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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review: Surgeon Simulator 2013

There's a new genre of game that I'm calling the "Glorious Failure" genre. It includes games like QWOP, CLOP, and the demo of Surgeon Simulator 2013. In a Glorious Failure game, you could conceivably win with the tools you’re given, yet those tools are so difficult to use that only the insane would be able to succeed. Failure is a much more common (and hilarious) result.

In fact, failure is kind of the point of this genre. The sillier you look and the more ridiculous your attempts, the more fun you'll end up having.

So why do I include the demo of Surgeon Simulator and not the full game? Because the full game of Surgeon Simulator 2013 sort of forgets that the whole point of these games is failure.

In Surgeon Simulator 2013, you play as a surgeon who has to perform complex surgical procedures on poor, defenseless patients. You control your fingers with a few keys on the keyboard, and you move, lower and tilt your hand with the mouse. The general idea of Surgeon Simulator 2013 is that you're supposed to successfully complete a heart transplant, kidney transplant or brain transplant using one hand and a variety of surgical tools.

That's ostensibly the idea behind it, but it's so much more fun pawing at the tools like a drunken toddler and causing mayhem. Most of the videos online of Surgeon Simulator show the players giggling as they embed a scalpel into the patient’s lung, or accidentally dropping a bonesaw into the patient’s chest cavity and desperately trying to get it out. That’s when Surgeon Simulator is at its best: When everything goes wrong.

However, Surgeon Simulator 2013 breaks that feeling. Instead, they ask you to actually perform the surgeries from start to finish, and then you can unlock other surgeries. Now, this may not sound like a flaw to you. After all, isn't the point of a game that you need to improve so you can advance onward?

Yes, but Glorious Failure games aren't the same thing. Remember, in a Glorious Failure game, the controls are usually so needlessly complex that you can't be expected to succeed, and failure is encouraged. At some times, Surgeon Simulator 2013 gets this. For example, Surgeon Simulator 2013 gives you an achievement if you throw two hearts into the chest cavity, if you throw in something that doesn't belong or if you flip off the patient.

But then, they ask you to actually do the surgeries, and it's just frustrating.

For example, to do a heart transplant, what you're supposed to do is break the ribcage, rip out the lungs, cut out the heart and toss another heart in there. Unlike the demo version of Surgeon Simulator 2013, the ribcage splinters into a million little pieces. If you toss in the heart and there are too many ribcage pieces sitting in the chest cavity, you don't succeed with the surgery because the heart can’t land where it needs to. You have to pick out the tiny pieces of bone first, which can be a problem if you have the heart there..

The kidney transplant is even worse. You're presented with the large and small intestine and have to remove them in order to get to the kidneys. I swear, I've sat there for at least a half an hour with scalpels, saws, lasers and hammers trying to remove the organs and have gotten nowhere. Once, I nicked the corner of the small intestine and severed a tiny corner. That was as close as I've gotten to removing it. I’ve grabbed onto the large intestine and pulled. It didn’t budge.

This sort of behavior is funny when you're expected to fail. However, when you're trying to succeed and you can't because the controls get in the way, that's terrible.

Bossa Games needed to go one way or the other: Either tidy up the controls so that the player could succeed (which defeats the whole purpose of the game) or let the player fail and still proceed. They should have actually encouraged such failure, like allowing you to proceed if you've killed the patient in under two minutes or something like that.

Is that morbid? Well, this is a game where you're smashing open ribcages with a hammer and ingesting drugs accidentally. If you're going to go that route, take it all the way. Allow the player to plant a little flag inside the chest cavity. Accidentally start yourself on fire. Cause the patient to wake up momentarily. Throw a kidney into a paper shredder. Take it all the way. The more mayhem, the better. The more failure, the better.

Instead, taking a game that's built for failure and then expecting the player to succeed is just unfair. For example, on the title screen I spent twenty minutes trying to get my hand to pick up a floppy disc and insert it into a computer, and you expect me to remove a brain without killing the patient? Yeah, not happening.

When Surgeon Simulator 2013 works, it’s a thing of morbid beauty. When it doesn’t, it’s an exercise in frustration and ragequitting. A shame, too, because they really had something on their hands there, and I’m not referring to the kidneys on ice.

Final Grade: D+