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VEV: Viva Ex Vivo Review

Known by many for the raft of quality PlayStation 4 dynamic themes it has unleashed upon the PSN store, Truant Pixel has taken a bold step into video game development with its first title, VEV: Viva Ex Vivo.

It’s got an interesting and unique premise too, putting you in the shoes of a microbiologist who is capable of controlling an artificially created nanoscale organism through a variety of microscopic environments.

It all sounds rather complex on paper – more like a science project than a video game – but get past the intelligent veneer and you’ll find it’s a simple game in which you have to take control of a man-made creature and try to survive in a number of environments for 30 minutes. Rather than monitoring the miniscule organism like you would a remote-controlled drone however, instead you are able to guide it via an augmented reality computer system; enabling you to get up close and personal with your little grub-like friend and immerse yourself in the environments it is placed in.

Initially, four environments are available: fresh water, soil, blood and cerebrospinal fluid, and whilst they may sound boring, you’ve never experienced them on this scale before. Being so small, each environment is like an alien world that’s ripe for exploration and discovery, and you’ll want to do so too as they are all exceptionally well realised; convincingly realistic looking and running silky smooth to boot. Those who put some serious effort in and perform well throughout the four environments will also be rewarded by the unlocking of three more unorthodox examples too, including outer space and a stunning flower garden. Unfortunately though, the steep and obfuscated requirements to unlock these extras will more than likely result in many players never doing so, which is a real shame considering how much more interesting they are compared to the standard environments.

VEV 2-min

The actual gameplay of VEV: Viva Ex Vivo feels very laid back thanks to its slow pace and emphasis on sightseeing and exploration, yet at the same time it could in no way be described as easy. After selecting which environment you wish to explore, your aim is to survive for 30 minutes, which is the maximum lifespan of your organism. Starting out with 100 units of energy, the speed at which you move your organism determines the rate at which it depletes, ranging from 0.25 units per second for a slow dawdle to a whopping 1 per second at maximum speed. To stay alive then, it is vital for you to navigate your strange surroundings and make contact with particles of energy that can be absorbed whilst avoiding other organisms that may try to steal your collected energy and/or hinder your movement. The fact that collecting multiple energy particles before absorbing them results in more energy being gained rather than by doing them one at a time also creates a system of risk versus reward, where you need to weigh up the danger of losing your precious energy particles with the benefit of a potentially huge boost of longevity.

Whilst VEV: Viva Ex Vivo initially impresses with its visuals and premise, it doesn’t take long before your positive thoughts turn to frustration and boredom. With the placement of energy particles being entirely random, your survival sometimes feels more of a case of luck than judgement, and when you do find them you need to make contact with them so very precisely that it can prove to be a real pain. It’s not so bad when you don’t have any other organisms trying to attack you, enabling you to take your time and move at a snail’s pace to collect a nice tasty meal, but you rarely go so long even in the easiest levels without something chasing or trying to attack you. Rounding off the problem is that the actual aim of each level, staying alive for 30 minutes, is a very tedious act in itself. Every level essentially plays the same, with just the scenery and the hostile organisms within acting as differentiators, meaning that after a few minutes of each you feel like you’ve seen all it has to offer and lose all motivation to actually survive.

VEV 3-min

All in all, VEV: Viva Ex Vivo is quite a conflicted game. It gives the impression that it wants to be quite a laid back, almost zen-like experience, yet it’s frustratingly challenging. It’s also as clear as mud when it comes to explaining itself, revelling in throwing science jargon at you to the point where it overcomplicates matters; it’s essentially quite a simple survival game. Forget about the 30 minute target, which for the majority of players I imagine will be unattainable either through lack of luck, skill or patience, and you have a visually impressive title that is relatively engaging in bite-sized portions. With PlayStation VR support promised via an update, it’ll be interesting to see how that affects the gameplay in the future as it should make it a more immersive and absorbing experience, but as it stands today it’s hard to recommend VEV:Viva Ex Vivo to anyone but the most chilled-out individual with oodles of perseverance and patience.

VEV: Viva Ex Vivo is available on PS4.

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