Surgeon Simulator: Anniversary Edition – Review

Title   Surgeon Simulator
Developer  Bossa Studios
Publisher  Bossa Studios
Platform  PlayStation 4 (reviewed), iOS, Windows PC (original, 2013)
Genre  Simulation
Release Date  August 12th, 2014

Most of my childhood was spent in the ’80s, and during that time the videogame industry wasn’t quite the billion-dollar behemoth it is now, and that meant far more low-fi toys still managed to get a look in. The electronic boardgame was still pretty popular and one of the most memorable was Operation. A game that tasked you with removing bones from a battery-rigged ‘patient’. Touch the edge of any opening and his nose lit up and that was game over.

UK-based dev team Bossa Studios clearly remember it, as Surgeon Simulator: Anniversary Edition uses the same formula but turns it into an even more frustrating, and much more bloody, affair. A port of the infamous PC original, Surgeon Simulator puts you in the first person view of a surgeon and provides a gurney of medical tools and one arm to manipulate them with.

Your arm can be moved, lifted, and rotated while your hand can grip objects with fingers and thumbs or your entire hand as appropriate. By the way, you appear to be Oliver Reed, blow-out-your-liver, drunk based on how much you are affected by inertia. It takes a while to get used to this, in fact you never really get used to it at all, but that’s where the gag is and initially it’s pretty funny.

Desperately grabbing hammers, scalpels, drills, and syringes with all the conviction of one of those arcade toy-grabbing claw machines and then using that to cut through bones, organs, and arteries creates some of the most ridiculous scenes I’ve ever seen in a game. Especially when your goal is just to get to the organ you are transplanting. Flinging lungs, rib fragments, and lower intestines away is quite acceptable as long as you get the organ replaced before your patient bleeds out.

The aim of the game is to be as precise as possible. If you need to remove a body part with a scalpel, then you need to cut it out without slicing up the surrounding area. The more damage you do, and you’ll do loads, the quicker your patient dies. Of course precision isn’t really an option but you’ll do what you can.

The lack of instructions (the game barely tells you anything) and baffling controls do make early progress very difficult. Turning off the unconvincing motion controls definitely helps and before long I was able to complete my first heart transplant (by breaking open a ribcage with a hammer, pulling out a lung, cutting the arteries around the heart and then dropping in the donor heart without even taking the other one out of the body!). However after several hours trying to beat the double kidney transplant which makes up level two, I eventually hit a wall that I was unable to get past even after consulting a YouTube guide.

That’s the problem here. You need to identify what to cut but you can chop away at the correct area for a minute without any success so you never really know if you’re doing the right thing and for those moments where you really need precision, the fact that you can’t adjust your viewing angle to look around your hand means that you’re always at a disadvantage.

Visually, the game maintains a balance between looking a little cartoony but also incredibly gory. It’s a clean look that suits the game and when your operating table, and indeed your patient, gets filled up with gory chunks and dropped instruments, you are in no doubt as to how badly you are messing up. The dramatic Casualty-style score helps keep the drama going also. That said this is just another indie effort that doesn’t doesn’t push the PS4 at all and it could easily work just as well on the Xbox 360 or PS3.

Surgeon Simulator is a lot more pricey on the PS4 than what you’ll pay for the PC or iOS versions, and with its prohibitive level of difficulty and basic presentation, it’s hard to recommend it. Gamers with infinite patience may well get more from this than I was able to but to quote the late, great Dennis Wolfberg. “I was pre-med and this was the part of the course that seperated the men from the boys. I didn’t even qualify as a foetus.”

  • An original concept
  • Pretty funny while the joke lasts
  • A challenge for puzzle game fans who want something other than match-three games.
  • There is a massive sense of accomplishment when you actually complete an operation.
  • The game is based around pure frustration so it's no surprise that eventually it stops being fun.
  • Savagely difficult.
  • Motion controls don't really work.
  • Repetitive gameplay.

I really want to like Surgeon Simulator, and there are things that I do like about it but the game is a deliberate exercise in frustration which eventually becomes a masterclass in it. Unfortunately it scores rather less well when it comes to actually being any fun to play.

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