The Lighthouse Customer: Viscera Cleanup Detail

Really? You couldn't have used a pen and paper?

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.

The ceiling, even? Come on, space marine. Accuracy counts.

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.

The tragic result of a combo move.

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.

Cleansing with fire is clearly not a solution.

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.

One more dunk and I'm cleanAGGGGGGH

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.

Well, at least you can't see the blood anymore.

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.

I'm gonna need a hand. And there's one now!

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.

Throw a casing in the bucket and make a wish! Guess what mine is.

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.

Take only pictures, leave only bloody footprints.

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.

Some see the room as half blood-splattered. Pessimists.

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.

Clean enough to eat off of. But please don't.

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.

I won the battle, but the war's just begun.

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.

This is what's known in the space-janitor biz as QUITTING WITH FLAIR.


  1. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Is it cheating to make my manservant play this game for me?

    • SillyWizard says:

      I would frankly love to have a multiplayer option in which a foreman directs a crew of players. Obviously the lazy people would try to get away with doing as little as possible, and the foreman would have to try to keep an unwilling crew on task.

      • WinTurkey says:

        This game does have multiplayer though, doesn’t it? I think it’s an advertised feature, even if its not in yet.

        You’ll absolutely have games where one guy decides to tell the others how to do their jobs instead of contributing himself.

        • Gap Gen says:

          “All right, sweethearts, what are you waiting for? Breakfast in bed? Another glorious day in the Corps! A day in the Cleanup Corps is like a day on the farm. Every meal’s a banquet! Every paycheck a fortune! Every bucket a swimming pool! I LOVE the Corps!”

        • Jalan says:

          It would still be interesting to have the actual option to have even the CPU randomly designate one guy on a multiplayer server in the supervisory role vs. a bunch of bucketheads asserting themselves into it. Then when it comes to clocking out, the overall performance of his team is then a contributing factor on whether he gets assigned the role again or if it goes to another person on the team.

      • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

        It apparently does have multiplayer. The last alpha version I played pre-steamworks had it, though I didn’t have anyone to play with, so I didn’t get it working.

    • Scumbag says:

      No gods
      No men
      Just manservant (and lord)

  2. razgon says:

    Oh, this is priceless! Thanks for having me hulking with laughter. One thing though – I *really* can’t tell whether you like the game or not, and whether there is a good idea here or not. From the steam reviews, people are actually loving this. I worry its too gory (Bits of people tend to be gory, I remember) or if its just so much over the top its no longer gross.

    • Geebs says:

      “You wouldn’t like me when I’m amused”

    • Chris Livingston says:

      If you really can’t tell if I like the game or not, then I think I did a decent job writing this because I really can’t tell if I like the game or not, either.

  3. Shazbut says:

    My interest in this game is entirely because it looks superficially like System Shock 2

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Yes, we all “remember Citadel”, but most of us can restrain the urge to write on the walls.
      *grabs sponge*

      • Llewyn says:

        Not everyone’s blessed with your memory; some of us need to make notes to serve as reminders. Pringles, Fairy, Citadel…

      • RedViv says:

        Please be sure what to do with this Latin degree in this space age, they said. Libera temet ex inferis, they said. Wish I had listened…

        • Gap Gen says:

          Nah, nah, guv, y’see, it’s the bits what go in the flames. Arms and what have you. Oi! Oi you! Don’t you go tracking blood all over that nice clean floor. I just mopped it, I did. Honestly. Some people.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I now want to have a game where people have written on the walls in blood phone numbers advertising casual sex and allegations concerning the sexuality of their peers, or simply daubed with their slowly draining lifeblood images of hairy penises.

        • Ditocoaf says:

          If I’m ever slowly bleeding to death after the rampage of a terrifying otherworldly monster, I’ll be sure to take my bloody hand and smear the shape of a phallus onto the wall, just to lighten the mood for whoever finds our bodies.

        • Dave Tosser says:

          I remember the graffiti in Riddick recommended readers “guard [their] dick[s]”. Riddick is set in a prison. Oh, and I think the Darkness had phone numbers on bathroom walls that you’d call for comics. Max Payne cries deeply into a sex line. Why aren’t games more mundane, and not just as physics dickery made to exploit shrieking Youtube users with facecams?

      • YogSo says:

        “Look at you, Cleaner. A pathetic creature with a mop and soap, panting and sweating as you scrub through my corridors.”

      • dethtoll says:

        Bravo, the lot of you.

  4. DrScuttles says:

    Having actually found myself mopping up another human’s piss this afternoon, this just seems too much like proper work once you’re past the joke. But then the difference between mopping up piss and mopping up blood is I guess you wonder what happened to get blood everywhere.
    Mopping piss? Understandable with a faintly numbing air of depression. But blood? Why, that’s a story.

    • Professor Paul1290 says:

      It’s really not so realistic as to be painful.

      This game is to real-life sanitation what the average FPS game is to being a soldier. It’s more of an exaggerated representation of job rather than a simulation.

    • Dozer says:

      “Have you ever cleaned up your own mother’s piss?”

    • Koozer says:

      The game does need more story to be interesting, else it is just work. I want to see plasma burns in the science labs. A smashed glass vessel surrounded by incubator goop and bits of staff in the medical lab. Red smears everywhere are rubbish.

      • SquidgyB says:

        I think they could expand a lot on this premise – bio contamination, radiation hazards, engineering work, structural faults, fixing bullet holes, scorch marks and explosion blasts…

        In multiplayer I imagine it could lead to plenty fun situations – maybe some Space Station 13 style co-op action in there…

        • Alphadrop says:

          Hmm not a bad idea, add in the slippable water that SS13 has into the game and watch the ensuing hi jinx in co-op as people carrying buckets of shell casings or gibs fall over and scatter them everywhere.

          • Vin_Howard says:

            “I didn’t do nothing security officer! I just thought the area in front of the brig looked a bit dirty, honest!”

            ((I actually did once get arrested for doing that XD))

            Oh, and they should also add banana peels (and boxes to hide them underneath) and it’ll be perfect.

    • Gap Gen says:

      There was that time when everyone at the secret military base on Mars hit their menstrual cycle at the same time and sanitary towel supplies ran out.

  5. Mechjaz says:

    Shouldn’t that be “QUITTING WITH FLARE”?

  6. tormos says:

    I have to say, the weird thing about VCD (or at least the demo) for me was how pleasant it was to play, given that I am not a huge fan of cleaning IRL. Granted, I don’t clean things for a living, but the annoying thing about cleaning to me has always been the grossness rather than the task itself. By pleasantly abstracting the grosness, I felt like VCD left only the pleasant, meditative aspects of cleaning that I tend to enjoy.

    • tormos says:

      I guess why this was weird for me was I was prepared to approach it as a physics comedy or a pointless simulation, but wasn’t really prepared to enjoy it on its own merits.

    • tungstenHead says:

      It sounds very similar to Euro Truck Sim or the Farming Sims where the consequences of making a mistake (demolishing a mailbox, car or human being; going bankrupt) are mitigated similarly to the EW GROSS (getting blood stains out of… everything) in Viscera Clean Up. With the negative aspect of these sorts of tasks removed, all that remains is the pleasant side of having a job well done, or seeing the countryside or whatever it is.

    • Hypocee says:

      I’m one for two. Can’t find the RPS? Eurogamer? piece remarking on FPS’ loop of converting messy moving live enemies to neat stationary dead ones, but ‘Many human games are basically ritualised tidying up.

  7. Funks says:

    Oh I know all about your buddy’s mom

  8. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I can’t help but feel they missed a real trick by integrating with other games like they did with Shadow Warrior. Maybe that’s planned for the future, I sure hope so. Running around a level of Doom, gibbing mobs, and then having to trudge back through it cleaning up, with droll, witty quips like Marvin the android from Hitchhiker’s Guide.

    Day one.

    • Gap Gen says:

      A commemerative cenetary WWI corpse duty mod. Use spades to smush any rats loitering around the bodies, and avoid sniper fire while sloshing knee-deep in a subtle blend of mud, offal and human waste.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      I do so hope there’s a Surgeon Simulator level.

  9. markside says:

    Played for a couple of hours online with my brother today. Found it surprisingly fun to work out how to approach the task and what order to do everything in for maximum efficiency. We found the corridors between our stationary equipment became slick with grime from us walking back and forth, so that was interesting to deal with at the end.

    It’s quite buggy online, so here’s hoping that’s sorted soon.

    • Ross Angus says:

      When I played the demo, I’m pretty sure if you look down, you don’t see your feet. Footprints seem to be a new “feature” since then. Does the current version have full body awareness?

  10. AyeBraine says:

    Remember: Roger Wilco didn’t ask for any of this.

  11. SillyWizard says:

    Oh by the way: Chris — Can I call you Chris? — I would really like to see you do a Lighthouse Customer report on Steam Marines, if you find yourself with an opening in your schedule.

    Appreciate the consideration!

  12. Premium User Badge

    gritz says:

    7 posts in 4 days? Get it together RPS!

    • Leb says:

      Easter weekend.

    • bill says:

      Creme Egg overload.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      It’s been a four day holiday in the UK (and the weather has been quite nice). Mind you, I’m not sure what the non-UK RPS types excuses are.
      We used to own your country you know, the least you can do is continue working while we laze around.

  13. vegeta1998 says:

    I figure if they wanted they could do a portal style narrative adding clues and making problem solving increasingly more difficult and requiring more imagination and improvisation.

    I also thought part of the fun of this VCD was that they could model their stages after well known game franchise levels, maybe I misunderstood: Quake, Aliens, Lego

  14. bill says:

    I’ve always agreed with Jim’s gaming-as-cleaning analogy. So this seems fitting.

    PS/ Good job on adding alt-text. Even the old-time RPS writers don’t bother with that much anymore :-(
    Maybe they should just add proper captions under photos to make them remember to add puns.

  15. Plopsworth says:

    Well, at least you’d be making lots of money – at least if they have the same bonuses as when I spent a summer on the harborside janitorial crew of a Helsinki – Stockholm ferry. Many passengers are there purely for the tax-free alcohol, which has… obvious consequences. We got a 25€ — ummm, looking for the right translation term here – “excretion bonus” for every separate pool or stain of “bodily fluid” we cleaned up. I cashed out quite nicely on occasion, especially that one time I got tasked with cleaning up the drunk tank which had two pools of blood and three pools of vomit.

    The smell was often atrocious, but you’d just double/triple latex glove up, cover your face, and deploy copious amounts of disinfectant. Not nearly as horrific as finding a used needle.

  16. HisDivineOrder says:

    This seems like one of those joke games I buy for $2 during a Humble Bundle or a Steam sale. Funny, amusing, not played for very long.

  17. brainglitch says:

    Actually, a magnet would not help for the shell casings because brass (copper and zinc) is a non-ferrous metal. However, given that many other nations use(d) steel casing on their ammunition in lieu of brass, a magnet would work for those. In the states some of our shooting ranges have these weird roller things that pick up the brass. Surly old men might yell at you for using steel ammo because then they have to get out a magnet to sort for their precious obsolete .30-20 Winchester cases.

  18. Mr Coot says:

    This game needs Kim and Aggie on the scene doing commentary. ‘Oh. This.Is.PUTRID!’

    Maybe they could be seconded for pop up hint voice acting.

    • sinister agent says:

      This is the best idea that anyone in the history of the universe has ever had on RPS about a game where you clean up gore.