The best survival horror games have you leaping out of your seat, your pulse pounding, and sweat soaking your T-shirt. That's part of what makes the genre such an addictive one. The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters is a slick, exciting 2D take on your typical zombie-laden shooter, with high production values and a distinct Korean flavor that helps it stand out from the rest of the pack. Save for a few missteps, it shines brightly as a surprisingly competent indie horror game that's modest yet enjoyable.
A spine-tingling standalone saga
The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters is actually a sequel to a game called The Coma: Cutting Class, which I had never heard of before jumping into this review. Fortunately, this particular entry can be played and enjoyed on its own without any prior knowledge of the original. You play as a student at Sehwa High named Mina Park. One day after school, she passed out following a shady interaction with her teacher Ms. Song and a fellow student.
When Mina wakes up, she finds herself trapped in a nightmarish version of her everyday world called The Coma. With little explanation, she's suddenly chased down by a maniacal, bloodthirsty version of Ms. Song, who runs her down at every opportunity to try and stab Mina to death. Ms. Song is being controlled by what you'll soon learn is called the "Vicious Sister," an entity that apparently wants Mina (and everyone else for that matter) out of the way.
Mina must first escape her school and find shelter across the city as she works out a way to fell this bizarre Vicious Sister and the rest of her minions before it's too late. The game does share connections to the first Coma story, but they're mainly tangential, in that Mina is a friend of Youngho, the protagonist from the first game. But there's nothing more you really need to know to proceed, which I appreciated since I came into the story blind. Now, if I want to go back to play the first one, I've got something to go on as well.
Vicious and violent
As Mina makes her way through the city, she explores a variety of locations such as the police station, a bizarre underground market, and plenty of other areas that hold the key to driving back the Vicious Sister and whatever she has planned. The gameplay loop consists of Mina exploring each area on a 2D plane, exploring rooms and passageways to find key items like keycards and maps or to deliver items to characters.
Most of the time, you'll find yourself in one area on the map, and you'll need to get to another. But you won't have the item you need to get there, which means you'll need to go on a trek until you get it. This can eventually wear on the nerves because of the constant back-and-forth and backtracking, but each area is inventive enough to hold your attention. There are also usually side quests to help you out in some way, such as building an improvised taser.
Whatever would you need a taser for? Well, you may have forgotten that this is a survival horror game. Where's the survival and horror come in? Right about the time you pick up the quest to make that taser. Until then, Mina is defenseless against any of the dangers in her way: falling bodies, poison clouds, ghosts that reach out to scratch you, and all that fun stuff. You can sprint around to avoid some of these things, but you need to watch your stamina and health points. Neither are unlimited, and letting them run out spells doom in some cases.
But the real fun begins when Ms. Song and her cohorts start following you around. Ms. Song can appear just about anywhere on each map, or one of the baddies that follow her, and she can slash at you to quickly whittle your health down. Unfortunately, you can do little to bring it back up quickly if you really start getting in a tight spot – you get limited inventory space and it can be difficult to get to the item you need in time if it's not part of your current hotbar setup.
This is where things get annoying. While you don't have much to defend yourself, Ms. Song is a walking disaster. She'll have you dead and forced to go back to a save point in the blink of an eye, which makes for some needlessly frustrating gameplay. For a good while, if you don't know your way around the map you're currently exploring, she'll just appear and slash you to death unless you can get away quickly enough to hide under a desk, in a locker, or somewhere else.
You have a limited inventory, so you'll undoubtedly run out of health items before you can heal up from her repeated damage, and that makes it difficult to get past her as well. The key is hiding somewhere before she finds you (the music will swell so you know) and successfully completing a set of quick time events. Sometimes, however, if you hide while she can see you, those events (a few well-timed button presses) can't save you. It can get extremely frustrating until you work out a system, and admittedly I didn't find this part scary or engrossing – it was just a hindrance most of the time. A good amount of the horror and tension came simply from the background, which I did appreciate.
Exploring the darkness
Luckily, evading Ms. Song and the other ghosts/menacing creatures isn't a huge part of the game. You will have to gather materials and occasional craft items at work benches across the game as well as chat with Ghost Vigilantes.
Ghost Vigilantes are basically the "remnants" of the dead littered throughout the world with information or quests for you. Along with the handwritten notes found in each area, they're the main source of lore for The Coma 2, and offer some context where it may be needed. It's fun to find pages with journal entries or chat with these ghosts.
You'll want to explore, too. The Coma 2 is gorgeous. It features hand-drawn art that's reminiscent of Western comic books, with plenty of crisp, bright colors and excellent audio that instills a sense of tension in you as you make your way through the darkness. You get to hear sinister approaching footsteps, the shrieks of Ms. Song, and the squelches of bodies and tentacles lolling around. It makes for perfect atmosphere, considering this is a horror game.
What's the opposite of comatose?
I went into The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters expecting nothing, but aside from the initial frustration I had with its combat elements, came away having enjoyed this nice little slice of K-horror a lot. Now that it's over (it's rather short), I find myself thinking about going to the original game and giving it a try. If you're looking for a unique take on survival horror that isn't part of an established series already, this should whet your horror whistle nicely.
This review is based on a Steam download code provided by the publisher. The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters is available now on PC.
The Coma 2: Vicious Sisters
- Polished visuals.
- Satisfying gameplay loop.
- Intriguing storyline.
- Great audio design.
- Frustrating run-ins with monsters.
- Flawed inventory system.