Monday, May 26, 2014

Surgeon Simulator 2013 Review

Surgeon Simulator 2013 is a very interesting game to review because by all accounts it should be horrible.  Normally I recommend a game for having fast-paced action with tight controls, flipping, kicking, a strong story and characters monologuing at each other like professional wrestlers, but Surgeon Simulator is the complete opposite in every way.

It doesn’t have much of a story for context, but in a very rare occurrence (for me), it doesn’t need one.  The basic jist of it is that you play as a left hand controlled by a brain-dead moron who clearly doesn’t know how surgery works.  Using five keys on the keyboard to bend the arm’s fingers, the left mouse button to lower it and the right mouse button to rotate it, you must perform a number of surgical transplants through rather… Unorthodox methods.

And by unorthodox methods, I mean you pull everything out and plop the replacement in the empty cavity.  The sloppy surgery combined with the awkward crane controls and physics is the core of the game's cathartic appeal.  It is one of the only games I have ever played that purposefully and successfully nails being so bad it’s good.

CR-S01 he is not.

The original Surgeon Simulator was a free online game made in 48 hours that gained popularity for its hilariously awful controls and merciless difficulty that resulted from them.  Instead of taking that as negative criticism and making a better surgery game like Trauma Center, the developers expanded on what made the game popular and developed a new version available for retail on Steam, with much more content and more morbid hilarity.

However, for deliberate, straightforward mockery fodder there’s a surprising amount of depth to Surgeon Simulator.  There are many different tools to use, from surgical lazers to bonesaws, and the way you go about disemboweling and placing organs can differ. There are many little things you have to be careful about during surgery too, like dropping the replacement organ or pricking your finger on a needle to mess up your vision.

Drugs are bad, mmm'kay?

Sometimes those little details you need to find yourself.  Surgeon Simulator 2013 has all sorts of easter eggs to find.  Some you can find in surgery, while others are on the main menu screen at your office desk.  One of the bonuses you can find is an extra surgery performing the TF2 Medic’s procedure from the Meet the Medic video.

It's the hardest surgery in the entire game, and I still haven’t beaten it.  You need a lot of time and patience if you ever want to.

Ah sh-

Once the main surgeries are completed, you're able to unlock them in other settings, like a moving ambulance or outer space, which shakes things up quite a bit.  For even more replay value and comedy, the game’s Steam achievements are also the best kind: cleverly named and unusual enough to give you a reason to try something new.  There’s an achievement for making certain hand signs (the bird, devil horns), flipping a spoon, electrocuting and drugging yourself at the same time, and throwing the brain into the patient’s skull like a bean bag toss.  Naturally the names come from all sorts of internet jokes, including lines from famous videos of people who played the original and lines from movies and games, like “Frikkin Lasers: Complete a procedure using only the surgical laser.”

One of the achievements even tells you to “Create a Time Lord.”  Only fans of Doctor Who can figure out what that means.

The achievements are fun to try once you've unlocked everything, but the problem is that “everything” isn’t all that much.
Other than the bonus levels, there are only three surgeries with three different environments to practice them in.  The environments add replay value, but feels like a cheap way to artificially lengthen the game without making new surgeries, making the $15 price tag a tough sell.  This is a common problem I have with a lot of indie games, and players may not even have the patience to unlock it all.

If you thought it was hard before, try it with speed bumps.

In a rather large misstep, you have to beat a surgery before you can unlock the next one, and because the game is so relentlessly difficult, you’ll likely grow tired of attempting and failing the same surgery over and over.  If all the surgeries in the first environment were unlocked from the start, the player could try a different one and come back to the one they failed at.  That would have helped the game immensely.

There are also some rather glaring problems with the instructions.  In addition to never telling you vital information about your tools, the game never specifies where to clumsily cut to remove organs.  There are floppy discs on the main menu that tell you, but you don’t get them until after the surgery they’re for!  That may have been to intentionally try to piss players off, but it’s less funny in the long run because ordinary players have no way of getting past the first surgery to enjoy the rest of the game without knowing where to cut!

But regardless of whether or not you know what you're doing, Surgeon Simulator 2013 is a fun experience overall, provided the player understands the joke and doesn’t get too frustrated.  It’s also a very interesting experience for game design aficionados as well.  I often cite Surgeon Simulator as an example of how a game can be good by being bad and I really hope to see other games that can pull that off in the future.

Playing or watching someone else play Surgeon Simulator (provided its single annoying music track is turned off) is like watching The Heavy make French toast.  It’s funny, stupid and memorable, but once it’s over you go back to doing more important things.  Then sometime later you’ll remember how funny it was and go back to it again.  That’s the kind of appeal this game evokes.

I give Surgeon Simulator 2013 a 6 out of 10.

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