Runestorm, the South African trio who dabble with modding the Unreal Engines, have spawned something very weird with Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage. Viscera Cleanup Detail is a remarkably complete game, given it’s still in early access; it is also a lot of fun if cleaning takes your fancy, and believe me it’s more fun than it sounds.
This game is certainly unique, and to be honest it’s quite a clever physics based expanded mini-game. You are a cleaner, tasked with dealing with the horrific mess left behind after Santa went all PTSD and destroyed his own toy workshop, elves included. Virtually no story is given aside from the obvious, the only way to pick up details is from any notes that you find scattered around, each highlighting a tiny factor explaining the event of which you are dealing with. You can also piece together small moments of the catastrophe from what you find while cleaning; a disturbing mess in the stables downstairs, a little hint on Santa’s desk and a horrifying secret kept by some floorboards to name a few.
The gameplay is simple, yet addictive; you have three tools: your mop, your hands and an uncleanliness sensor to help you find anything not cleansed by your gifted hand. You pick things up with your hands then put them in a box, which you collect from a dispenser, and once the box is full you place it all in a fire to erase it from the level. Debris can include bodies (or their separate parts), discarded shotgun shells, empty whiskey bottles, rubble and other things you’d expect to find at a make-believe massacre. The mop is the other useful tool at your disposal, with this you mop up any mess left around (its blood, mostly blood); but you also need a bucket to clean the mop. These are again obtained from a dispenser (a different one to the box, mind), and have finite uses as the water to blood ratio will shift unfavourably.
Anything you deem to be unclean can be purged by the cleansing fire, otherwise it can be straightened up, mopped clean or kept in your personal box (the safest place for any explosives found). You quickly learn what order of cleaning is best for quick results, which brings immense satisfaction to see how clean you have made a once decimated area. It’s this satisfaction that draws you in and keeps you playing, rarely for more than an hour or so at a time but it still feels alluring to tidy things up. I suppose it will either grab you or seem completely asinine.
Graphically it’s functional, neither bad nor exceptional; but the artistic direction feels exactly how a toy shop gone Vietnam should feel like. Picking up elven body parts feels as disturbing as it should, especially if you drop them or accidentally bounce them off another object, delivering a satisfying squelch and splattering blood around the area. The physics engine holds up surprisingly well, this is one of the few games I’ve seen where you can place many objects into a larger object without the game having a seizure (most of the time at least).
This isn’t a difficult game really; there are no threats other than dynamite (it behaves how you’d expect in fire), so the challenge comes from cleaning itself. A problems arises when it comes to completion however; it is quite unclear on when you are finished, nothing seems to happen to indicate how far you’ve come (other than what you can see). There’s no completion bar or sign you’re near the end, so you are left wondering if you haven’t finished the job or the game has left you in the cold. Other problems are more minor and niggling in detail, like picking up lots of individual small items, like shotgun shells and smaller pieces of debris; although the game would be ridiculously short if you could pick up items in bulk. The dispensers can also dish out meaty chunks instead of buckets and boxes, a neat touch at first but it soon becomes an irritant when you are halfway through a tough clean and it dishes out three chunks in a row. The physics engine occasionally throws a tantrum and will fire your collected items out of the box, but this is mercifully rare.
This game is an odd concept that is delivered remarkably well; sick and funny in equal parts, both disturbing and satisfying. I cannot deny that it is calming to clean up after Santa lost his rag, but I feel that this won’t apply to everyone. This makes it a hard game to grade, for those who enjoy salivating the cleaning urge it will like scratching an internal itch; if the concept doesn’t grab you, it will feel like a waste of time. As long as you know what you are going into, I think you can have a lot of fun with this game; it would be nice to have a progress bar though.
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