If there was ever a game that looked like it would lend itself well to the immersive and interactive qualities of PSVR, it would be Surgeon Simulator. Certainly, it’s not hard to imagine the game leveraging Sony’s Virtual Reality headset in conjunction with a couple of Move controllers to create a much more responsive and crucially accurate experience than we’ve had previously. Sadly however, such promise is summarily undone by the simple fact that the VR side of the equation just hasn’t been very well implemented at all.
PSVR is a missed opportunity
It should have been a relatively simple thing to do really, given the examples that already exist. Just about every PSVR title that allows you to interact with the environment from the first-person has a set of rudimentary mechanics that allow you to easily and effectively manipulate the various objects contained within that play space. Surgeon Simulator ER however, struggles mightily with this principle and not for reasons that you might think.
In retrospect I should have known something was off when the calibration screen at the beginning of the game was an absolute nightmare to try and get through. Like most PSVR efforts, Surgeon Simulator seeks to properly orient itself so it can accurately measure the headset and controllers in 3D space via the PlayStation Camera; so far, so normal. The problem though, is this calibration sequence is extremely fussy about the distance of the player and where you should be sat before it assigns you a ‘Good’ rating, and trust me; press on with any rating lower than that and the game becomes largely unplayable for reasons that we’ll get to in a bit.
Once you’ve pushed past one of the most user hostile calibration sequences known to man, the game begins in earnest, and players of the original Surgeon Simulator will notice that it’s largely business as usual. Pointedly, aside from the new-fangled VR control that this newest instalment of Surgeon Simulator brings to the operating table, the content offering is pretty much identical to the last, non-VR release; you still have that opening heart transplant level, you still have the level takes place in the back of an ambulance and you still have that face-clawingly annoying scenario set in space.
In short, this is just the Surgeon Simulator you’ve played previously just with VR functionality bolted on – nothing more, nothing less. Of course, one of the chiefly amusing things about Surgeon Simulator has always been the innate clumsiness that it would inflict on the player by demanding towering amounts of pad dexterity to pick up and object and use it, let alone do anything more sophisticated than that.
Such awkwardness is carried through into this PSVR take on the game, but the thing is, such dextrous inelegance is the result of technical issues with the VR implementation rather than a direct reflection of the game’s trademark haphazard approach to player agency. Primarily, the problem is rooted within how the game handles head tracking. When you have to lean in and use the scalpel to sever a heart valve for example, the camera often thinks that you’re actually closer than you appear to be (despite being sat at the same range that other, more sophisticated titles have no issue with), resulting in the sharp implement either glitching through the patient, or, your virtual hands just failing to register at all.
Now, if I had problems with other PSVR games, I’d understand but the fact of the matter is that I am positioned at the recommended six feet away from PlayStation Camera with no obstructions, and haven’t had a single issue of that sort with far more sophisticated fare such as Batman: Arkham VR and Robinson: The Journey, so really there’s no excuse for such problems to occur here.
In terms of control options, you have the option of guiding the action with either the DualShock 4 controller, or, with a pair of PlayStation Move controllers. Given that playing Surgeon Simulator ER with the former is basically unplayable owing to poor responsiveness and tracking (you might as well play the non-VR version really), the only real option is to go Move controllers akimbo; a solution which as I’ve already mentioned is beset with its own set of problems.
On the occasions when it seldom works as it’s supposed to, Surgeon Simulator delivers on its promise of grim, nonsensical comedy and indeed, the different scenarios are varied enough that each level feels like suitably fresh take on the game’s established formula. The problem, as you may have gathered by now, is that such times are too few and far between.
Despite eliciting the odd sadistic chuckle and boasting an intriguing set of scenarios, Surgeon Simulator ER just doesn’t make the cut on PSVR. Simply, the PSVR aspect of this title feels like it has been bolted on as an afterthought, rather than a ground-up, full and considered implementation of the technology. Here’s hoping that potential future patches can iron out these substantial issues.