My wife is an operating room nurse in her actual real life career. She spends her days wearing scrubs helping doctors deliver babies and perform often complex operation surgeries on all parts of the human body. Blood, guts, and tears sprinkle her floor and clothes while lives literally hang in the balance in her day-to-day occupation. I on the other hand wear goofy VR headsets and bash patients’ heads in with a hammer because it makes me laugh. We lead very different lives.
Surgeon Simulator: Experience Reality from Bossa Studios is a VR-based adaptation of the original Surgeon Simulator 2013, first released for flat monitor displays in 2013. A big part of its charm came from the wonky controls, silly premise, and absolutely ridiculous shenanigans that resulted from pairing an extremely serious occupation, such as being a surgeon, with the whimsical nature and dark humor of imprecise video game controls. It was hilarious and garnered a huge fanbase.
Naturally, once VR headsets hit the market, people wanted to experience it all over again, but this time from the immersive view of a VR headset. When the Vive launched, we got Surgeon Simulator VR: Meet the Medic, which was a short demo showing off the basic mechanics. Now, Surgeon Simulator: Experience Reality, is essentially the original 2013 game adapted to fit the controls and premise of the Meet the Medic demo. Depending on your sense of humor and expectations, it mostly works.
The entire game is played by picking up and using objects. The very first operation has you cutting into Bob, who lay opened up on the table, ready for business. He needs a heart transplant and the tools of destruction are spread out before you. You can pick up the saw and carve his ribs away one by one, or bash them in with a hammer to reach his insides more quickly. Grab a scalpel and cut away his organs to get deeper, or carefully maneuver the electric saw to remove those pesky arteries.
Make no doubt about it though: Surgeon Simulator: Experience Reality is an inherently flawed and conflicted game that struggles with core fundamentals that a VR game released at the end of 2016 probably shouldn’t struggle with. For starters, the tracking feels finicky on all three versions of the game (HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, and PS VR) and controls are imprecise and cumbersome pretty much across the board.
On the HTC Vive for example, you have to constantly press the side grip button and track pad together to properly grab things. It feels awkward and uncomfortable. On the PS VR, the camera loses tracking often and until recently the way it translated your hand movements with the Move controllers was essentially broken. Luckily, it’s since been updated to alleviate the main issues on Sony’s VR device.
Oddly, you don’t even need the Move controllers if you’re playing on the PS VR because the game also supports the Dualshock 4 gamepad since it can be tracked by the camera as well. Simply pick either left or right handed and you move the controller around just as you would the Move controller and use the triggers to open and close your hand. Unfortunately this limits you to only a single hand represented in the game. It doesn’t really feel appropriate or useful, but it’s better than not being able to play the game at all I suppose.
But a huge part of what makes Surgeon Simulator so appealing in the fist place is just how precise of a profession actually operating on people in real life should be. The juxtaposition of the gore and gratuitous blood with the completely shifty and unreliable nature of the controls will force even the most stone faced gamer to smile. That is, until you scream internally from frustration. I reach out to grab the saw, then drop it inside of Bob’s chest cavity because my fingers cramped and let go of the Vive wand’s grip button. I try to pick it up and accidentally sever his heart and rip out a lung on PS VR because the tracking skipped out. Blood spews everywhere, but the music keeps on clicking away in the background and Bob is completely unphased by it all. It’s funny, but tends to get old.
If you were a fan of Job Simulator, then you might be expecting something similar here given the title and premise, but it’s quite different. In Job Simulator, there are multiple occupations — Surgeon Simulator is obviously just one. Also in Owlchemy’s title, you are tasked with multiple small tasks throughout the course of each job, keeping you engaged and interacting with NPCs that offer witty commentary and humorous insights. In the case of Surgeon Simulator, you spend a few minutes performing each operation, but then you’re sent back to the desk to pick your next patient. That’s about it.
The underlying premise behind Surgeon Simulator in virtual reality is likely enough to get people interested and there is certainly plenty of charm and silliness to keep people entertained for at least a little while. At the very least, it’s a hilarious way to show off the technology to someone with a good sense of humor. But ultimately there are too many debilitating blemishes, such as the poor controls, and lack of content to really make this an experience that stands out above the rest.
Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score. You can purchase Surgeon Simulator: Experience Reality on Steam for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, motion controllers required, for $19.99, or on the PSN Store for PlayStation VR also for $19.99.