One needs only to glance at my history as a writer to see that Resident Evil is my favorite video game series. Specifically the first three titles, which both established and subsequently improved upon the survival horror genre on Sony’s PlayStation. While that type of game, with tank controls and static camera angles, are viewed today as relics of the past, Rainy Night Creations’ Vaccine may be a vital shot in the arm for this dormant genre.
I’ll say this upfront: gamers who hate tank controls should move along now. For my money, those controls — along with the cinematic, CCTV-esque static camera angles which often accompanied them — are my favorite type of gameplay. When done right, it is an intuitive combo that offers unmatched spacial awareness and survivability.
And yes, I can hear you all laughing. Stop it. Seriously, you guys…
Vaccine succeeds in mimicking the look and feel of the original Resident Evil released back in 1996. The controls are tight and responsive (at least on the Nintendo Switch version), and the graphics have that authentic blocky, pixelated aesthetic so synonymous with the PlayStation era.
But the homage to RE go further than the controls and graphics. The entirety of Vaccine takes place inside an isolated mansion, much like Capcom’s survival horror classic. However, Rainy Night Creations saw fit to add a twist to this well-treaded setting. Each room of Vaccine’s mansion is procedurally-generated as the player makes progress, a fact which leads us to the game’s other mechanics.
There are no extra lives, item storage crates, or even a save feature (aside from one that records a high score). The is a Roguelike experience, and a particularly punishing one at that. In addition to rooms, the item drops, enemy placements, and journal entries are all procedurally-generated upon starting a new cycle. This greatly adds to the difficulty of the game, particularly because the only guaranteed weapon is a simple knife.
It doesn’t help that your character (of which there are two options: male and female) is a bit wimpy from the start. A further deviation from the RE formula is the inclusion of RPG level-up mechanics. Many of your actions, from opening and closing a door for the first time, to attacking enemies, gains precious XP to plop into several stats. Each stat can have noticeable effects on gameplay, such as improving your melee damage, increasing your health, and even improving your luck in regards to finding weapons and ammunition.
All of this helps when attempting to complete your seemingly simple mission to find a vaccine for your friend’s ailment. Even so, it’ll take some time to truly master the game and defeat its most imposing foe: the timer. That’s right — perhaps the game’s most polarizing aspect is the ominous timer, which starts at 30 minutes and decreases with each successful cycle. As someone who typically dislikes timers outside of the Dead Rising series, I found it to be perfectly fine here. It adds a great deal of tension to this game, and often leads to a fun sort of panic as your time dwindles while fighting through groups of enemies.
Sadly, there isn’t a very wide variety of baddies to fight. Basic zombies linger all throughout the mansion, infected rats lie in ambush beneath furniture, bats can burst through windows, and “Crawlers” will usually ruin your day. All of them aside from the Crawlers (and one other enemy I won’t spoil) are easily dispatched with some quick knife slashes, but rooms containing two more enemy types can be an absolute nightmare. Strategic use of doors is a great benefit, but players will definitely want to ransack the mansion in search of guns.
Two types of pistols and a powerful shotgun exist in Vaccine, though they don’t guarantee success. Their range is limited, ammo is scarce unless your Luck is maxed out, and even finding them is a shot in the dark. These highly coveted firearms are also indicative of Rainy Night Creations’ dedication to emulating the original RE’s gameplay, as Vaccine lacks the auto-aim and quickturn features implemented later in Capcom’s series.
Which brings me to the negatives. This game is a little too simple at times, and the lack of auto-aim and quickturn are a symptom of that point. There are only two puzzles in the game: one which repeats and becomes slightly more difficult in subsequent playthroughs, and another necessary for reaching the true conclusion to the story. While I applaud the decision to implement a limited inventory with finite slots, there should really be a way to drop items since they cannot be stored elsewhere. It’s always disappointing to accumulate a pocket full of Repellent, only to be forced to use it all in favor of picking up a key necessary for progression.
Speaking of keys, they bring to mind my biggest complaint — item visibility. Vaccine’s various camera angles are usually placed high above the player character, which can make it difficult to notice smaller items. Keys in particular consist of only a couple of pixels and can spawn on any surface, in either light or shadow, becoming impossible to discern from certain textures. To compensate, items are supposed to emit a momentary glimmer to draw the player’s eye, but this effect is inconsistent and often fails to trigger. This can lead to wasted minutes at best, or completely ruin a good run at worst.
Even so, the positives far outweigh the negatives for me, and Vaccine satisfies my yearning for something that resembles the beloved games from my childhood.
THE VERDICT: 8.0 OUT OF 10
I’m aware this is a minority opinion, but Vaccine was always going to be a very niche kind of game. If you love the iconic feel and difficulty of old-school survival horror, and lament the horror genre’s current reliance on dumb action and hide n’ seek mechanics, then you will probably enjoy this game as much as I did.
Come and take your medicine.