If you’ve ever played QWOP you can understand the appeal of games that are intrinsically badly designed, usually to provide challenge in an otherwise ru rudimentary game. I’m not sure what it is but they seem to trigger the competitive OCD part of my brain, pushing me to master them even though there’s little to be gained since none of the skills gained in these games translate to other titles. They do provide a rather weird sense of enjoyment though, usually when I find a way to beat the system through an emergent property of the game that is, again, due the deliberately bad programming/controls/physics. Surgery Simulator 2013 is yet another title that fits in the “deliberately bad but devilishly fun” genre and I spent some time with it over the past week.
Born out of this year’s Global Game Jam Surgery Simulator 2013 started off as a comical heart transplant simulator where you, an unnamed doctor (or are you? It’s never really made clear), must get a new heart in your patient before they run out of blood. Unlike games like Trauma Centre which attempt to recreate the tension of performing medical procedures like this Surgery Simulator instead puts you incontrol of a single hand that you must use to perform all tasks, one that’s incredibly awkward to control. Still you persevere, performing heart transplants, double kidney replacements and even a brain transplant.
For a game that was originally created in 48 hours I have to say I was very impressed with the graphics in Surgery Simulator 2013. Granted they’re nothing spectacular but the stylization, almost TF2 like in nature, adds to the overall comedic tone. The level of detail in the environments are also quite astounding with all sorts of stuff you’d expect to see in a reception/surgery and, quite surprisingly, most of them functioning in some way. I have to say I didn’t expect any of the floppy disks to work when I put them in the drive, nor the pen to draw on the paper when I first started mucking around.
The premise of Surgery Simulator 2013 is simple: you need to get the new organs in the patient before they run out of blood. This sounds a lot easier than it is as the patient loses blood every time you hack into them and should you be… less careful with where you bash/slash/cut they’ll start to continually lose blood, putting a firm timer on how long you have to complete it. This is made all the more difficult by the controls which aren’t exactly intuitive, especially with the way they interact with the various tools and organs you’ll be working with.
Your hand is controlled by a combination of your keyboard and mouse. The A, W, E, R and Space bar keys represent your fingers which works fairly well although I often found my hand getting out of place after a little while. Your hand’s position and rotation are controlled by the mouse with regular mouse movement changing the overall position, depressing the left mouse button dropping your hand down and the right mouse allowing you to rotate your arm and move your wrist. If this sounds confusing it most certainly is and this is where the challenge comes in, mastering these whacky controls in order to perform the correct actions.
I thought that since I’d played a little bit of the original game I’d be more than capable of doing the same actions in the full version of Surgery Simulator 2013 but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The original was a little more liberal in what you could accomplish without severely injuring your patient like being able to bust open the entire rib cage with a single, well placed hammer strike. Attempting the same thing in this version seemed to do a lot more harm than good, often resulting in ~10% of their blood disappearing and leaving them bleeding rather quickly. It seems that the best way to complete most surgeries was with a light, precise touch, something I didn’t think was actually possible.
So whilst you might be able to accomplish everything by using the power tools to slice and dice your way through and knock organs flying with the hammer should you want to go after any of the numerous achievements you’d be advised to try the light touch and use the scalpel/surgery laser more often. Indeed whilst I might not be at A++ level on any of the surgeries yet I definitely found it a lot easier once I started playing it a little more carefully. There’s also the green syringe on the side which when used on the patient stops any bleeding completely which is a godsend when you’re trying to find out where to cut and failing miserably.
If you’re not finding the regular surgeries much of a challenge then there’s the Ambulance Mode which ratches up the difficult level significantly. You’ll get all the same tools however you’ll be constantly bounced around, moving all your tools around and often throwing something onto/into your patient. You can also lose things out the back of the ambulance, including the organ you’re trying to replace. Whilst it’s not impossible it sure is a damn sight harder, especially when the fire extinguisher keeps landing on your patient’s head.
For a game that was built in 48 hours then polished over the next few months Surgery Simulator is a surprisingly well done game, expertly capturing the “so bad it’s good” idea with it’s awkward control scheme and rediculous game premise. If you’re someone who likes to master the nigh on impossible then there’s a lot to love in Surgery Simulator 2013 and the myraid of achievements is sure to keep you coming back in the hopes of performing the perfect surgery. It’s certainly not a game for everyone, especially if you can’t stand being frustrated by bad controls, but the hilarity that ensues is most definitely worth the price of admission.
Surgery Simulator 2013 is available on PC right now for $9.99. Total game time was approximately 2 hours with 29% of the achievements unlocked.