By Christopher Livingston on April 21st, 2014 at 9:00 pm.
Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, space station sanitation in Viscera Cleanup Detail.
I’ve been picking internal organs off the floor, mopping blood off the walls, cramming severed limbs and heads into an incinerator, and I’ve only just now noticed the shell casings, dozens of them, scattered around the room. In every other game, spent shell casings vanish when you’re not looking. If you ever wondered where they end up, it’s here, in Viscera Cleanup Detail, where they wait to be picked up, one by one. It makes me desperately wish for that Bioshock Infinite vigor that lets you collect bullets into a big hovering mass. Of course, vigors like that tend to lead to scenes of carnage like this. A simple magnet on a stick might be a better idea.
The gag of early-access game Viscera Cleanup Detail is a good one — you’re a janitor mopping up after the rampage of a violent space marine — but as we recently witnessed with Goat Simulator, gags need an actual game to go along with the joke. Is there more to the VCD than just the clever setup? Could cleaning up a bloodbath be fun for more than a few minutes? Most importantly: why am I asking you? I’m the one who played it.
I knew there was blood and gore in Viscera Cleanup Detail, but walking into the game for the first time, it’s far worse than I ever imagined it would be. Limbs and torsos, blood and goop, and plenty of other bits of trash, scattered and smeared from one end of the map to the other. It’s like characters from Mortal Kombat and Manhunt fought to the death inside Hotline Miami. The levels are bigger than I expected, too. Nothing a space marine couldn’t rampage through in a minute or two, but for a lowly janitor, going inch-by-inch? It’s going to be an undertaking in both senses of the word.
Well, best get started then! I’m armed with a mop, and I find a dispenser that produces buckets of water which I can pick up and carry around. There’s also an incinerator to dispose of objects like bodies and trash, and I also find a laser cutter, probably discarded by the space marine who found something slightly deadlier to carry around with him. I can use it to melt down body parts into smaller chunks, which is handy — bulging body bags are tough to shove in the incinerator in one piece — but the cutter also has a habit of setting the entire room on fire, which means cleaning up soot in addition to all the blood and gore. I decide to drop the weapon and stick to the mop and bucket.
I start in the medical center, where there’s an elevated patient room containing a bed and some body parts. It’s not too messy and seems like a good place to begin. I dunk the mop in the bucket and start scrubbing. The blood is wiped up easily with a few jabs of the mop and soon I’ve got a clean spot on the floor. A few more swipes of the mop and… the blood starts to leak back out of it, erasing my clean spot with a fresh red smear.
It turns out a clean mop will only last a few swipes before it needs to be rinsed in the bucket. Knowing this, I rinse it regularly, but soon after I seem to once again be slathering the floor with fresh blood. It’s the bucket water this time, which grows progressively filthier as I work and needs to be replaced.
Also not helping things: dunking the mop in the bucket is done with the same violent motion you might use to plunge a bayonet into the chest of a Nazi soldier, meaning I tip the bucket over half the time, making even more of a mess. In fact, I knock a lot of things over. Body parts bounce on the floor, spreading blood as they tumble. Lanterns can break, setting fire to the area, leaving you with a huge sooty mess. And there’s some sort of beakers filled with green science-fluid that shatter when dropped and get smeared all over everything. The bed that was lightly spattered with blood earlier is now absolutely slathered in green glop. Sigh.
Not to mention, my own footprints — in blood, soot, and green goo — are tracking blood all over the spare few places that aren’t already splattered. I’ve barely started cleaning and I’ve somehow made things worse. What was a slightly messy area is now a complete disaster, and I’ve got more work to do than ever, meaning I try working faster, meaning I work sloppier, making the situation I’ve already made worse, worse. Exasperated, I load up some of the game’s other levels just to see if there’s something smaller, some more manageable starter level, where you just clean one small chamber someone had a nosebleed in. Nope, the maps are all big. Huge. Absolutely splatted with gore. One even makes you clean in zero gravity.
Okay, then. Fine. I return to the original map and get my game face on. I can do this, I decide. I’m going to do this. I just need to come up with a plan. It’s like that old question: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Start by cleaning one little thing, take your time, do a good job, and maybe it will make the entire task seem less insurmountable. I choose a small alcove of the incinerator room, and decide to focus on that, and only that.
And I do it. It takes a while, lots of trips with lots of buckets, but finally, my little alcove is spotless. It’s just one teeny tiny section of the facility that is otherwise caked in gore, but you know what? It feels outstanding. It’s clean. It’s so damn clean. I even place a little “wet floor” sign in the area. Of course, just doing that gives me another bloody footprint to clean up, but it’s worth it.
Riding my high, I work on the adjacent area. It’s harder. There are more body parts to collect, plus those damn shell casings, and it takes much, much longer than the alcove did. But now I’ve got another clean area adjoining the original alcove. The middle of the room is still covered in my bloody footprints, and there’s no point in cleaning around the incinerator since I’ll be constantly running to it, tracking in more mess, but again, I feel good to have actually done some proper cleaning! I feel refreshed and optimistic, and am actually starting to enjoy myself.
At this point, I’m mostly left with long corridors and expansive rooms, but I still want to tackle something small to keep my spirits up, to keep eating around the edges of this big bloody steak. I head back to the tiny raised medical room I started in and take another look at it. I notice there’s more junk in it than I thought: bottles, cups, limbs, intestines, boxes, medical equipment. A lot of clutter, and mopping amidst clutter knocks clutter into clutter and if any of the clutter is bloody, everything gets bloody. I’m not too keen on making dozens of trips to the incinerator on the other side of the map at the moment, so i just start dropping stuff off the side and into the larger chamber below. I’ll deal with it once this little room is clean.
And long, careful minutes later it’s spotless! It looks absolutely lovely! I even replaced the empty healthkit station so it’ll be ready for the next grizzled, grunting space marine who passes through. Proud, happy, I turn and take a look down, down into the main chamber I’ve been dropping stuff — body parts, crates, lanterns, science tubes, other trash — into. I stare at it a long time.
Hm. Okay. Hm. Hey. Okay. You know what? Fuck. This. I’ve just come up with a better idea of what to do with this mess. Consider it my resignation.