Bad First Impression / Okay Game
Vivisector started out as a Duke Nukem themed hunting game; an offshoot of the studio's Carnivores series. The result is a bit of a mash-up of genres. The outdoor environments are vast and aimless, but the finer gameplay beats are reminiscent of old school FPS (you don't even have to reload your guns). It's difficult to pin down, but I'd say it's a lot like Jurassic Park: Trespasser without a noodle arm. It could also be considered a more barren and uglier Far Cry 1.
Ostensibly, this is an FPS take on The Island of Doctor Moreau. You are an army man who is sent to an island, only to discover that a mad scientist has created a bunch of human/animal hybrids that are now running amok. It sounds like a good avenue for cheesy B-movie action schlock, but Vivisector's take on the material is somewhat odd. The mad scientist, who openly declares himself God and is shown to be injecting human babies with secret chemicals, is treated sympathetically. The army general who bursts into the room and yells at the scientist for experimenting on babies is the story's villain. It all culminates in an ending that mirrors 2001: A Space Odyssey. The bonkers story, poor graphics, and corny English performances make the cutscenes a joy to behold, however unintentional the entertainment value may be.
Although Vivisector's levels aren't divided into episodes, there are three distinct 'Acts' that mark turning points in both the story and the gameplay. Each act has an entirely new cast of animal monsters to fight. Unfortunately, Act 1 is by far the worst section of the game. It's downright shovelware quality. The enemies in this act spawn in from out of nowhere, move spasmodically, and have attacks that simply cannot be avoided. There are flame spitting jaguars that move quickly and have obscenely long range. There are gorillas that can throw grenades with perfect accuracy from hundreds of meters away, even when you're not in their line of sight. Ammo is scarce and your weapons are ineffective. You're constantly being ambushed by unfair animals with their unfair attacks. To put it bluntly, the first act of this game sucks total ass.
HOWEVER, after a couple hours you get to Act 2 and those enemies go away forever. They're replaced with humanoid animal soldiers with guns. These enemies move in a reasonable manner. Their attacks are telegraphed and avoidable with enough skill. The horrible enemy spawns are dialed way back. You get better weapons. Ammo becomes plentiful. The level design improves. Somehow, someway, after two to three hours of some of the worst shovelware FPS dogshit I've ever seen, Vivisector turns out to be pretty good.
I mean, it's not great or anything. Post-Act 1 Vivisector is only mildly above average in quality and is held back by some glaring issues. The game's physics engine is messed up (perhaps the result of running on modern hardware). Your grenades bounce around like pinballs before exploding (usually landing right back at your feet). Enemies seem to have greater priority in the physics engine than your own character, so you can get shoved around a lot when they collide with you. Your melee attacks have pitiful range, which makes crate busting a chore. Some of the weapons just plain stink. The rocket launcher weapons are completely useless. Sometimes crates or important objects will just fall through the ground, never to be seen again. On a few occasions the protagonist himself will do the same. Quicksave often.
On the other hand, some of the weaponry proves fun to use. The 'double shotgun' feels great; the M60 and Gauss Cannon weapons are effective and handle well. The enemies (from Act 2 onwards) are decently fun to fight and are creatively designed. You fight jackals with tesla guns, goats with shotguns, and tigers with bazookas. Vivisector is actually not all that difficult, even in spite of the blatantly unfair enemies of Act 1. This is perhaps owed to a surprisingly workable health regeneration mechanic, where each monster killed treats you to a small health boost. This idea might be a holdover from the game's Duke Nukem days, as it works somewhat similarly to 'Ego' in Manhattan Project and pre-release builds of Duke Nukem Forever.
Even though the maps are sometimes gigantic, this is not a free-roaming game. While you can roam quite far from the critical path, it is generally to no benefit. The game world is extremely sparse, and all you will ever find off the beaten trail are a handful of crates with surplus health or ammo inside-- if you're lucky. The good news is that navigating the critical path in such a huge, barren environment isn't painful, since you are fed a constant breadcrumb trail of 'beacons' that show up on your minimap and mark their positions on the gameworld with a bright green signal. There are some asinine, Half Life-style traversal puzzles here and there. Some of them can be obtuse, but there's nothing particularly hateful.
Vivisector is a baffling game. The story is both cliche and batshit. It makes a horrible first impression, but then improves dramatically. Even considering this upswing in quality, I can't say that it's particularly good enough to warrant slogging through the tire fire that is the first act. If you have a high tolerance for jank, and if you've played every other classic FPS out there and want a new one.... maybe give Vivisector a try? If you drop it after the first 15 minutes I wouldn't blame you, though.
Vivisector, in spite of all odds, becomes a pretty decent action FPS about 1/3 of the way through the campaign. However, what precedes that point is so dire it renders the whole proposition moot. By all means look up the cutscenes on YouTube, though. They're hilarious.