Played on Windows
We’re getting ready for the family at home, bookended between Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s time for the ritual of family, friends, and cleaning that is required for everything. That’s the focus of home life. So why not digitize that and clean as a game. Honestly, if you asked me to make a million games, I would never think of it, however, the team at Runestorm came up with it, and I think it’s one of the most inventive games I’ve ever played. But is it more than just an idea?
Personally, I’m not a very clean person, nor do I have OCD. I’ve played video games all my life and have thick glasses, where I don’t see a lot of stuff that my wife points out to me. Whether it’s visual problems, lack of caring, or something else I’m not sure. Cleaning is not my favorite thing to do in real life nor something I excel at.
Yet, I tackle Viscera Cleanup Detail, where the entire game is about cleaning up a mess, or multiple messes in the same room. As you start the game, you’ll enter into a level and the first thought that strikes you is “Something went wrong here.” And as you continue to look around you start to realize how wrong everything went. Your job? Clean it all up.
The graphics are a mixed bag, at times. As you enter a level, the game looks really good. Blood, gore, and more are layered everywhere and textured very nicely against the wall. When you enter a new area, it’s a lot of fun to explore it and start to formulate a plan from what you see.
When you get closer to the graphics, you do notice that a lot of the blood and damage is just textures layered over geometry. It does work rather well but as you make a few new blood textures you get the same design each time. Footprints and more are made but nothing is as impressive as the original state of the level.
The graphics though are a big part of the game. Much of the game is trying to find stuff to clean, so you need to search for those graphical issues. A blood splatter, a burn mark, a bullet hole are all considered “problems that need to be resolved. The problem as the game goes on becomes that it is harder and harder to find each of these marks and the graphics don’t help a lot there. A lot of the blood and gore can blend in with the level. In addition, cleaning up a mess is done by making the texture lighter in three stages, full, mostly there, mostly removed, and clean. If you leave the third stage for a reason (potentially, needing to clean the mop) you can easily lose the spot and have trouble finding it.
This is more of a gameplay issue but while blood always seemed to work for me, the discolorations for the other type of damage is hard to see. The bullet holes are especially annoying as they are small, and often in places you can’t see or reach easily, so you have to keep a close eye out for them. I’ll talk more about this when I talk about each tool but it’s important to realize how the graphics do affect the gameplay here, especially when things blend in.
Gross, but… I didn’t know what I was expecting.
When I started Viscera Cleanup Detail I figured I would be passing on a discussion of the story. I’m a janitor cleaning up messes that other video game characters have made previously, I imagined there wasn’t much more to the story. I think that’s mostly true, however, the game did surprise me.
Each level has a clear theme behind it, but most levels have some clue of what went on there. In my first level, Athena’s Wraith, the player is called in on a station. Apparently, some vegetation was mutated and became hostile. While the player doesn’t see the mutation, there are notes, and mission briefings from what appeared to be a military strike team. It’s not a major story but there is some development.
At the end of the level, the player is offered the ability to fill out paperwork. While many of the questions appear to be made up, bonus points are offered for figuring out and classifying what type of event happened in the level. The player can also earn points for identifying what happened to each corpse as well.
It’s not a wealth of story, though it is a nice touch to give the game a little more life. I would have been fine with no story, but I still find it interesting to see how much life the developers can give the game without bogging the flow down.
You get some story in missions, but not a ton.
The make or break part of Viscera Cleanup Detail was always going to be the gameplay. In a lot of ways Viscera Cleanup Detail works similarly to Surgeon Simulator, I am Bread, or Octodad, in that there are wacky physics that players are supposed to have fun with. However there is a full game behind the physics, and the controls aren’t so bad that the player is limited to being silly with it.
The entire game though is about cleaning up large messes and in theory, I imagined this would become almost a zen-like game, where you watch as you clean up an area through small processes and feel a sense of relaxation growing as the area gets clean. I was looking forward to that and think I would have found it therapeutic. Imagine a game where you power wash a fence and slowly see the cleanliness come out.
That’s not what Viscera Cleanup Detail ends up with. Instead of a simple process, the game has the player using simple tools, such as a mop and broom and have to clean up the messes. This does work, but many of the levels have so many messes it becomes more tedious than fun.
The player will mop up blood, burns, and bile. He’ll pick up and dispose of almost everything from bullet casings to body parts, and repair damage to the walls. But what sounds therapeutic becomes frustrating especially when extremely low tolerances for failures are placed on the game.
The player has to clean/repair 95 percent of a level before the game labels their job adequate. This might work but without a percentage indicator in-game the player has to tell the game they are done with a level to find out how they did, then return to the level if it’s not high enough. There are small hints in the form of newspaper clippings to try to give the player a hint about what still needs to be done, but issues like “Trash” is frustrating because in a large level it’s hard to find a couple more trash pieces.
It is however satisfying when you burn that trash.
That first level, Athena’s Wraith is supposed to take a par time of ninety minutes, after ninety minutes I thought I cleaned up everything I could find. I ended up with the “demoted” rating. Apparently, I didn’t hit that sacred 95 percent. So I went back and tried harder, spending two hours in total on that one level and still not hitting 100 percent. Those last percentage points are the most frustrating part of the game, and my entire chill, the zen experience was shattered.
It doesn’t help that the controls in the game are a mixed bag of quality. While the Steam controller became very frustrating before a couple of hours were up, keyboard and mouse feel great with this game, but you start diving into repetitive motions as you keep picking up objects or mopping the same area and while the controls feel alright, it doesn’t feel that you have enough agency.
Viscera Cleanup Detail is very strict, it expects you to do a lot and doesn’t give you a hint about progress except what you can see in the level. Allow me to go through the whole process of cleaning a level.
The most obvious step is that the player has to mop up any stain or mess on the floor, walls, and often the ceiling. A few of these are out of reach so the player can use an extending platform, but also will often have to jump and swing a mop at each stain. After a few uses, probably less than ten, the player will have to rinse the mop in a bucket of water and try again.
Though that mop water will get dirty, and eventually has to be incinerated. If it’s too dirty the mop won’t be cleaned by the water, and will instead become filthy, and if the bucket tips over it’ll only make an additional mess to clean up with the mop. Stepping in any of these messes too will have the player make footprints as they walk around also adding to the mess.
Of course if the mop gets too bloody it’s no good.
There is also the trash as mentioned above. The really obvious parts are big pieces like bodies and organs that are strewn about. However, the player will also have to find empty Chinese boxes, unopened cans of soda and empty packages of chips as well as a variety of other generic trash. Each of these needs to be collected and thrown out.
The game will allow large special yellow boxes to be used to collect the pieces and thrown out as a bundle. As I said before, if these boxes are tipped they make a mess and if any organic pieces fall, such as an intestine or severed head, they’ll create new blood stains that need to be mopped up.
The weakest part of the game in my opinion though is the bullet casings. Many levels have piles of ten to twelve bullet casings. The player has to manually pick up each casing and get them to the incinerator one way or another. Sadly, they can’t throw small objects, which could have made some of the game fun, as I could imagine flinging bullets or even heads across the level, but instead, the player has to place them in the incinerator manually. If you’ve ever seen a bullet casing, a person can hold at least ten to twenty casing in a single hand rather easily. Viscera Cleanup Detail limits the player to a single casing at a time.
There’s also a laser gun on most levels. At first, this looks like a strange weapon to be discarded and perhaps it is, but its purpose in the game is to allow the player to remove or fill bullet holes. It seems simple enough however with no tutorials for it or any other part of the game I had to learn it from trial and error.
It seems that the gun will overheat in a few seconds and leave a brand new scorch mark (Which in turn will need to be filled in). To fill in any hole the gun needs to be aimed and used on it for a few seconds. Sounds easy but there are a lot of limitations on the gun. When you use the gun, however, there’s no indication when a hole is filled other than a glowing spot that remains after the hole is filled and using it on a plain wall (or a recently filled in wall) can quickly scorch the wall.
To complicate matters, the laser gun can’t be holstered and can only be carried or dropped, which makes it extremely hard to ride up a lift to get close to some holes. The worst part is the graphical problem alluded to before. Bullet holes are rather hard to see in the first place and unless you know where to look they are easy to miss. Usually, a number of them are side by side or sometimes placed in large smooth surfaces but quite often I found one or two bullet holes in places I wasn’t expecting that I had gone over a few times.
And, of course, if you leave a scorch mark, you go back to mopping the area and cleaning it a second or third time.
It’s hard to see anything when using the laser gun.
Now the game is mostly about finding all these messes and holes and cleaning them up. If it didn’t give you a hand, the game would be even more frustrating. Unfortunately, the help that it offers is from a “Sniffer”. At best the Sniffer will indicate to you “There is something around you”, even if you are standing in a pool of blood. However the Sniffer is not very precise, and while it might give you a hint that there’s a final item somewhere, it doesn’t highlight it or make it very easy to find it, and the difference between 1 piece of trash and 0 trash to find is subtle. The same is true when you switch to “mess” mode instead of looking for “trash”. A small smear somewhere is a blip on the sniffer.
That’s really the list of tools in the game, and I’ve gone over each of them because they each have a bit of a problem that could be fixed. I actually think a bit about Mario Sunshine while I write this, as I would love to switch from a mop to a power washer. It would still need to be recharged often but could have a better range. Picking up body parts works for the most part but I often just wanted a vacuum to suck up the debris, especially the casings. Again it could require a lot of cleaning depending on how big the objects you suck in is but it would make it a touch easier. Finally, the laser gun feels very frustrating and failing on the laser gun almost makes me want to reload a save because it leaves such a large mess and often in a hard to reach area.
The real problem with all this though is the percentage you need to hit. 95 percent cleaned means in a level with 200 messes created, you can only miss 10 messes. Since the game isn’t clear on the scoring, that might be 3 smears of level 3 blood. But beyond that, there are a ton of factors that might mar your score. Barrels that are knocked over have to be righted, and without scoring in-game, I’m not sure how tipped over they can be. The incinerator door where you dispose items must be closed or you’ll lose score. If you have an empty wastebasket or a water pail, that’s also going to count against you. Other pieces might, as well. I’m actually not sure of the full scoring algorithm.
The problem is all of this becomes guesswork until you clock out and the game gives you that final score. It would be one thing to have a running total, but often I felt the need to save and clock out just to see how close I was to “Done”, and that process didn’t feel fun. The fact the sniffer doesn’t show you nearby messes or trash hurts the process as well because walking around with it and hoping you notice a very small blip is what the game seems to expect you to do.
There is multiplayer, though I didn’t see anyone playing, it looks like it’d be a great way to kill some time with your friends. Probably a lot of time considering how much trouble I had and because I don’t think friends will necessarily make the process go that much faster, especially when hunting down that last spill, but you at least have someone to joke with. Though I will say that when people talk about multiplayer I often ask if it fixes the gameplay or just alleviates the tedium and gives you someone to joke with. My understanding is that Viscera Cleanup Detail doesn’t change much with a second person so it must be the comradery that will make the game go by faster. It’s available as an option if you’re interested.
The three main states of water buckets. Bloody, Bile, and Clean.
I know I’m complaining about the core of the game, but for me, I like the level design. I find it interesting and the new locations are exciting to see what else the devs came up with. It’s just the level of detail on a level that the player has to reach and having to deal with the controls to get there become a bit tedious.
Of course, you can do the paperwork to get a better score and skip some of the final clean up and apparently stacking similar colored objects in certain areas of the level might give you bonus points. I say might because that’s what the fan base says, but without a clear score, I can’t say for sure.
The answers for the paperwork though are a bit vague and the player has to make a decent amount of guesses. Though the good news is there are a number of guides on the internet but at that point why not just give the player a few free points rather than having the paperwork in the first place?
After finishing the level, the game takes you back to a private office and has a number of achievements for collecting certain objects in that room. It’s actually an interesting way to have some permanence to the game. If you want to steal Easter eggs, Player IDs, or even just collect some random object, you can.
This is what you want to see at the end of a level, here it’s over 100 percent, but it took me three attempts to hit it.
However, when I tried to do this, the game would crash after four or five finished levels. If your game crashes in the player’s office, it appears the player’s office gets wiped and cleared out. It’s a good way to solve a crash but also means any idea of permanence in that office also gets cleared out. The game has a few trophies such as collecting 12 employees of the month plaques. It’s a good idea, but when the office crashed every time I hit 5 plagues and wiped out my progress, it really took the fun out of it.
But really, the core issue that annoys me is that level of cleanliness, there are two good ways to fix the problem, showing a (optional) percentage in-game, or making the bar to hit lower. I make such a big deal about the level of cleaning in the game because really up to that point in the game, while you clear out all the big messes and the body parts as well as the blood they leave behind, the game has almost a Zen quality to it. I love looking at a level after I think I’m done and realizing that it looks completely different from the beginning, that it might even be ready for another action scene from whatever happened originally.
For me, the problem is that Zen gets ruined when I tell the game that “I’m done” and it responds “87 percent… not good enough”.
I could make a clever quip at Viscera Cleanup Detail’s expense, but instead, I think a lot about it. I admit that there’s a not so subtle thought about the state most games (and action movies) leave for some lowly janitor to clean up. It’s a little on the nose in that respect. I think as a game, Viscera Cleanup Detail has some issues and could be made a little easier, but at the same time, I think Viscera Cleanup Detail has a lot of unique ideas. That Zen feeling is pretty good, and while the game destroys the Zen of my experience, if you really love the idea of cleaning or have that level of OCD that you might need to try to make a room look “perfect”, it will do its job.
I give Viscera Cleanup Detail a
Final Thoughts: While a novel idea for a game, the controls and level of detail required is high for my taste. But I also love the feeling of cleaning for the majority of the game. Though the endgame is frustrating.
Stats 12.6 hours played 10/85 achievements (most are achievable with a decent amount of time.)