Online, Sep 2020
Some games you come to with preconceptions; and I’d heard a lot about Escape Experience Chattanooga’s first avatar game, and how it was an overwhelming flurry of time- and tab-management. That turned out to not at all be true of Vaccine; in fact, due to changes in the technology they’re using, it may now not be true of any of their games.
I should note that we played via Zoom by special request, in place of their normal teleconferencing platform Jitsi. However, they’re now using Telescape as standard for their inventory management, and since that pro-actively pruned items we’d finished with, there was never an overwhelming number of objects to keep track of. I also really liked a small artistic detail in the way they’ve chosen to display the inventory: each item appears as a hand-drawn sketch (though when you click through you see a photo with full detail). That managed to be both very clear and also visually attractive; it’s a small thing, but just gave an impression of the venue going the extra mile.
This game’s name may sound rather topical for 2020, but it’s set in a near-future zombie apocalypse, where your avatar has followed a radio signal from a survivor claiming to have discovered a cure. It’s not a horror game; it’s a grim setting but handles it with black humour, in a way that provided some of my favourite moments of the game.
They’ve created a convincing setting, even though some decor details are more tongue-in-check than serious; and have backed that up with a decent narrative that evolves as you progress – although most of that comes in a single information dump that might be ignored by players who dislike reading. (Digesting that information just wouldn’t have been possible in a remote avatar game if it hadn’t been provided via the inventory system.)
Despite plentiful use of four digit locks and codes, Vaccine is a fairly physical game which gives a good sense of exploration and discovery, and has some nice hands-on tasks. It’s been adapted to the remote play format very well, and flowed smoothly; even so I think the strengths of the game would come across more if played in person. Although we’d expected a tough game, we finished with more than a quarter of our time remaining; that might be because Vaccine is an easier game or because the improved technology made the gameplay smoother and faster. But even if that meant it felt a little on the easy side, it was an entirely solid design with a lot to enjoy.