Enter the Tiniest Warzone
There are few places that gamers have not been, digitally speaking. It seems as if the recesses of space are a common destination, as well as blood-soaked battlefields. There is, however, one place I have not seen gamers dive into very often, and that is the microscopic world. Games are known for going big, so when a title comes along that places the player in control of a microscopic nano-bot, that is when some eyebrows are raised. I was skeptical at first, but I came to find that the biggest adventures can happen in the smallest of places. This rings true for a little indie title called Bacterium.
The Chinese game developer known as Dragon Whisper Games has created a title that takes players into the smallest warzone in the world. Bacterium presents a rather creative approach to the action/ RPG genre by allowing players to take on actual monsters that live and move among the populace. I am not talking about mythical night walkers, no I am referring to the very things that may be living in you right now; germs, bacteria, and viruses. If you thought taking on hordes of demons was intense, try combating a multitude of streptococci.
Let’s dive into the macrophage saturated slugfest that is Bacterium.
In a Not Too Distant Future
In the coming decades, medical science will have developed the ability to create nanotechnology that can assist the body in killing diseases. These nanobots, which are also called NanoCore Robots, or NCRs for short, are operated remotely by a person, much like a tiny drone. These robots were created by pharmaceutical companies that saw a dangerous occurrence in the world. The environment has slowly begun to break down due to pollution and the misuse of natural resources. As such, a new wave of harmful diseases have resurfaced and now threaten mankind.
Some of the most critical of patients have been sent to a specialized research station called LEAF for treatment. As an NCR operator, it is your job to destroy the core pathogens that act as the source of the infection. Patients with Lymphoma, Leukemia, and even AIDS are brought to LEAF for treatment by your skilled hands.
You are not alone in this battle, however. There are assistants, like Jane, who help you with your various missions by giving you instructions from the sidelines. Along with that, there is a fascinating storyline that involves you initially surviving lung cancer due to an NCR treatment performed by an unknown operator; one who continues to whisper to you throughout your missions. Only time will tell who this mystery savior is.
At its core, Bacterium is an ARPG that plays like Diablo but feels more repressed. The soft techno-rock style soundtrack provides a mysterious ambiance as your NCR floats smoothly through bloodstreams and bile. Much like any other ARPG, you can upgrade your machine by equipping items and weapons that you find on the field. As your level increases, so does the difficulty of the pathogens that you encounter.
The enemies are actual pathogens. It is not unusual to be floating through a level and encounter something that you remember from your high school biology class. At one point I had to guide the NCR through a horde of RNA Coronoviruses while absorbing Fibrous Tissue and collecting latent protein for my defenses. That might sound boring, but in reality, it was a slugfest!
The combat is more passive than most ARPGs. The NCR acts as a defensive cell, so it must combat pathogens like an actual antigen in the body. Using protein “balls” that are collected from both pathogens and other tissue, the NCR can hurl them towards the enemy to break down its cellular barrier; much like actual antibodies do. Other defensive measures can be used, but are mostly initiated on their own when they are near pathogens.
An Intellectual Escapade
There are very few titles out there that can pose as being not only fun but also educational. Bacterium has pulled this off in a big way. There is nothing mystical or incredibly farfetched about this game; it is just killing the most deadly diseases known to mankind with technology that is already being researched and created. As you delve into the various parts of the body you will notice that the environment changes to match the biology of the area. Capillaries are thin tubes with blood cells moving through it, while the brain hosts electric neurons that fire back and forth.
There are moments where the action in the game becomes blurry. This may cause some players to struggle, but I believe that this particular visual effect is deliberate. If you have ever looked through a microscope, then you have had to focus on the tiny object that you are observing. This same effect happens from time to time when the action gets overwhelming. It is a very cool touch.
Some Medical Malpractice
Bacterium’s unique play style sets the game apart from the rest but comes with some minor gameplay issues. First off, this game’s default language is Mandarin Chinese. First time English speaking players must navigate through foreign characters to make the game legible. However, even in English, the game is genuinely Eastern in nature. The central hub is full of rather meaningless fixtures, like a coffee maker and bathroom area, which just create situations where you can interact with Jane and the rest of the LEAF staff. This game has plenty of banter, and that is not very appealing to most Western gamers who are ready for a microbe massacre.
This title also has a problem with controls. The controls for the NCR are very rigid and do not allow for fluid movement through some rather tight spots. The hitboxes for many pathogens are difficult to negotiate. Many times all it takes is to move too close to an obstacle to deplete all of your shields and possibly destroy your NCR.
The game allows for local multiplayer that provides both co-op and PvP gameplay. The co-op mode is smooth and consistent, giving each player the ability to move around the level independently or together as a group. The PvP mode is a simple deathmatch in a small arena. Over the two, the co-op mode is far superior and worth playing with friends.
The Final Verdict
I was pleasantly surprised by this title. The idea of destroying diseases at a cellular level makes for a fun and exciting gaming experience. Bacterium combines both the simplicity of a hack n’ slash with the complexity of a nuanced RPG. The ethereal feeling of being within the human body feels claustrophobic, but also seems natural at the same time. This game is an excellent addition to any Steam catalog.
So, to wrap this up, I give Bacterium 8.5 fibrous tissues out of 10. If you are interested in playing this game for yourself, it is currently available on Steam. Just remember, no one can hear you scream in the lower intestines.
DVS Score: 8.5/10