Surgeon Simulator 2013 Review (PC)

I almost feel like I’m on drugs playing Surgeon Simulator 2013, in so far as I’m trapped inside one of those anti-drug adverts where organs get sneezed out or cooked up. Lungs are flying everywhere, splattering against cupboards, and brains are sitting there jiggling in explicit, clinical detail, and I am both not at all prepared for it and completely responsible.

The jiggle physics of this game are haunting. It all starts innocently enough. You’re sitting at your desk, admiring the clutter, the computer monochromatically reminding you how to operate your single, ever present hand that you like to keep hovering above everything, and then the phone rings.

Does he really need this thing?

Picking up a telephone handset proves to be more difficult than expected. The impressive array of things to manhandle is a tempting inducement to practice with the doctor’s claw, which is awkward and leaden. Actively having to think about controlling fingers together is bizarre and alien in concept and practice, but it rights itself to some degree after customising the controls to suit your own hand’s natural position, at which point it becomes an extension of yourself, using both your physical hands to control a digital one that is numb and clumsy. It’s a bit like what life might be like if you could only interact with the world using a carnival claw machine. With hindsight, the total lack of finesse seems dangerously close to a design feature.

After intense concentration, the ability to manoeuvre individual fingers returns as you scrunch your appendage around the telephone. Doctor Popular is inundated with calls, but he doesn’t have time to sit at his desk all day, not when there’re procedures to perform! First on the agenda is a heart transplant. At this point, you might be wondering if you’re going to get any additional training, or a tutorial. The answer is another question; what were those years of medical school for?

Awkwardly pulling back the blood soaked covering reveals the inside of a man’s chest. Simply being presented with exposed organs and zero prompting of what to do is unsurprisingly stress inducing, being put on the spot while someone shouts “Fix him!” is absurd enough to be laughable and grisly and cringe inducing all at once.

The goal was to replace the heart, but the ribcage is in the way. After going at the ribs with a bone saw which can make a mess of your patient if you’re not careful, and making full unnecessary use of the hammer, complete with vivid bone crunching, Surgeon Simulator made me rage. None of the tools were useful for safely getting to the heart, not even the HB pencil, and my patient bled out from incompetence again and again.

I call them 'Thinking Holes'.

It was about the point that it became clear that the only way to reach the heart was to pull out the lungs bare handed. There was no tray, so resting them on the digital clock seemed like a good spot to put them. They wobbled and made an upsettingly vivid squelching noise. The surgeon’s state of the art digital watch popping off to wedge itself behind the patient’s liver only confirmed that this was less a surgery simulator and more a “surgery” simulator.

Despite not being serious, Surgeon Simulator is immersive and good at making you suspend disbelief. Most games let the player commence actions, but don’t make them do every little thing. They’re streamlined to “the best bits”. Reloading a gun doesn’t involve actually removing the old clip, picking up a new clip and slotting it in and securing it. It’s usually a button press for everything under the umbrella of ‘reloading’. Surgeon Simulator is markedly more interactive because you have to wrap fingers around an object and manipulate angle and altitude.

It takes some getting used to, which in itself is enjoyable in a “how do I fly this thing?” sort of way. Even with considerable malpractice under your frayed rope belt, playing at all still takes concentration and coordination, and add factors like the patient’s blood counter which can tick down to their death if you’re sloppy, or the disgustingly convincing way that organs shake, Surgeon Simulator is remarkably good at drawing would be surgeons in.

Keenly self aware, and couched in a well defined sense of style and context, the distinctly '80s detail of the setting in a game which ostensibly would still work without a setting gives Surgeon Simulator a touch of human authenticity to go along with the buckets of bloody clinical comic viscera the game continually ramps up to further gruesome levels. There is brain surgery in this game, and it is dreadful.

As fun as Surgeon Simulator is, there are two complaints that come to mind. The first is that there isn’t very much of it. There are three surgeries in total, and Ambulance Mode, which is exactly what it sounds like, and involves the same surgeries in the back of a moving vehicle which veers between enraging and hilarious, at about the same rate that it’s easy to imagine the ambulance is veering through traffic.


Once those procedures are conquered, it’s just a case of getting the best possible grade for performance, and that’s the entire scope of the game’s content and replayability, barring the secret level which is out and off of this world. It’s a modestly priced title, but you’re paying for the experience rather than quantity.

The second point is that even though the ungainliness of surgery using a lumpen puppet’s hand is played for laughs, the irritating technical failings occasionally win out. An example being the time it became near impossible to grasp a pair of troublesome kidneys rolling about inside the patient‘s lower abdomen, because I’m a surgeon who apparently can’t bend his arm at the elbow. It did lead to the scenario of digging out the kidneys with a spoon, so it’s forgivable, but preceding that it lead to a moment of frustration that pierced straight through the game’s façade to remind that what might be an intentionally stiff interface, despite leading to sublimely ridiculous situations, has limitations that don’t always work in favour of the experience.

Surgeon Simulator 2013 is engagingly ludicrous. It’s neither a substitute for actual medical training, nor will it take anywhere near as long to complete, but it’s a good way to find out where you fall between squeamish and remorseless monster. Physician, heal thy self (and stay away from me).

Top Game Moment: Turns out jamming your hand in a tray of upturned syringes filled with opiates has consequences. Groovy consequences.

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