Vaccine Review - Nintendo Switch a.k.a Dead House Saisei
The survival horror genre was one of the big casualties of the last generation. Many of the genre's most prominent features such as fixed camera angles were born mostly from technical necessity in the mid-1990s and the infamous tank controls were conceived before games such as Super Mario 64 and Tomb Raider cemented the fundamentals for controlling a character on a 3D plane. Nevertheless, Biohazard (Resident Evil in the west) established itself as a big-hitter in the late 90s by embracing these limitations as defining features. The gaming industry was progressing however and the genre soon found itself unable to keep up as people expected greater control over their characters. By the time Capcom themselves essentially abandoned the genre with Biohazard 4, it had long since become niche. Hopes that Konami's Silent Hill series would pick up the baton proved fruitless, and aside from Tecmo's Zero series the genre has long since been put out to pasture leaving its fans in the lurch. Vaccine (known as Dead House Saisei in Japan) does nothing to change that situation but it does offer a decent piece of nostalgia for older gamers, albeit one with some rather big flaws.
Vaccine is essentially a love letter to those who adored the original Biohazard, often treading the thin line between tribute and blatant copying. As soon as you load up the game you are placed in a mansion uncannily similar to the original Spencer mansion. The similarities don't stop there as the developers made a real effort to emulate the art style and general feeling of the original game in the pre-rendered backdrops to the point where the rooms wouldn't look out of place in Capcom's classic. The controls have been much maligned in other reviews of this game but the reality is that they're almost identical to those in the original Biohazard. The tank controls are accounted for and it plays like a dream for those with fond memories of the original's control scheme. The game may have been more accessible had a more modern control scheme been implemented similar to the recent Biohazard Remake and Zero re-releases but this game is explicitly appealing to people with strong memories of the 1996 original.
There's only really one piece of music in the game but it does a fantastic job of replicating the feeling of the original score. The presentation overall accurately recreates the original Biohazard and is the ultimate nostalgia trip for fans of the genre. The game is scattered with plenty of nods to the original game, be it the creepy title screen voice or the reference to Moonlight Sonata when you encounter the piano and the actual scenario itself should be familiar to veterans of the series. The objective is to find the vaccine somewhere in the mansion and bring it to your friend within the time limit. Essentially it is an expanded recreation of a similar scene in the original Biohazard where you must bring the vaccine to an infected Rebecca Chambers but also bares similarities to the extra game modes found in later Resident Evil games such as the Hunk scenario from Biohazard 2 or Mercenaries mode from Biohazard 3: Last Escape. This game hits all the right nostalgia buttons perfectly.
Unfortunately the game's biggest problem is found in its flagship feature. The randomisation is flawed both conceptually and in its implementation. The game uses so-called 'rogue-like' random generation of rooms in the mansion as well as the items and enemies inside them. Conceptually, this runs against one aspect of what made the original Biohazard games so great. The enemy placement in the original games was both deliberate and well-considered with enemies intentionally placed in specific locations that give the strongest feeling of fear and uncertainty to the player yet rewarding those who knew the game well enough to develop strategies to deal with the unseen foe. Enemies would be hidden from view due to the fixed camera position yet players could still hear them and recognise their presence, heightening the tension. This sense of fear was crucial to the original games and yet this gets lost through the randomisation system as enemies can appear literally anywhere in the room, often in places where the player has no realistic means of dealing with them (such as spawning multiple enemies in front of the door right in front of the player). The randomisation also means there is no reward to learning where enemies are or developing strategies to overcome them. The implementation itself is also fundamentally broken due to no clear algorithms being used in the randomisation process. Players start off with a knife in the first room and may be lucky enough to encounter a handgun or shotgun during progression. Unfortunately the way the weapons spawn seems to be completely unrelated to the ammo that you encounter throughout the game. That means it can be possible to go an entire playthrough picking up plenty of handgun ammo yet never encounter a handgun. An system to ensure that related items spawn within a sensible distance of each other would go a long way to solving this.
This issue extends to the generation of rooms themselves, which are a set number of interconnected rooms that are randomly generated so that the next room you enter when you go through a door is completely random. However, players can often walk through a door in a room and end up in the exact same room. Leaving a dining room just to enter another identical dining room just feels lazy and would be easily solved by ensuring that rooms are only generated once within each playthrough in order to give the mansion some cohesion. It's tempting to say that the game could be fixed by simply implementing algorithms to give some pattern to the random generation but the reality is that the genre isn't well suited to a procedurally generated structure. Most players would prefer a small number of pre-constructed scenarios with well-considered item and enemy placement which would give players an incentive to learn the level layouts. As it is, the developer's efforts to add replayability to the game through procedurally generated levels ironically serve to give players little reason to learn and replay the game with no incentive to discover the most efficient routes through the scenarios or the best way to deal with enemies.
The problems mentioned above serve to make Vaccine a difficult game to recommend. If you have never played the original Biohazard then this game is absolutely not for you because the game's strength is in the nostalgic nods to its source and without this we're left with an anachronistic game with broken fundamentals. However, those who adore the original Biohazard will still fall in love with this tribute to the classic horror series and the game-breaking issues will likely be easier to overlook for those who just want to experience a new take on a faux Spencer mansion.