Vaccine Review (Switch) – “Survival Horror like it’s 1997”


In the 90s, gamers were treated with a very welcome new genre in gaming, survival horror. While Alone in the Dark is theoretically the original 3D survival horror game, it was Capcom’s Resident Evil that truly garnered praise and popularity. Over the last two decades, the genre has changed immensely, trying to find immersive new ways to terrify players. However, fans of 90s horror games miss their fixed-camera angles and tank-style controls. Rainy Frog Games has created a survival horror nostalgic throwback to yesteryear, Vaccine. Is this 90s style survival horror game worth the trip back in time?

Vaccine takes place in a constantly changing, procedurally generated mansion. You will choose one of two operatives: Miguel G.P. or Rita O’Connor, both of which look like HUNK from Resident Evil. Upon starting, you are given a very brief plot that your friend is infected and you will need to find the vaccine to administer to them. You have 30 minutes to do this. As you scour the mansion, zombies and other deadly creatures are ready to rip you apart. You have no weapons on-hand, and must find any weapons in the environment to defend yourself with. There’s always a knife to pick up in the starting room, but firearms will be essential to your survival.

As mentioned earlier, tank controls are in full effect. You move forward holding up, backwards holding back, and turning left and right. You must aim your weapon holding one of the shoulder buttons, then pressing the action button to attack. You can aim up and down as well. It’s literally the same control scheme as the very first RE game. However, the movement controls do feel a bit floaty compared to RE’s tighter control.

The game brings some unique ideas to the table that changes the formula up a bit. For starters, the game is procedurally generated (as mentioned earlier). This leads to every single playthrough being an entirely different layout. Whether it’s the rooms connected in the mansion, the enemy placement, or items, no run will ever be the same. Next is the fact that you’re always on a time limit. In your first playthrough, you have 30 minutes. If you succeed, you will repeat the process (in a new layout) with only 20 minutes. Complete it a second time in a row, and you will then have only 10 minutes. Should you beat it three times in a row, the timer will diminish by 30 seconds each successful playthrough. If you die at any run, or run out of time, it’s game over and back to the very beginning. There are no checkpoints or save points.

Also unique is the XP system. For a game of this nature, it’s different to see that your character can upgrade their attributes in one of five areas: Determination, Stamina, Health, Aiming and Luck. Determination helps make picking up items, opening doors and reloading faster. Stamina lets you sprint for an extended period of time. Aiming increases the damage inflicted on enemies. Health increases your defense. And lastly, Luck increases your chances at better items appearing in each room. Each trait can upgrade to level 10 as the max. Every time you attack an enemy or open a door, you get XP. It doesn’t take very long to max out your stats…as long as you can stay alive.

Now the game is initially viewed as an endless survival game, where you keep repeating the scenario over and over. However, if players actually read the files left throughout the mansion, the story unfolds a bit. It’s through here where you realize there’s a deeper objective hidden in the game, rather than just always finding the vaccine and repeating the process. So yes, there is an ending to attain. However, the more you repeat the process, the higher your rank will get, which certainly helps the replay value. Even after beating the game and acquiring the “true” ending, I found myself coming back to better my records and see how far I could go up in rank.

Vaccine is certainly an homage to 90s survival horror, but the game does have some issues. First off, the character controls are a bit floaty and never really felt tight. It takes some getting used to, especially when the original RE’s had tighter character control. The next thing is that it can be a bit difficult to see items in rooms. They can occasionally shine a bit. Unfortunately, there are times the items are far away from the camera, making them minuscule on-screen. The camera also can lead to having a hard time distinguishing how far an enemy is from you (more specifically when having to knife them). You can aim up and down, but there’s no difference in damage dealt. Also, while I understand why there’s no map system in place, a map would’ve been great to have. There is also a puzzle in the game that starts off simple, but as you progress further, becomes a complete guessing game. The menu system can also be a bit confusing due to the actual highlighting of items being barely visible. Lastly, there are some grammatical errors in the game’s dialogue.

Vaccine is such a throwback, that it visually replicates the 32-bit era. While many will find the game “ugly”, it does a great job of showcasing the polygon nature of the visuals. Character models are blocky and jagged…and that’s how it was in that era. Even the font is jaggy. Animations on the other hand could be better and are quite jerky, even by 32-bit standards. It does runs at 60 fps most of the time. However, when playing in handheld mode, there were instances when multiple enemies in a room caused the frame rate to drop, as well as rooms with a fireplace. Playing on TV mode, the framerate dips were less evident. Audio wise, Vaccine has a great, haunting score that really lends to the experience. Audio effects for guns are powerful and knife stabs sound effective. There’s no voice acting, but there’s someone who announces the game’s title once you choose a character. Certainly a nice nod to Resident Evil or Alone in the Dark.

Vaccine is without question, a love letter to 90s survival horror, and that can’t be stressed enough. It’s not the lengthiest game, nor is it a very deep game. Yet despite the gripes I mentioned, what is here for the mere $10 asking price is quite enjoyable once you get past the learning curve. I found myself really enjoying the game the more I kept sticking with it. It’s certainly a niche game for a niche market…and that’s more than fine. It just needed a bit more polish before heading out the door.

Overall Score: 6.5 out of 10 = “Entertaining, but needs refinement/polish”

A special thank you to the publisher for providing us a review copy for Vaccine! Copy reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

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