When I find a game that makes me play as what is traditionally an NPC role instead of a PC role, I need to play it. Recettear, Harvest Moon (debatable, but still NPC-like), PO’ed (an old FPS in which the NPC cook becomes the hero!), and now Viscera Cleanup Detail has been added to the list.
So what’s the deal with the game?
Imagine playing Halo, or watching Starship Troopers. Bullets are flying, things are dying (human and otherwise), bullets are everywhere, things are destroyed, and there’s a giant mess in the end that the heroes (and villains) just walk away and ignore.
In Viscera Cleanup Detail, you’re the poor shmuck cleaning up the mess after everything is done.
Trigger Warning Inbound!
This game has a plethora of situations of a graphic nature, and the screenshots of this game will often be graphic is nature. Blood, gore, bad puns, and dismemberment are but a few of the things things game offers. If you cannot stand the sight of any of the above, stop reading now.
In this game, you work for The Company as a Janitor. The Company sends you to various locations that have had strange events occur that ended in horrible violence. As The Company purchases these locations after said violence, it is your job to clean it up so that it is usable and habitable. Some of these locations are parts of space ships, an excavation site, a cryogenics lab, and even Santa’s Workshop (an extra add-on).
This game is a first-person game, but instead of being a shooter, it is mostly a physics game.
You move around the worksites to pick up and clean up the mess. The mess can range from body parts, scorched or bloody walls, alien antennae, bullet casings, and alien “traps” that need to be resolved. You use your hands and a mop (primarily) to pick things up, clean up the mess, and throw everything into an incinerator somewhere in the level. You also have to repair and replace things, such as fixing bullet holes and restocking first aid kids.
The game does have some semi-realistic physics when it comes to the mess. As you clean, your mop gets dirty and must be rinsed before you use it again (or else spread more dirt). If you walk through blood, you’ll leave behind bloody footprints. Run too fast, and you’ll spill whatever you are carrying. Hit a wall with a bloody appendage and you’ll make a mess. If you knock over a bucket of water, it’ll spill, and if it’s dirty water, you’ll have a new mess to clean.
And when I say you need to clean up, I mean cleaning up just about EVERYTHING. Bullet holes, bullet casings, a bit of char, biohazard barrels, scattered weapons, the works. Anything you’d expect to find after an alien attack, you’ll find it here.
The game doesn’t leave you helpless, though. You have an unlimited number of Janitors (at least I would believe so after losing five in one level), so if you accidentally set off an explosive (like standing too close to it when it’s in the incinerator) or fall into an alien mouth, you’ll be fine.
You may not have a flashlight, but you can find light sources to carry around the level. Additionally, each level has tools for you to use, whether it’s a broom, shovel, or welder (which I swear is more like a rifle); these are meant to make your job a bit easier or to complete a necessary task.
There are a few machines you find to make your life easier, specifically the machine that gives you buckets of water and a machine that gives you boxes to store your biohazardous materials in. These apparently have limits, and will sometimes throw a random bit of viscera at you instead of the box/bucket you need. Interesting touch, although I can’t tell if it’s trolling or just telling you to be more careful with your materials.
One of the tools that you have, which is entirely optional, is the “Sniffer,” which detects things that need to be cleaned or things to be picked up depending on the mode. This item can be turned off if you want a challenge.
When you’ve decided that you are done with the level, you can punch out, regardless of how done you are. Repeat the levels are you see fit.
In addition to the standard cleanup game, you also have access to local split-screen, an online mode, and speedruns. I haven’t tried the multi-player options yet due to time constraints (i.e. odd schedule), but they do look like they’d be fun with the right people, especially since you can kill each other (which I believe is an achievement).
Not going to lie: the premise alone is what sold me on this game. Being an NPC-like character is always a hoot, because these games seldom take themselves seriously and will interject a bunch of humor and Easter Eggs; this game is no exception.
In fact, the Easter Eggs are probably one of the best parts of the game. Most of the levels have obvious nods to various sci-fi franchises, such as the Unearthly Excavation level (one of the largest and probably the most fun to goof around in) having Sarlacc-pit type monsters and, if you read the records you find, nods to Dead Space.
The Easter Eggs don’t end there. In fact, if you explore The Office (kind of like a practice sandbox, debriefing room, storage space, and hidden story zone all in one), you’ll find a note about a “Collection.” You can gather a collection (possibly even THE Collection) as you play the game. I accidentally found Obi-Wan’s Lightsaber in the Unearthly Excavation level, and I’m sure there are many more objects if the Wiki is to be believed!
Oddly enough, there is actually a story going on in the game. If you explore The Office, you’ll see some dark stuff about Bob, the man you replaced. He talks about a Collection of his and the dark things he did to try to not get fired. In fact, you can find Bob’s notes hidden in various levels that detail his journey, which is rather dark judging by the first note I found.
In addition to the main game, you can also get a few DLC like Santa’s Workshop (which is rather fun to run around in). Yeah, Santa got drunk and went a bit crazy, but it’s interesting to see what you find in that level. There’s also the Steam Workshop, so new levels can be added easily enough, making this interesting.
In each level and in the Office, there’s a box that is marked as the Property of the Janitor. It looks simple enough, but it’s probably one of the coolest things. Anything you drop into this box can be sent to the Office upon completing the level, and anything you leave in it when you’re in the Office gets sent to the level you choose. This means if you really like a specific object or find a collectible (like a toy, or the aforementioned lightsaber), you can throw it into the box and take it with you. Some of them just look cool, but others (again, the lightsaber) can be used to break some objects down for easy boxing and hauling. For example, if you are in an area with full-sized bodies and don’t want to haul the entire corpse to the incinerator at the other end of the level, you can instead use the lightsaber (or similar object) to break them down into smaller bits to fit in your bucket or biohazard box to haul them off.
After reading the Wiki, I’ve learned that each level also has secondary conditions as well as the primary. Primary condition is basically “clean the place up and leave no sign of the issue behind,” which means fixing bullet holes and disposing of the hazardous waste. It seems that secondary conditions focus on stacking items, and this is mostly for extra points and an achievement.
Gameplay wise, one of the best elements is how much attention to detail they took with the game. If you knock over your bloody bucket, you’ll make a mess. Walked through a bloody pool? There’s a mess. Accidentally blow yourself up? Your new Janitor now has to clean up the corpse of your old Janitor. There’s a certain amount of thought and foresight you need to have while playing, and it does challenge your mind, especially with speedruns.
The game also gives other little mini-things to do in each level, specifically finding “dog tags” of those who have been killed. Each of these can be taken to the Punch-o-matic machine and registered to record the death, and you can gain bonus points for recording the information about the corpse.
I’ve done a few levels to purposely get fired, and each one gives you a reason you were fired as well as a newspaper clipping explaining what went wrong at that site (like a scientist slipping on a pool of blood). Honestly, I’m loving the comedy of this game, and it’s one of the greatest perks beyond the Easter Eggs (really tied as to which is the better feature).
Another fun note is item usage. Yes, items are to be used a set way, but it’s fun finding creative uses for things, whether it’s stacking buckets to reach something or using a welder to turn a barrel into easier-to-carry slag.
Really, if you like small details and finding the minutiae of a level, this game is great.
One of the gripes some people may have is the way the gameplay works, honestly. Cleaning a level can take an hour or more, and you aren’t given many details beyond what the sniffer points out for you (which is a bit wonky at times). You can also destroy some of your needed tools accidentally by thinking they are garbage, and there are a few other ways you get negative points (like stealing a welder), but they aren’t explained. In fact, the only way to tell if something is actually garbage is to use the sniffer, and even then that gets a little iffy if there’s something hidden (like a small object clipping through a permanent object).
In fact, the game has no tutorial to teach you things. You are basically thrown in on your own to figure out how everything works. I’m not saying that every game needs a tutorial, but having a level that is built solely to show you how each item works and what to look for may be helpful. Even knowing what actually constitutes as garbage (are manhole covers garbage? Toxic barrels? Large crates?) would be exceedingly useful, but again, we’re relying on the sniffer.
For some, the game can be horribly nauseating. The main way is all of the blood; it is literally everywhere. It’s like an anime with an army of ninja set in the Dead Space universe was filmed on scene. I’m talking Tarantino levels of viscera. It even makes squelching noises if you walk through it or carry it around (fun feature, but a little sickening for some; I’m restricted to headphones).
If you have issues with motion sickness, you may want to reconsider the game. You can turn off the motion blur (something I’d suggest), but even with it off, the game can be a little jarring with sudden lag, quick movements, and other quirky issues. My wife couldn’t watch the game for more than two minutes due to her motion sickness.
On the topic of lag: I don’t know what’s happening there. Every few moments, it freezes, possibly due to the autosave feature. Even when it’s not time for the autosave, there are times it stalls when I’m leaving a room, like it’s trying to render the zone for the first time (even though everything appears to be a single zone that doesn’t need loading). It gets a little frustrating when my rig runs Fallout 4 at max settings with no issue.
One feature, which isn’t explained and something you have to determine on your own, is how to get keypads to work. They suffer the issue of usability (see the physics section below), but you are not told that they can be hacked. In fact, the ones in the office MUST be hacked in order to get them to work, and that’s only done by randomly pressing buttons and, if the keypad flickers, that number at that space was correct. This isn’t so bad with a four-key combination, but once you get to the larger ones, it’s a bit crazy.
For a physics game, it has some flaws with physics. Sure, seeing an item fly is hilarious, but if items clip together, or if you tap something the wrong way, it can go flying. In one zone, I was walking and clipped a wall. My bucket went flying to the other end of the long room. I’ve also read of some items clipping together and then flying around, which makes things a bit frustrating with regards to cleanup.
Speaking of frustrating cleanup: you have to clean up used bullet casings. Every. Single. Bullet. This wouldn’t be so bad with the right rools, but your broom just shoves some things around, and you can’t push them into a bucket or anything. You also don’t have a vacuum or anything (but you can get a crazy laser welder).
The only way to clean up the bullets is to pick up each one, by hand, and throw it into a bucket to eventually be thrown into the incinerator. That’s it. I’ve actually given up on some levels after being there for over an hour cleaning and realizing I still had a bunch of bullets on the floor. I tend to punch out and go. Granted, the developer was on a Steam community discussion saying that the feature is still being worked out, but this was back in 2014, so I am not certain if we’ll see this resolved.
Basically, you get to pick up ONE item at a time. That item can be a sewer grate or a single bag of chips. There’s no way to pick up groups of items, and the suggestion from other players is to sweep everything together, grab a bucket, and just sit there and meticulously pick up each item. If you’re trying to balance multiple things on a large surface, you’re going to have a bad time, as they will rock around even when walking. Nice physics touch, but frustrating when you stack two grates together and try carrying it, and it randomly turns to the side.
As fun as the theme of the game is, the controls put a bit of a damper on it. Picking up objects can feel a bit random at times, as even with the reticle (which is HUGE), you can’t pick things up accurately. I’ve had an item outside of the reticle randomly picked up, which makes things a bit challenging, and not in a good way.
The game also makes it hard to “activate” certain items. Some items, like lanterns, are activated as soon as you pick them up. Others, like the flares, lightsaber, or explosives, require you to press and hold the button used to pick them up. Sadly, this doesn’t always work, especially if you are moving at the same time. You have to stand perfectly still and do this, and hope that you didn’t accidentally shift the mouse when you clicked. This is a detracting point for me, as I really do like the idea of using the lightsaber in other levels and playing with the explosives.
Saving is something I’m on the fence about. I love that you can save and get back to the game later, but I don’t like how once you finish a level, that’s it, you cannot return. If you want to get a collectible or an item to unlock things in the game that you missed (and didn’t destroy), you will need to play the level all over again. Sure, you can run in and get fired, but getting fired resets your office (but leaves your trophies/collection, thankfully), meaning you have to re-hack the doors every time, clean up the garbage, and re-set your collection. A bit frustrating, as it means you’ll be replaying more of the level than you need if you want to maintain your office as-is.
All said and done, and with how the game stands at the moment, I’m giving Viscera Cleanup Detail 3 Buns.
It’s a game with some great potential, but a physics game with odd, quirky physics isn’t much of a fun physics game. It’s also not for everyone, as some people hate the type of monotony this game provides, whether it’s picking up bullets one at a time or carrying half a corpse across a level to get to the only incinerator on the map.
Underneath the flaws, the game offers an interesting view similar to MegaTokyo’s gag about how Tokyo is always rebuilt after a major battle. It also offers some fun gameplay mechanics, hours of hilarity, a plethora of Easter Eggs, and if you are into this type of meticulous work, hours of enjoyment.
Viscera Cleanup Detail is available on Steam, and is still being improved upon with new content and new features. If you are into this kind of game, it is worth picking up and seeing what is improved upon in the future. With a few of the bugs fixed up, I’d give it a solid 4 buns, so watch closely at what they do next!