As you start a new game, an ominous voice says the game’s name: “Vaccine.” You take control of either a male or female character, grab the knife on the ground, and venture out to explore a creepy mansion filled with zombie-like creatures and other monstrosities. Vaccine’s classic Resident Evil inspiration is visible everywhere, right down to its graphics and awkward tank controls.
Your friend has been infected, and it’s up to you to search the mansion for the vaccine… or rather, the antidote, but “Vaccine” makes for a cooler game title. Since you have to make it back before your friend succumbs to the infection, you’re on a timer. It starts at 30 minutes, but gives you less time with each subsequent successful playthrough, until you finally reach the true ending.
There’s another gameplay twist that sets Vaccine apart. It’s part survival horror, yes, but also part procedurally generated RPG. As you fight enemies, you’ll earn experience points that you can use to increase one of your stats. These stats determine your speed, your stamina, how much damage you take, how good your aim is, and your luck. Every time you start a new game, the mansion’s layout and item placement is randomized.
While this is an intriguing concept, it’s also Vaccine’s fatal flaw. The old games it resembles were far from a random arrangement of rooms. They were carefully crafted so that you had everything you needed when you needed it. In Vaccine, that isn’t necessarily the case. There were times when I picked up ammo clip after ammo clip with no gun to use them in. There were times when I encountered enemies I couldn’t evade, but didn’t have the items that would let me survive the fight. There were times when I found two keys right next to each other and unlocked the two doors almost immediately–a far cry from the methodical system of backtracking and unlocking found in classic survival horror games.
This makes for a frustrating experience at times, as you start a new game and hope the procedural generation has mercy on you, especially since you can’t save your game. And while your stats carry over after a successful run, you start completely fresh each time you quit. One interesting aspect is its story, which has more of a science fiction flavor than many games in the genre, but since the notes in the mansion are also randomized, it’s not enough to be compelling.
Vaccine has some great ideas, and there’s something fun about picking up a modern game that so resembles those older classics. Unfortunately, while it’s good for some survival horror nostalgia, it ultimately misses what made those classic games so great.