Developers: Bossa Studios
Originally conceived and then birthed as a GameJam project in the space of 48 hours (which you can play here), Surgeon Simulator 2013 brought the high pressure environment of the OR to life like never before. Forget Operation, Bossa's disgustingly messy, QWOP-esque slice-'em-up was an enormous hit, partly due to the hilarious user vids that hit YouTube in its wake.
It came rocking the Casualty theme tune, with deliciously warped approach to medical simulation, and placed you in the role of Nigel Burke - a man with about as much hand-eye co-ordination as a mop. Floaty physics, combined with a arsenal of tools that might make the Marquis de Sade cry, made for a fiendishly difficult little browser game, as it was originally released, using the Unity engine. A cult following soon followed, a Greenlight push was swift to follow, and now Surgeon Simulator 2013 is available at retail, with some bumped up features.
Firstly, it's clear that the game has had something of a graphical polish. Barnardshire General Hospital gleams in better-looking HD textures than before, and it's clear that Bossa have used the extra time to try and justify the fanfare that swept the game onto Steam. A new reception hub area provides ample opportunity for getting to grips with the controls, not to mention a few little hidden surprises and Easter eggs to reward players who try to interact with everything that they find. Frankly, there's nothing better than a game that gives you a novel interaction mechanism, and then rewards you for playing around with it.
You see, as much as the game has the word 'simulator' in its title, the initial buzz comes from the grotesque absurdity of cracking someone's sternum open with a power drill and flinging their organs about the place like a deranged Harold Shipman. The control scheme - the mouse controls the movement and rotation of the hand, AWER and the SPACE bar controls your fingers and thumb - is almost ludicrously fiddly and requires supreme co-ordination (whether playing alone or with a friend) to achieve your ends, meaning that operations (heart, kidney, and brain transplants all feature now) end in disaster for the patient more often than not. It's a simple juxtaposition between a very serious environment and a very playful control scheme that makes this game such a success.
That and the buckets of gore and deeply unsettling sound effects.
The sound design has changed a little. The music is no longer a litigious clip that got tiring after it looped every 20 seconds, but rather something a little cheesier, with a bit more 80s melodrama to it. The sound effects are brilliant, with the squelches proving to be deliciously offputting, matched by lovely little visual cues like jets of blood when you nick an artery or start butchering an organ, and the chips of bone that issue forth when you start drilling, hammering, or sawing through bits of skeleton. Sadly, however, Nigel's voice seems to have disappeared, so we no longer hear his panicked utterances as he merrily offs another clone. On the flip side, of course, it does allow for a greater sense of immersion, and for users to essentially play through their own stories, which we love!
So it is that your Nigel might be terrifically methodical about removing kidneys or navigating through ribs to get to the heart underneath, making precise movements with a little handheld buzzsaw, whilst mine might very well plug in the Black and Decker and simply go to town. A little tip: don't accidentally stab yourself on the syringes as surgery is significantly harder when you're tripping harder than David Bowie during the Ziggy Stardust era.
As a comedy game, the original worked effortlessly, but Bossa have made strides to ensure that this retail release is worth the small price point. The extra operations are very welcome, and the grading system that evaluates your surgical efforts after a success makes for some replayability. You can unlock a change of locale too, which will have you performing procedures in the back of an ambulance, with tools flying everywhere at each small bump in the road, just to make things even trickier.
However, a few little things have changed in terms of the gameplay itself. The fluidity that the original had has been tuned up and made weightier. The idea, one supposes, has been to allow for an actual degree of simulation, and indeed it's more difficult to crack through bone. Take the heart transplant for example, in the original you could dislodge almost everything in the chest cavity with a flurry from the hammer. Now, however, things are held in place a little firmer. It's a bit more difficult to pick objects up too, and the raw accessibility of the original, at least in comedic terms, has been muted slightly as a result.
Of course, the free version is still out, so Bossa had to differentiate slightly, and making the game a little more about skill than just anarchy makes sense. It's still a lot of fun, though for the first few hours, you'll almost certainly be measuring your scores by how long your patient survived before you eventually murdered him rather than a success grade.
Comedy is a difficult thing to critique and a trickier thing to price, and a "cool" thing can be made significantly less so by slapping a price tag on it. The YouTube rush has already happened, and funny trends on the internet can often pass quickly. But I don't see that necessarily being a problem for Surgeon Simulator 2013. It can be frustrating if you don't have the patience, but marking it down for that would be folly, and the fiddliness is the point. This is Surgeon Simulator after all, not Fish A Coin Out From Down The Back Of The Couch Simulator. If I get stressed during the working week, this has become my instant source of catharsis: get angry, butcher a patient, laugh, continue happily with my day.
There are further things that we could have perhaps hoped for, though. More procedures would have been nice, more ridiculous tools too. The price point is a tricky one at £6.99/$9.99. It's a good looking digital download, but really quite shallow in terms of actual content, and thus might be a hard sell for some. But that's what the free version is for, though I almost wish they'd adopted a little microtransaction model for this, with players paying a couple of quid if they want another procedure type. Personally, I love the extra content, I just really wish there was more of it. The physics tweaks have given the game longevity and even if it eventually stops being amusing to watch another video of hilariously commentated surgical mishaps we'll always have the game itself. It's got enough of that just-one-more-go factor to be worth a punt, whether for the laughs, or to try and beat your friend's grade.
Just one request please Bossa - let's have some Oculus Rift support please!
- Now actually allows for a certain level of "simulation"
- Could have done with more procedures
- Potentially subject to "fad popularity"
- £6.99 might be too much for some when there's a free version out there
The Short Version: Did Surgeon Simulator 2013 need a retail release? Possibly not, but Bossa's touch-up of their GameJam cult hit is a tighter, more skilful game, with just enough new content to warrant slapping some cash down for it. Plus it's still funny as hell, now with added kidney, brain, and ambulance shenanigans.