Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog

Vivisector: Beast Within (PC, Ukrainian, 2005): Just Give It A Chance
August 5, 2010, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Vivisector: Beast Within (PC, 2006, Ukraine)

Once again, here I am reviewing a game more than 5 years after its release, but I’m just now getting around to playing it. Same old story.

I have a funny relationship with “Vivisector: Beast Within.” I installed it, booted it up…and my heart sank. It looked kinda crappy, it played kinda crappy, the voicework was iffy—if I didn’t have a standing (and at times extremely painful) pact with myself to finish every game I begin, I would have probably wiped it off my hard drive pronto. I even made some notes to myself while I was playing it initially. Here’s an excerpt: “Had really high hopes for ‘Vivisector’ (PC, Ukrainian, 2005). But about 3 hours in, I’m not sure I’m going to continue playing it–ditching a game is not something I do often. The problem is that, while at first it seemed like a typical-for-the-time linear sci-fi fps (which I never tire of), it actually seems to be an ‘arena-style’ fps–you get caged into each open space and then wave after wave of cyborg animals are thrown at you, while you run in endless circles never letting off the fire button. When done, you walk 100 feet to the next area and…rinse, repeat. I’ve never cared for games like these. Dull, no strategy involved, repetitive. Games for 12-year-olds with ADD.”

But I soldiered on.

Then a bit later, I wrote this: “I gave it another 2 hours of play last night and totally enjoyed it. For some reason, I suspected (hoped) that the gameplay style would change–and it did! It became a more traditional sorta typical linear sci-fi Halflife thingey (making your way through a large map, encountering small groups of foes, scrounging for ammo and health packs)–which is just fine by me! More play tonight; I hope it continues in this vein. If it does, I’m sold! But if it devolves into arena-style-play again, I pull the plug.”

Then a bit later, this: “OK. After another handful of hours, I’m doing a complete 180 on ‘Vivisector.’ Given the context of time and place, it really is a great game made with a lot of care and attention to detail. (And it’s another one of those epic Eastern European games that simply won’t end!) If I were in the Ukraine in 2005 with a PC able to run the game on high settings, I probably would have peed my lederhosen (or pantaloons, or what-have-you). I think this really is a group of high-minded, low-budget programmers looking at Valve and saying ‘We can’t make the next Halflife, but darn it, given our constraints, we’re going to come as close as possible (with a bit more goofiness mixed in for good measure).’ And they succeed brilliantly. It’s uneven, it’s patchy, it’s repetitive–but it is involved, lengthy as all hell (I clocked in 20 hours a while ago, I think), and there is an energy and gusto to it that must be admired. YAY!!”

So that’s how my relationship to this game evolved over time. You can read about the general feel and narrative of the Ukrainian-made game elsewhere, but a quick rundown goes like this: You are a soldier dumped on an island tasked with subduing a Dr. Moreau-like mad scientist who has been doing experiments on animals, creating “humanimals”–yeah, basically leopards, lions, and cheetahs who run around with SMGs and grenades (and claws when they get up close). The gameplay is pretty darn swift as you traverse both interior and exterior environs; the controls are comfortable; the weapons are serviceable (with a few energy weapons to boot)–nothing extraordinary, but they get the job done and feel generally hefty. Due to the game’s age, I played it on a non-sooped-up laptop with my 360 controller (wireless receiver for Windows), and other than there being no aim-assist (the game was made to be played with a mouse after all–which makes targeting a bit tricky with thumbsticks), the game runs like a champ–smooth as glass, no hiccups, all high settings (such as it is).

By 2010 standards, the graphics in “Vivisector” have the familiar Source Engine feeling of being lifted from somewhere between HL1 and HL2. The maps are expansive, and if it weren’t for the very linear FPS gameplay (typical for the time), this would almost look like a sandbox game (but it isn’t of course.) Some of the lush (term used loosely) jungle areas are so massive, you actually need to use the map to assure you are pointed in the right direction towards your next waypoint. This open-space feeling is nice, and it makes the game feel “larger” than it actually is. The interior sections add some needed variety; in fact, the environs are surprisingly varied overall, with your typical tunnels, railcars, basements, labs…even traditional battle trenches (a test-area where the humanimals practice for war).

A few words of caution: Stick with the game if you plan on making the time-investment at all. Here’s why: Graphically, as well as gameplay-wise, the game (as some reviewers have mentioned) does not make a good first impression–but it improves significantly as it progresses. As another reviewer noted, it almost feels as though the developers sort of figured out what was and wasn’t working as the game was being created. As a result, the environs get better, the gameplay gets better–generally everything improves over time.

In sum, get it cheap, run it on your system that is powered by miniature poodle on wheels, you’ll be good to go. A guilty-pleasure timewaster that is surprisingly immersive.