- Developer – Bossa Studios
- Publisher – Bossa Studios
- Platforms – PS4 (tested), iPad, Steam
- Release date – Out now
- Price - £8.99
Ironic, so-called satirical "Simulator" games are vogue right now. But most of the developers, particularly those behind stuff like Rock Simulator, aren't getting the joke. Just giving people something wacky to play as, like a goat or a slice of ham or whatever, isn't funny. It's just kind of arrogant and self-effacing, like "he he, ho ho, aren't videogames CRAZY?!"
Real humour comes from games like Surgeon Simulator, now on PS4, where players are put in a mundane situation and left to find their own laughs. This lets them play 'be the comedian'.
It's not top-down "you will laugh at this because it's so bloody crazy"; it's genuine. It's like a Phil Silvers comedy, where however plain the task, you know he's going to screw it up.
The pitch in Surgeon Simulator is that you're a real surgeon, with real patients, needing real operations, but you seem to be either a drunk or dizzy. The only thing you control is your character's right-hand, which is moved using the analogue sticks and the shoulder buttons. It feels constantly like you're having to brush your arm through treacle, like the nerves in your fingertips are shot.
A lung for a heart
Here you are, trying to do a double kidney transplant, and you have to squeeze down five different buttons just to pick up a scalpel. Invariably, your character's alien hand syndrome means your patient ends up with guts strewn on the floor, blood squirting out his head, a lung where his heart should be.
But here's the rub: you CAN do it. With enough practice and skill, you can perform the surgeries without any spilled gizzards. This is why the humour works.
It's not rigged – it's not a cheap laugh that's deliberately dicking you over for the developer's amusement. If your patient dies on the slab, messily, hilariously, it's YOUR fault. You're the clown. You're the stand-up.
There are some baseline mechanics to help you on the way to failure, but they're basically just props. It's up to you to put on a show.
"Ludo-narrative assonance" [Sigh- ed]
There's a great mix in Surgeon Simulator between a developer laying some ground rules and a player making his own fun. It hits a tiny, very hard to reach sweet-spot where everyone involved in the game is riffing off each other, where it becomes symbiotic. It's the opposite of so many games, especially recent Simulator cash-ins, where the designers are manipulating all the fun. To coin a phrase so flamboyant and smug I'll have to punch myself in the face once I finish typing it, it's ludo-narrative assonance.
Story, actually, is one of Surgeon Simulator's strongest aspects. It might not leap out straight away, because it works so well as a pick up, put down comedy game, but Surgeon Simulator draws on several emotional experiences that don't often render in videogames.
You feel defeated, confused, beleaguered, intimidated. Truly, it's like a nurse has bungled you out the hospital cafeteria, slapped some latex gloves on you and said "get to it".
It makes you want to shout "I don't work here. I don't know what I'm doing." You never feel like that in a game. You're normally some prince among men, equipped with controls that let you execute backflips or sexually gratify a woman with the push of a button. Surgeon Simulator's a real emotional trip.
Although it's full of humour, it still communicates how complicated and difficult surgery must be. There's a level of abstraction there, of course, but it's a faithful simulation in the sense that it's hard and confusing. The pressure is on. You need a steady hand, lots of focus. It's definitely not anatomically accurate, but the emotions in Surgeon Simulator feel pretty true to life.
That's another level the game operates on. It's funny, obviously, but also emotionally resonant, and one of the first games to make a job that's hard in reality feel hard when you play at it.
Surgeon Simulator looks super on the PS4, particularly because of the added blood splatter effects. The music's still great, all catchy tunes that thud to the beat of a heart monitor, and the physics are superbly balanced. Your tools have weight and a real sense of size to them. Particularly in the unlockable space levels, where you're performing ops in zero-G, these physical properties pay off in giggles.
Your hammer floats slowly across the room. You try to reach out and grab it, but you miss and it ricochets gracefully off your patient's forehead. It's a hell of a laugh.
So, if you haven't played Surgeon Simulator before (or even if you have) get it on the PlayStation. As well as all the retouched textures and additional operations, like the eye transplant, there's a local co-op mode, which always descends into a kind of inadvertent game of slaps.
It's hilariously clumsy and you tend to end up yelling at each other, but again, if you practice, there's nothing quite so satisfying as you and your friend simultaneously yanking on a guy's ribcage and managing to pull it out.
Surgeon Simulator gets the balance just right between slapstick and pathos. It takes our weaknesses, our shortcomings, our human fallibilities and makes us laugh at them. It's a smart game – understated, emotionally complex, idiosyncratic. It feels like it's been made by a team of people who all share the same sense of humour, who had an idea and really understood what would make it work.
That kind of cohesiveness and presence of mind is so rare, especially in videogames. As such, Surgeon Simulator is truly something special.
Gameplay: 10/10 – Perfectly tuned. Captures the balance ideally between player and developer, slapstick and tragic
Graphics: 8/10 – Especially on PS4, Surgeon Simulator looks great. Lots of detail. You can spend hours just pratting around with the main menu
Sound: 8/10 – Plenty of squishy organ and scraping bone noises. The main theme, which plays on start-up, is fantastic
Writing: 9/10 – Surgeon Simulator isn't heavily written but you'll still get a lot of stories from it. It's all about how it plays. From that one shaky hand you can extract so much feeling
Replay value: 8/10 – Lots of extra operations and environments to unlock. You'll need to practice a lot before you get good
Overall: 9/10 – One of the funniest, smartest videogames ever made. Layered and understated, it explores so much more than just slapstick comedy
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