Medicum Veloctic

by Lawrence M Marable

2021

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Grimdark superhero melodrama, April 18, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: Spring Thing 2021

My fingers keep wanting to type this as “Medium Veloctic”, but there is nothing mid-range about this superhero medical thriller, which has its dial set all the way at 11 throughout its hourlong run time. There’s a lot that’s well-crafted here, including some fun puzzles and a refreshingly diverse take on a comic-book milieu, though the grimdark setting and over-the-top writing made it too exhausting for me to fully enjoy.

There are a couple of interesting things Medicum Veloctic is doing. One is the character dynamics; the primary driver of the story is the eponymous Veloctic, a tortured vigilante in the Batman mold whose struggles against a new supervillain provide the main plot business. The player-character, though, is his lover, who’s a doctor and responsible for patching up Veloctic – his real name’s Arthur, which I’m going to use from now on – when he oh-so-frequently gets his teeth kicked in. This leads to the puzzles, which are another novel element: in each major sequence, you need to diagnose and treat Arthur with the assistance of a handy, sidebar-accessible medical manual. And Arthur isn’t just Batman, he’s a gay Asian Batman, and the player character is a Hispanic man (named Reyes). Their respective identities don’t play a major role in proceedings, but it’s still nice to see.

There’s also a lot that’s much more standard. Top of that list is the worldbuilding and plot. We’re squarely in Iron Age comics territory: Veloctic comes with your standard angst-filled backstory (albeit with an unexplained-in-my-playthrough soupçon of parricide) and hyperviolent m.o., and the villain is a nihilist who just wants to stack up dead bodies. There’s one “investigation” sequence with some brushed-through mystery-solving, but mostly the story is a rush from one bone-breaking, blood-spurting fight to the next.

The relationship between the two characters also felt more identikit than I would have liked. Reyes subsumes his personality in taking care of Arthur, who’s got few compunctions about his self-destructive crusade but feels guilty about the toll it’s taking on his lover. Reyes has a job offer lurking in the background (from the WHO, which is a detail that doesn’t feel like it makes sense), providing the hope or threat of escaping the cycle. These dynamics are established early and don’t feel like they meaningfully evolve until they abruptly shift in the ending.

With solid prose, these less-inventive elements could have been fine, I think, but I have to confess I didn’t like the writing. Beyond a fair number of typos and technical errors, it’s melodramatic to a fault:

"The mask is worn for redemption not to paint oneself further in sin. But can you take the mask off before God and have him still call you clean?"

Unsurprisingly, it’s completely po-faced, and though Reyes repeatedly describes Arthur as a motormouth, Spidey-type character who’s always ready with a quip, the only thing that made me laugh was a throwaway sentence in the medical reference book that “flame-throwers are unbelievably common.” The game also crams way, way too much – emotion, detail, and frankly number of words – into its overloaded paragraphs:

"Licentia, that’s what the new villain calls himself; and god above do you hate it. You hate it so much. But he declared it on top of a bridge while fighting Veloctic so now it’s true, and he was one for the show when he shouted it at the cameras, all before getting grabbed by the Veloctic and slammed into a nearby beam. Earlier today he let an explosion go off at two banks across the city, it would have been five if Arthur didn’t manage to stop three of them at the last second."

The dialogue between the two lead characters is written the same way, full alternately of violent argument and lust. Some of this works in an overheated romance-novel sort of way, but I found myself wishing there was less Sturm und Drang and more opportunities for the conflict to slow down, so I could get to know who Arthur and Reyes are when they’re not furiously yelling at and/or making out with each other.

The writing also goes into a lot of unpleasant detail on the trauma Arthur inflicts and has inflicted upon him, but this at least is necessary to support the main gameplay element, which is the medical problem-solving you get up to in between fights. These sequences aren’t too graphic, and I found they hit a satisfying balance between too easy and too complex – at each point you generally have a choice between three of four plausible-seeming options, and the reference book provides a handy cheat-sheet while still requiring the player to match the descriptions in the main text to the corresponding clinical diagnoses. I’m not sure whether it’s possible to completely mess these up, or if your performance meaningfully impacts the story, but they do add a welcome note of interactivity while underlining the story’s themes about the toll the vigilante lifestyle imposes.

The presentation is a high point too. There’s a brooding color scheme that’s readable while fitting the overall vibe, punctuated by the occasional well-chosen photo. It’s on-point but nicely understated at the same time, and I just wish the rest of the game was more in line with the visual design. With more measured pacing that added some downtime in between the dramatic extremes, and a polish pass to clean up the typos and dial down the purple prose, this would be pretty great – as it is, Medicum Veloctic gets a lot right, even if it is a bit too much of an adolescent yawp for my taste.