I love the classic survival horror games such as Resident Evil, Alone in the Dark and Silent Hill. They we’re kings of the genre and some of the biggest selling titles in the late 90’s. We’ve moved away from that era of gaming to advanced dynamics, spectacular visuals and intense gore but along the way, many have claimed that the genre has lost its way. There are however developers whose ambition is to remind us of how powerful survival horror once was in gaming and with games that turn back the clock dramatically to prove this point.

Vaccine is a simple concept where a lone Special Forces operative must find a cure for their friend who’s infected with deadly virus. It’s up to the player to find a vaccine within a set time limit and save them while battling all manner of nightmarish creatures. Sounds simple enough, it would be if it weren’t for a compelling twist. The environment which players are situated in takes the form of an old mansion and its nature is bizarrely complex and terrifying. The mansion’s layout, item drops and enemy locations all change each time you play the game, ensuring you’re always walking in unaware what lies behind each door.

This is an impressive dynamic that truly keeps the experience refreshing and highly intense throughout. You’ll never be able to remember key item locations or enemy patterns as the layout changes immensely. Where you think a particular weapon, key or first aid won’t matter and it’s up to player deduction and sense of exploration to find their way each time they start the game. It’s a game about learning managing your time to check everywhere for resources, pacing your ammunition and ensuring your ahead of the clock. Overall, Vaccine induces stress, horror and tension into a beautiful and engaging experience.

It’s a fantastic and dynamic challenge for any survival horror fan. Even the aesthetics will warm your sense of nostalgia with visuals, controls and the soundtrack being heavily influenced by 90’s survival horror games. The music is a perfect partner to the retro visuals and will surely make your skin crawl in the best possible way. It’s best to ensure you can handle the controls as in true fashion of Resident Evil, the controls are clunky and awkward but this is to ensure more tension and helplessness is felt.

What did impair my experience at first was an unsettling feeling that the game appeared unbalanced and to many this may feel as true. Looking at first glance the damage you deal to enemies or how certain enemies react/manoeuvre in your presence can raise some questions. I still feel that zombies do deal a lot more damage than they really should and with very little in self-defence it can be an infuriating nightmare when you’re cornered by them. In older Resident Evil games the player could push back zombies by a couple of feet or knock them over completely to give them a chance to escape. Something like this would be more vital in vaccine considering there’s no save system and it’s advised to play the entire game in one sitting. Also the crawlers were the vain of my life during this review as they’re agile, deadly and take a lot of damage.

But Vaccine is all respect is a trial and error experience with a strong sense of player adaption. You learn from your failures but you also develop your actions, tactics and survival techniques more so than just exploring or running away. Compared to game like Dark Souls which really is just about timing your attacks, you have to combine tactics and resources to progress further. An example would be to spray a repellent and attack a stronger enemy while you have those very few seconds of protection. This ensures a swift victory and also some well-earned XP to upgrade your perks. This as well is another factor in survival as upgrading perks in the right manner is critical in later stages.

The challenge can be overwhelming at first and I understand why some people may get infuriated. But this is definitely an experience worth sticking out for and soon enough with some bruises and retries you’ll manage to push through.

After learning a few tips I was unstoppable and in brutal fashion I fought my way to the very end. But obtaining the vaccine is only the beginning as there’s an interesting and unsettling mystery to solve. Little details can be picked up as the vaccine run starts again but everything has shifted with new elements placed in the map. I was captivated and almost finished the game but ran out of time. The main issue I had overall was a lack of a map, which made more stressful runs, unbearably disorientating.

I was gutted, yet so happy with my experience and so determined to play again that I did. This reminded me fondly of Resident Evil 3’s Mercenaries mode, the hard-core survival run where time is a factor and resources are limited. While I still think the lack of a save system or a map can make multiple runs a little tedious or a stressful situation unbearably infuriating. I immensely enjoyed the experience Vaccine offers and recommend this to horror fans and those like me who loved 90’s survival horror. It’s brutal, rewarding and brilliantly engaging that the problems I had with it, weren’t so bad overall.

Yet a map would be nice for next time.

++ Intense survival gameplay
++ Dynamic environment elements
+ Great 90's inspired aesthetics

- Difficulty curve can be high to new comers
- Lack of map can be annoying with time constraints

A PS4 review code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review