Calling Dr. Howard, Dr. Fine, Dr. Howard.
It’s been a while since I fired up my Playstation VR. The honeymoon period is definitely over and the poor thing has just been collecting dust while it hangs on a makeshift hook that I’ve screwed into the wall unbeknownst to my wife. Sure, it’s gotten a few plays here and there, but those sessions have never lasted more than the 15 minutes it takes to complete Star Wars Battlefront’s VR mission. Needless to say I was pretty excited when a review code for Surgeon Simulator VR was handed over to me, but little did I know that this code would lead to immeasurable amounts of frustration and anger.
I’m one of the seemingly few players that never played Surgeon Simulator when it was released to PC’s back in 2013. That’s not to say I didn’t know what I was getting into. In the last 3 years I’ve been treated to several “Let’s Plays” where profanities and laughter went alongside the hilarious gameplay. I laughed along while watching gamers struggle with an obtuse control scheme that made remedial tasks such as picking up a pen look as difficult as, well, brain surgery. Attempting to answer a phone would result in several random objects on a desk being thrashed about, eventually ending up on the floor. Or better yet, stuck in a computer’s floppy disk slot. This seemed like the optimal game to get a bunch of drinking buddies around the television to watch a drunken friend perform a kidney transplant. From what I saw it looked like Surgeon Simulator was the perfect game to get the VR treatment.
I’m warning you right now that you should not let your friends play this game. They will hate you and they will laugh at you. It may sound like I’m being a bit harsh, but I’ve just finished an hour long session where I’ve held down the options button to reset my position about 20 times. My right thumb is throbbing and it’s painful to press the space bar. I’m sure it’s not my camera position because I played The London Heist and Rush of Blood just to make sure something wasn’t screwy with my camera’s tracking, and those titles ran flawlessly. I’m not sure what the issue is here but my body would relocate to different positions in the virtual room at random, sometimes even causing me to be stuck in the patient. Holding down the options button to reset would just put me back inside the patient and my hands would turn into skeleton hands which is the games way of alerting me that I’m clipping into something in the game world that I shouldn’t be interacting with. Hopefully now you don’t think I’m being too harsh.
To begin the game, Surgeon Simulator VR will attempt to calibrate your position. I immediately knew something was wrong because my hands kept turning into a grayish color and shaking violently. My right hand would often be palm up even though I was holding the controller the opposite direction and my left hand was constantly going from flesh color to gray. I had to reboot the console to get the calibration to work correctly. Once calibrated, I found myself in an office filled with binders, notepads, and other desk related objects. Throwing things around the office was fun and slamming the keyboard across the monitor was pretty satisfying. Actually starting my first surgery took a bit of exploration. There is a clipboard on the desk that lists the patient’s name and all the surgeries that you will be performing on him. At first just a heart transplant is available but once that is complete a new surgery will unlock and so on. There are a total of 5 surgeries: heart, kidney, brain, eyes, and teeth. These need to be performed in 3 environments: lab, ambulance, and space. The surgeries themselves are pretty simple – just hammer out all the pieces of the rib cage to get to the internal organs and cut them out with one of the many tools provided to you. Once you remove whatever organ your replacing, just pop the new organ in its place and that’s it. There’s no need to put everything back together, which is a good thing because most of the time it all ends up on the floor.
If it wasn’t’ for the tracking issues the game can be finished in about an hour. With all the issues it took me 2 hours to complete. I’ve seen images of an alien being operated on but was unable to unlock or find this anywhere in the game. Again, I believe this is due to the poor menu design layout.
Surgeon Simulator‘s desk that acts as your main hub leaves much to be desired. Floppy disks with surgery clues will appear at the end of each successful surgery, but the problem is that these clues they are giving you are for the surgery you just performed. To make matters worse is the random times the game would load up a surgery because the tracking thought I was pointing to a certain part of the clipboard, but in actuality I was not even looking in that direction. I’d have to stand and wait for the surgery to load up before I could exit and return to the desk again. Asking the player if they’re ready to begin the surgery rather than assuming they meant to point to the clipboard could easily fix this. Another head-scratching decision is the only way to start the 3rd series of surgeries is to insert a certain floppy disk in the computer. The game doesn’t give any hints to do this and just assumes the player has been inserting every meaningless disk into the computer after every surgery. The clipboard does have 3 locations on it but without knowing about the floppy disc, the player most likely have to remove the headset and investigate on what the hell to do next. A nice clean menu system would have taken some fun out of the office area but would lead to an overall less frustrating experience.
I do have some nice things to say about Surgeon Simulator VR. I love the 80’s setting. Old computers, VCR’s, and cassette decks cover the office desk and help put the player in the era. The 80’s synth tunes that play during the surgeries are also a very nice touch. On the rare occasion that the game’s tracking works it is really fun. Smacking around the patient and using a laser to cut out his insides is hilarious and never gets old. Grabbing internal organs only to toss them over your shoulder or out the back of a moving ambulance is just as fun as you think it might be! I just wish it worked right all the time because there is a lot of fun to be had here.
I’m happy my time with Surgeon Simulator is over. It was a frustrating experience that hopefully gets fixed with an upcoming patch. In it’s current state it’s an unplayable mess that needs a brain transplant of its own. My PSVR headset is now hanging back up on the hook awaiting Resident Evil 7: Biohazard.
Final Verdict: 2/5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), Oculus, Vive ; Publisher: Bossa Studios ; Developer: Bossa Studios ; Players: 1 ; Released: December 3, 2016 ; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Surgeon Simulator: Experience Reality provided to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.