely.
As previously mentioned we have both fixed camera and tank controls implemented; both of these can be off-putting for newcomers. Fans of the original Resident Evil will likely adore the throwback even if the gameplay feels outdated. Jumping into Vaccine the style immediately grabs you, with the classic blocky graphics encompassing everything from character models to room textures. Though this is great for the aesthetic and tone, it does make identifying items more difficult than intended and therefore hinders progress.
This is a problem, because Vaccine is a gruelling game - death is only a corridor away. Enemies come in forms such as a standard zombie, annoying rat-like creatures (that will nibble away at your damage meter when you're least expecting it) and a Licker lookalike à la Resident Evil. We suspect few will manage to unlock the true ending by beating the game nine times.
Earlier in the year, Vaccine released for Wii U when the console was already past its prime, almost like the corpses that roam the halls here. Our previous review referred to common spelling errors and poor writing in the documents that portray the story. Spelling is improved, but odd writing sadly remains; at times the text seems not only poor but odd. Lines like “Is suffering” are misplaced and rushed; no care has gone into delivering a core line for the protagonist to follow. Aimlessly wandering the mansion piecing snippets together to uncover the story can be fun in a sense, yet it's mostly unrewarding. The story is there if you want it, but it's certainly not forced down your throat.
For a much more secluded experience handheld mode reigns supreme, giving the game its most polished look. Blown up on a TV the blocky textures are frightfully hard to look at and are downright ugly. Not all retro styles have aged gracefully, and the blocky art-style here has regrettably aged horrifically. Impressive in the '90s, yes, but it just doesn’t hold up in 2017. The visuals are a problematic distraction, and some deeper colours or richer backgrounds could have helped. That said the included 'CRT mode' is a nice touch.
An area deserving of praise is the music, which plays into the time-limit theme very well, sending chills down the spine every time you open a door. Though there isn’t a huge variation, what is available is stellar. The slow and constant rise before petering out with light piano melodies makes for some terrific, apprehensive moments. For a small system the Switch sure does blast out this soundtrack, being a relentless reminder of impending threats - it's unsettling from start to end.
Vaccine is not as infectious as one may hope, with '90s controls and camera angles being at the forefront; it could easily dissuade newcomers. Handheld mode offers a more intimate take, meaning music is at the core for holding the tension – in this one area it does a stellar job. Increasing the picture size to a TV regrettably shows the ugly nature of the graphics however, not only hindering gameplay but the overall experience. Story is something that can either be taken or left, though don’t expect much in terms of a pay-off considering the challenge in reaching the true finale. Finally, the randomised environments at the heart of Vaccine are a clever idea but, like in the Wii U original, serve up a flawed overall experience.