“Language is the means of getting an idea from my brain into yours without surgery.”
Bossa Studios’ Surgeon Simulator is one of the funniest games I’ve played in my life, and that’s not just brainless hyperbole. I’d hope you’d know by now how infinitely un-prone to exaggeration we are around here. The concept of trying to perform something that requires as much precision and accuracy as surgery with controls that are imprecise, clumsy at best, is genius-level hilarious. If there’s nothing else to be said about Surgeon Simulator in the dissecting review to follow this paragraph, there’s this: the game made me genuinely laugh out loud. But be warned, this game is not for the squeamish.
How to describe Surgeon Simulator beyond its name? You play as a one-handed surgeon named Doctor Seemslegit.
Okay, so his name is officially Doctor Nigel Burke and he’s operating in the UK. I thought my name was better. The game begins at your desk with a clipboard in front of you containing information on your patient and their procedure, or options and trophies. You can choose to dive right into a heart transplant or dental surgery if you like, or you can spend a few minutes trying to fit a floppy disk into the computer to view simple tutorials… or you can just shove everything off your desk in a fit of aimlessness.
The simulation is set in first-person view and you can control a single hand and arm up to the elbow. I played the PS4 version (based on the original Surgeon Simulator 2013) so bear that in mind as I describe. Shoulder buttons are used to raise the whole arm up and down, and to pinch the index and thumb digits together or close the remaining three fingers, making a fist. Tilting the controller allows you to raise and lower and turn the wrist. The PlayStation camera can also get in on the controlling action. These controls are all you have available to you to pick up any of the multiple utensils, tools, machinery, organs, or garbage lying around your workspace.
And it’s much harder than it sounds. Imagine a baby trying to learn to pick up a kernel of corn for the first time. Messy and inept doesn’t even begin to encapsulate what that’s like. Except with Surgeon Simulator, instead of a baby shoving something like a pea into a salivating orifice, you’re a surgeon with the motor skills of a baby shoving sharp objects like scalpels into your patient’s bleeding orifice.
Aiming with your tools is like being a pirate with two eyepatches. And it’s even worse if you happen to stab your hand on a syringe of green fluid and inject yourself with a trippy anesthetic. The only cure is
more cowbell the blue fluid in the next syringe, if you can find it and shoot yourself up with it.
But hallucinogenic drugs or no, you’ve got to hurry on with the procedure. No matter what. Come Hell or high water, or dropping your tools out of reach, or dropping your tools inside the patient’s open crevice, or dropping the replacement organs on the floor. I mean, I guess it’s alright if you drop the old and new organs back in the chest cavity? If he ends up with too many organs…
You are being timed, Doctor, and you’ll be graded on your performance. Further, if you happen to miss with your scalpel, take a buzzsaw to his insides, cut the wrong bit of intestine or accidentally drag your surgical laser across his face, you’ll inevitably cause a little bleeding. Bleeding is your enemy. In fact it’s everyone’s enemy. Poking and prodding around or using tools improperly (like an electric drill to remove a lung) simply causes even more blood loss at an even faster rate.
You can stop bleeding with the blue syringe but if you’re too dopey about it and botch the surgery and your patient bleeds out, you lose.
In this respect, Surgeon Simulator is like a complex version of Operation. Remember that board game? You just can’t touch the sides and you’ve got to be as precise as possible, which is exactly why the ridiculous controls are so hilarious. You can’t help but touch the sides, and worse: your innate sense of humor will move you to grab the hammer when you need to remove some cavities or the hack saw when you need to sever an intestine.
When you first begin your malpractice practice, you’re in a standard operating room tasked with performing a heart transplant, double kidney transplant, brain transplant, eye transplant, and dental surgery (if on the PS4). A few other surgeries have been added in different versions, like the highly coveted (at least for me) Donald Trump “gold or stone” heart transplant operation. Which is side-splitting hilarity. I woke up from a two week coma after laughing myself unconscious at the sheer idea.
After completing all of the surgical procedures in the waiting room, it’s time to ramp up the intensity with performing procedures while running down a hallway. Much harder, as your workstations will take the form of passing carts. You’ll have to grab what you need when you can and do your best to persevere.
Things take an even steeper turn when you eventually make it to performing surgery in the ambulance. I’m not sure but I think that the ambulance driver might be Waluigi from Mario Kart. The constant movement means all your tools are going to get scattered everywhere, with each sharp turn and pothole sending scalpels, syringes, organs and anything else not fastened down flying into the air.
But that’s still not the half of it. Eventually you’ll make it into zero-gravity space itself, where your tools are going to be suspended in mid-air. Even your final presuming patient will be no longer human…
The 8-Bit Review
With a physics engine like this there’s lots of opportunity for graphical… injuries. Objects like to tweak out as if trying to occupy the same space and you can even succeed in causing minor seizures in your hand if you get it stuck behind something. Things will sometimes seem to pass through other things or float if you pick them up in a dubious manner, but really you aren’t playing Surgeon Simulator for its graphics but for its gameplay. And it’s probably best that your patients are rendered with some lack of realism. Nobody wants to see this:
The soundtrack is surprisingly awesome, actually. I know right? You wouldn’t expect it by looking at this game, but it has one of the best 80’s influenced rock soundtracks I’ve heard from a modern game. Somehow that adds to the hilarity. Numerous tracks with totally different styles of music also mean that there’s more variety in its tunage than you’d probably expect. I don’t know if real doctors listen to this stuff when they’re performing their procedures, but I’m sure it would make their 20 hour shifts much more enjoyable!
Surgeon Simulator is of course a simulation game but it plays out like a timed puzzle game at its heart.Each procedure has its own techniques you will need to discover on your own. The game doesn’t give you a tutorial for each surgery until after you’ve finished it.
That means cutting out a stomach or a large intestine or an eyeball (that one took me eons to figure out) is going to be largely trial and error. Of course, you can sort of figure out that you should use a scalpel and not a hatchet or a plastic spork to do your work of severing a kidney from its place, but you’ll really need to get the hang of each procedure from scratch. It’s as if you were the janitor at the hospital and they just threw you into the surgery. Maybe you’re one of those people that doesn’t even know where the kidneys are located… I once knew a girl who thought the human heart was located dead center in the chest.
Choosing the right tool for the job is essential to completing your task without killing your patient. After that, it’s all just wrangling with the silly controls.
It’s remarkably simple to jump into Surgeon Simulator. I was able to explain the controls to my kid-brother in a single breath. That’s the beauty of this game. Its interfacing is super simple and yet that simplicity also serves to give it its difficulty. Speaking of which…
I bought this game alongside I Am Bread and both of those games by the same developers are some of the hardest games I’ve ever played. Surgeon Simulator is rage-quit fodder, as the wealth of YouTube plays and babbling YouTubers testify.
It’ll really shake up your preconceived notions and demand all of your attention, baffle you with its bizarre controls, and frustrate you to no end with its lack of accuracy (which is really just your lack of accuracy), yet somehow keep you playing. Running out of blood is an immensely fair way to fail an operation but its tweaked just right to keep you on your toes every surgery. Even after I felt I got good at the controls, I still failed surgeries all the time. Definitely to be played in small increments, if you can put it down. Just be glad there wasn’t a Wii version with the Wiimote.
Remember what I said about small increments? As far as lasting value, you’ll discover that there isn’t much in Surgeon Simulator. Sure the PS4 has got its trophy support, but this game is so hard that I ruled out ever getting them all after playing it for only an hour. The different procedures are all repeated but in different settings: room, hall, ambulance, space. Since they’re essentially puzzles, once you figure out how to perform the procedure it’s just a matter of trying to beat your previous time and be more efficient to get a higher score.
Both the hardest and one of the most unique games I’ve played in some time. There are other doctor-surgeon-sim games out there, but with this one… it’s like it’s gory but not adult. Somehow peaceful in its revolting crudeness. Like a train wreck, it’s hard to look away and Surgeon Simulator has all the subtlety of one.
My Personal Grade: 7/10
Surgeon Simulator is easy to pass around and its unspeakably fun to watch somebody fumble their way through a heart transplant for the first time, their face portraying a look of combined disgust and exhilaration. This game could’ve come very close to being a simple chore, instead it has a kind of delight to it that’s unusual and unexpected. Definitely worth playing with a group. I showed it to my folks just for the lols. You can’t play Surgeon Simulator without shouting or laughing, in alternating intervals. I’d call that a design success.
Aggregated Score: 7.5