Surgeon Simulator is all about struggling. It’s about the fight to save someone’s life while also coming to blows with a control scheme that doesn’t want you to succeed. It’s about picking up a saw and possessing the mental dexterity to position it over the patient and carefully lower it into a rib cage without destroying vital organs and killing him. Then again, it’s also about losing and laughing at your failure as lungs leap out of bodies and pieces of bone get lost down the back. It’s about taking game design in the other direction and the glorious results that can come from doing so.
Surgeon Simulator: Experience Reality is not about these things.
This is the natural progression of the demo that developer Bossa Studios first revealed alongside the HTC Vive virtual reality (VR) head-mounted display (HMD) back in March 2015. Surgeon Simulator has long been a supporter of the Oculus Rift, but here VR support becomes the focus and is bolstered by the latest breakthroughs in the position-tracked SteamVR controllers. Now it’s a full title, set to arrive on both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive which at once completely changes the game and yet (ironically) keeps its heart intact.
With position-tracked controllers, the Surgeon Simulator experience is no longer concerned with tying your fingers in knots and dropping sharp tools inside a mess of intestines. Instead, operations become quite possible, as you rely on the controller’s (in this case Oculus Touch) incredibly precise tracking to pick up an object and use it in an entirely natural way. It can actually prove to be quite a liberating experience going from, say, the PlayStation 4 version of the title in which the buttons, tilt-sensing and analogue sticks of the DualShock 4 are used to confuse you to these impressive controllers that provide unparalleled accuracy.
But here’s why the comedy still works so well: you might have the right tools both in and out of VR, but you still don’t know what you’re doing, especially in the case of operating on an alien. That’s exactly what VRFocus got to try, having to remove a spherical organ from deep inside an extraterrestrial being. You pick up an axe, you know how to use it, and you take it to a ribcage like a mad doctor; it’s no less fun than it was when it released years back thanks to VR. In fact it’s even better.
It also helps that the challenge is still piled on elsewhere. You’re working against a timer here, and it adds a sense of desperation to the proceedings that make mistakes and rush jobs inevitable. Combined with the brilliant zero gravity effect, it’s not long before bits of alien are floating through the air along with tools and, amusingly, the body’s own hands. It’s one of the most convincing VR experiences yet to have to bat away a pair of thing scaly fingers that pesteringly insist on floating just in front of your face as you try to get the job done.
Surgeon Simulator: Experience Reality is radically different from its predecessor, then, and yet it keeps the tone and hilarity intact. You might expect the slapstick nature of this beloved franchise to serve more as an excuse as to why it isn’t a polished piece of entertainment, but this isn’t the case whatsoever here. Surgeon Simulator has always been a great showcase for the diversity of videogames and the laughter they can provide. Now it’s about to do the same for virtual reality.