It seems like it’s that time of year again, where gamers fill with festive cheer, their wallets empty into a general category marked “gifts” and video game sales go through the roof. Yes, it’s the Steam Sale again! Without any really major releases this week, finding a review has been a case of rummaging through the “interesting” aisle of the discounts looking for something weird and wacky to hold your attention.
Viscera Cleanup Detail: Santa’s Rampage is the logical conclusion of the simulator genre – a video game with all the fun parts stripped out. A janitor, your job is to clean up Santa’s Grotto after a combination of bills, lawsuits and demanding children made him give his elves a bullet sandwich for Christmas. Armed only with a mop, several buckets of water, boxes for the elfin chunks to be stored in and a big fire for disposing of evidence, your character has to make this cosy log cabin a bit less hellish.
There’s not a huge amount of content to the game but it finds ways to drag it out. Any giblets which make contact with walls or the floor spread gore, so you have to use a box to transport and burn them. The player can clean up gore with their mop, but it becomes saturated with blood quickly so has to be cleaned in a bucket of water, which can itself fill with blood, resulting in another trip to the furnace and getting a new bucket. Walking in gore produces gory footsteps, meaning there has to be a method to the cleaning if you don’t want to be driven mad.
The level of gore on display is rather breathtaking, but the subtle humour of the game comes largely from the way your character nonchalantly mops up the goo emanating from the dismembered reindeer as if he’s all seen it before. It raises the rather fascinating question of the things janitors must find in their less wholesome jobs.
Being an unfinished product as it is, there are physics problems. Occasionally physics objects interacting sends the character flying around the room, and placing chunks of wood or elf in a box and then moving it can be a harder challenge if the box is getting full, and several scraps of material to be disposed of (shell casings and knives) fall under the level and require cheating to get out.
Still, the game is supposed to be frustrating and you could make the argument that those things just add to the challenge. Other things are certainly meant to. Littered all over the level are sticks of TNT, as well as molotov cocktails ready to explode. The only safe way to dispose of TNT is to stick them fuse-first into a bucket of water before putting them in the fire, while the molotov cocktails seem to require chucking into the basement where they won’t hurt anything. Other irritants involve hidden bodies under floorboards and the tendency for them to get stuck behind objects and require a good poke with the mop to get them out.
After one time through the game there’s little justification for playing it again (beyond the emergent game of making as much mess as possible) so if it were full price it wouldn’t be worth it, but as a toy it does its job. In fact it exceeds it, and actually making cleaning a fun task is an enviable end in itself.
For those who want to explore the part of the gaming spectrum without killing, violence or pressure, or those who want to test their frustration threshold, it’s certainly worth checking out.