It’s happened in countless shooters: we barge into a room or corridor, only to be greeted by a motley crew of demons, aliens, monsters or zombies who want nothing more than to reduce our health to zero. Wielding some fancy weapons, we rapidly turn the tables on our adversaries and effectively render the environment into a digital approximation of a slaughterhouse. Satisfied at the wanton gore – a monument to our deadly skills – we gleefully enter the next room or corridor and continue the carnage anew.
The problem is… who cleans up after us? Most of us have never given it a second thought, but the folks at South African development studio RuneStorm clearly have. That’s why they’ve gifted us with Viscera Cleanup Detail, a first-person space station janitor simulator. The game has been biding its time in Early Access for a while now, but the finished version has finally been released. The question is, does it live up to its promise?
You may already be familiar with the core concept, but in case you’re not, here’s a quick primer: players wield a bucket and mop, and enter assorted combat zones with the intention of returning the areas to a degree of normality after an intense and bloody battle. This entails mopping up blood stains, picking up body parts and shell casings, and welding bullet holes. Dispensers are located in each map, providing the player with pails of water to clean their mops and plastic containers to serve as makeshift bins. Players may then dispose of the waste bins and bloody buckets in an incinerator over and over as the game wears on. Special care has to be taken not to accidentally tip over buckets or bins, lest you scatter gibs and bloody water around and ruin your hard work. Once you’re done, you clock out and your performance is graded.
It’s a goofy concept to be sure and it initially comes across as little more than an elaborate joke. However, as titles like Papers, Please have shown, even mundane tasks can be made into interesting games, and Viscera Cleanup Detail continues this tradition with tongue firmly embedded in cheek. I’ll admit that initially the game didn’t appeal to me: it seemed downright boring to scrub filth, which is why it’s not among my favourite activities in the real world. However, after spending more time with this game, I’ve grown to appreciate it, from the attention to detail to the quietness of the experience to its sheer absurdity.
Still, if you’re expecting a zen-like experience, you’re out of luck. Both the selling point and my biggest criticism of the game is its highly sensitive physics system: it’s entirely too easy to spill the contents of bins and buckets and ruin your pristine cleaning job. Sometimes climbing stairs or wading in liquid will cause Newtonian laws to go haywire and objects to bounce around as if made of rubber. In addition, dispensers will also occasionally “malfunction” and deposit bloody gibs, thereby adding to the mess. It’s funny the first few times, but it gets annoying when the game forces you to re-clean the same things over and over.
Nonetheless, it’s a surprisingly absorbing experience that has matured considerably since its early incarnations. There’s a total of 16 maps present plus a central “office” hub, while more maps are already available via the Steam Workshop. In addition to the basic mop and bucket, there’s also a broom, shovel and laser gun to use in the various levels in order to organize the dirt or weld the aforementioned bullet holes. There’s also a “Sniffer” device which acts like a dirt detector to help you find spots you may have missed, but this can be disabled in the main menu if you want an extra challenge. If you want to mix things up, you can also select a speed run mode and enforce a time limit. There’s even a multiplayer mode where things get pretty wild, particularly since you can injure and even kill your fellow workers. Throw in some Steam achievements and various secondary objectives and you have a game with a lot of content on offer.
Viscera Cleanup Detail is a strange, black sheep of a game that won’t appeal to everybody but nonetheless is charming and rewarding, especially for those who are willing to stick with it and appreciate its quirkiness. In the end, it’s a testament to the creativity of game developers and how totally off-the-wall ideas can work well if executed properly. It’s a fine feather in RuneStorm’s cap and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future will bring for this intrepid South African developer.
The game is available on Steam exclusively for Windows. There’s a four-pack for sale and buyers will automatically get extra DLC (the Christmas-themed Santa’s Rampage and the Shadow Warrior tie-in) for free. Speaking of freebies, the soundtrack is also up for grabs completely gratis. Finally, there’s paid DLC in the form of House of Horror, which is a subversive reference to slasher flicks past and present. All come recommended.