The Vaccines are at War

Vaccine War is very much unlike the bulk of indie PC games I play. See, it has an actual story that someone put time and effort into writing. Maybe not a whole lot of time and effort, but it shows that someone was actually interested in telling a story in this one.

As the tale goes, The Great War has ended, and your veteran main character (Daniel) moves his family from Prussia to Spain so that they can live a quiet life on a farm. But then a band of rogues bomb the nearby town, killing Daniel’s wife and abducting his daughter. You are then sent on a zig-zagging tour of the game world, hunting down the leaders of assorted military/paramilitary groups to find said missing daughter. Turns out the whole thing was because some secret society planted a “cure” for human cruelty into Daniel, and they wanted to extract the refined version of it form his daughter.

No, it doesn’t make much sense. But at least the developer tried. The developer whose name I didn’t bother to learn and probably will not bother looking up. (Spoiler: I didn’t.)

This weird story is told through many cutscenes, which are slow and not skippable. You can mash the button to speed the text along, but when every cutscene is placed right after a save point, you begin to yearn to be able to skip them completely. Also there are at least a couple typos in the walls of dialogue, which are semi-forgivable because based on the credits, I’m reasonably certain that English is not the developer’s native language.

So what else does Vaccine War have to offer? Well, the visual style is certainly… unique. It sort of reminds me of Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, but not quite as stylized. I didn’t think it looked very good at all in screenshots, but when the game is in motion, it really does come together. The illustrations for the cutscenes are fairly horrible, though.

Okay, so. Gameplay. How does it stack up? It’s fun enough, I’d say. It’s a left-to-right kind of affair, but the game uses its 2.5D visual style to let you move along the depth axis as well. So, I guess it’s technically 3D then? But you aren’t allowed full 3D movement. You’re entirely restricted to the game’s set paths. Still, it’s a nice touch that both literally and figuratively gives the world a little more depth. The drawback here is that because of the way the combat works, level design is otherwise very flat and samey throughout the duration of the game.

Speaking of which, the combat seems at first blush to be of the typical run-and-shoot variety. You start with only a knife, but quickly get a gun and are thoroughly taught to use cover to keep from being shot. Because you can’t see enemy shots to jump over them like in the average side-scrolling action game, it essentially becomes a side-scrolling cover-based shooter. Which renders it slow and underwhelming.

That is, until you realize that in almost every case, it’s much easier, faster, and more effective to just rush every bad guy and stab him to death. You’ll take plenty of hits, but enemies drop enough healing items to keep you alive, and the save point mailboxes also heal you fully. This strategy is also the best way to deal with bosses, the only difference being that you will occasionally have to stop stabbing them for a moment to dodge their attacks. That said, the final boss is terribly cheap, and it’s not at all clear how you’re supposed to deal with him. It’s such a bad fight, in fact, that I nearly gave up. But stubborn as I am, I banged my head against that brick wall long enough to figure it out and claim victory.

Should you play Vaccine War? Not really. It’s decent enough that I finally feel justified in my purchase of the bundle it came in, and it’s nice to look at in motion for a while. But it’s so simplistic that it never offers anything new or exciting besides the boss fights, and even they’re not that great. Although if you are interested in seeing the whole game, you will need to play it yourself, as the two Let’s Plays on YouTube petered out halfway and four-fifths of the way through, respectively. Still, I wouldn’t really recommend it, unless you absolutely need to burn two hours by stabbing fools that you are supposed to be shooting. And even then, Resident Evil 4 is much more satisfying way to get that fix.

*NB: This game costs a whopping $8.79 CAD on Steam. I paid $5 for the 10-game Indie Gala bundle it came in. $5 is closer to the “correct” price for this one.

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