Bacterium – Review

Bacterium is a top-down, action RPG, medical simulator hybrid, developed by Dragon Whisper games and brought to you by the fine people at Zodiac Interactive.

Firstly I’d like to mention that I played a pre-release of the game which started off in the default language which would be either Mandarin or Cantonese, I do not speak that language either way so the intro to the game made no sense to me, however it did look quite nice, when I got to the main menu screen the language was still the same, luckily through my years of gaming experience I was able to correctly locate the options menu and the language option, after setting it to English I continued my journey.

Story-wise, Bacterium is about a medical company that specialises in Nano-Bot medical technology, you have just been hired as a Nano-Bot operator and must pilot the Nano-Bot through bodies to hunt down and neutralise, viruses, disease and even obstructions and cancers.

The game begins by throwing you into the deep end, with nothing explained at all you control a little circular machine with things flying around everywhere, the complete chaos doesn’t last long, shortly you will wake up and realise it was all just a dream, or rather, a clever way of showing you the power you will come to possess as you play, because after this you will need to run through a few basic tutorial lessons.

After the dream sequence, you wake up in your room within the medical facility, it looks like quite a nice place, it’s either underwater or you have an aquarium in the wall (and no windows), some ornate animal head statues, and a coffee machine (because all good workplaces need to supply their staff with a way to get their caffeine fix), also in the center of the room are large monitors and a tablet, this is your workstation where you enter the operations or missions, you can buy equipment and items from the store, change the loadout on your Nano-bot, read your emails, and on the tablet you can review story, enemies and tutorials you have seen so far.

Now on to the gameplay, once you select a mission, your Nano-bot is inserted into a patient (we don’t see this however, we’re just there already which is probably a good idea as needles and surgery can make people pretty squeamish), you move your Nano-bot around like a traditional top down, twin stick shooter, however unlike the dream sequence you have no ranged attacks, instead you have a chargeable audio burst that pushes out a shockwave just around you, this is where the gameplay starts to differ from similar looking games, the enemies, as well as your Nano-bot, will have small balls surrounding them, these balls act as both attack and defence, your little balls will counter theirs, once they collide they both disappear, however this is not advisable, as even though it reduces their defence it also leaves you open to direct attacks, this is where your audio blast comes in, with the audio blast you can push the enemies defences away and if you’re quick you can collect their core by running into it and absorbing it, increasing your defences while also destroying them, as you continue more weapons and skills will become available to you giving you more options to disable enemies and absorb their cores.

The objectives of each mission will differ, and will range from collecting things for research to destroying cancerous tumour nests, the levels also have sub-goals which are optional but will increase your overall score for the mission, which gives you more money, experience and special unlockable items that increase in rarity and power based on your score between E and S ranks, levels can be attempted again whether you succeed or fail so you can grind on easier levels or try to just make it through harder levels and come back later to get S ranks when you are stronger.

During levels you will also find pickups dropped by enemies, these can range between healing items, energy boosters (used for sprints/dodging), assistance requests (for another Nano-bot to come and help you) to materials used to upgrade your equipment, the equippable modules also have rarity levels and inbuilt abilities so sometimes you can find two of the same piece but their abilities may be different so you’ll need to compare and select the one that suits your play style, this is similar to the skill levels you receive from levelling up, they can be used in 3 skill trees and can be mixed and matched to match your playstyle as well.

If you need some help, want some competition or you’re just in the mood and have other people that are too, (and enough compatible controllers) you can have up to four players at a time, each Nano-bot can be customised for the player so you can build a helpful team, compete to see who can do the best or even go full vs as a local multiplayer experience, which also adds to the longevity of the game.

Soundwise, the music in the game is pretty nice and suits the situations, due to the length of the pieces and the relaxing nature of most they don’t distract for the gameplay, nor do they get annoying, the sound effects, in Bacterium are also quite nice, there are a lot of squelches and the like, which are fitting for what is happening, a lot of games like this just use regular laser and explosion noises so it’s nice to have something thematically appropriate.

Graphically the game looks quite nice, it’s very stylised so everything looks otherworldly but still somewhat organic, with a bit of a low poly sheen over it, your office/bedroom is in 3D and looks quite nice too, I wouldn’t mind having a room like that, although I don’t have the medical background required for the work, the characters in the game are just portraits with no animation but they look really nice, they have the kind of oil painting look that is found in Korean Manwha or more fittingly Chinese Webcomics.

Overall, Bacterium looks quite complex and has a lot to learn but at the heart of it (which you could probably go into with your Nano-bot) it’s a basic top-down ARPG with a medical twist (gave me a slight Katamari vibe because you have to absorb the enemy cores, however you don’t grow larger as you do it, which is good for the patients), the missions I played were quick and enjoyable, it would be fun to play in short bursts and in longer stretches and is well worth checking out. In coffee terms, Bacterium is like an exotic blend from a country you’ve never been too, at first it might seem weird and you might think it’s not for me, but once you have a few sips and get the taste, you’ll realise it’s not all that different from the coffee you’re used to at home and you can happily enjoy a cup now and then.

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