An Introduction to Lobotomy Corporation
Updated: Mar 28, 2022
Culture & Community, Media & Tech
by Salt Blossom
Lobotomy Corporation is a roguelite horror management game developed by Korean studio Project Moon. The player is tasked with overseeing an energy producing facility by way of containing anomalous creatures called ‘Abnormalities’. The game is presented in a 2D side-scrolling view with a cartoonish, anime-esque art style.
Readers may have stumbled across this game in SCP, Backrooms, or other containment fiction community spaces. Further questioning will usually reveal a surface comparison towards SCP in particular; it’s not hard to see why from the store description.
Containment fiction games are not unusual. Steam currently lists dozens of titles with either the SCP name or influence, most notably SCP: Secret Laboratory, SCP: Containment Breach and Control. Aside from the currently Early Access SCP: Strategy, none of them fall into the management category. Except, of course, Lobotomy Corporation.
With a premise so close to SCP itself, it’s a surprise that Lobotomy Corporation only occupies a small foothold within the containment fiction space. It may be due to the genre, art style, or simply a lack of marketing, but regardless I find this to be a shame. The game may not strictly fall under the genre’s definition, as it’s a sold product instead of a collaborative effort, but it deserves recognition for getting close.
What Exactly is Lobotomy Corporation?
A quick way to summarize Lobotomy Corporation is, ironically, by comparing it to one of its contemporaries—SCP: Containment Breach. To recap, that game involves a single D-class attempting to escape the titular containment breach. With their path blocked by dangerous SCPs, security guards and various puzzles, players of the game can tell you the situation inside Site 19 grows chaotic quickly.
Lobotomy Corporation is almost the inverse of this. Instead of escaping, the player works to prevent containment breaches. The player is no longer a lowly D-Class, they are now the manager of the entire facility. As for the fictional organisation Lobotomy Corporation itself, humanity is just another sacrificial lamb on the road to maximum energy production and profits!
As manager of Lobotomy Corporation’s main facility, the player must command employees (termed agents) to work with anomalies (termed Abnormalities) to reach an energy quota. The game’s length is split into a day by day system not unlike the calendar in the Persona games. Before the start of each day, the player is given a new, unknown Abnormality out of a random selection of three. They then have ample time to prepare their agents, hire new ones or examine the rest of their facility.
(An example facility)
Once the day begins, the player is presented with a side-scrolling view of their entire facility. They must then command their agents to work with the Abnormalities. Each agent has four stats (based on Plato’s four virtues) that correspond to four work types. Each Abnormality has its own preferences, quirks and mechanics. Hence, ordering the correct agent to perform the correct work with an Abnormality is required to both produce energy and ensure the agent’s continued survival.
Correctly performing Abnormality work will increase an agent’s stats dependent on the type. It will also earn resource points (PE Boxes) that can be spent to unlock Abnormality information (thus making future interactions easier) or purchase equipment based around the entity (E.G.O). The more dangerous the Abnormality, the greater risk of agent death, yet the greater the stat boosts and equipment. This presents a dilemma to the players—are they willing to deal with a more unstable facility to reap better rewards? The Abnormalities will keep on increasing in difficulty, so perhaps it’s better to take some hard blows early on.
To prevent stalling or repetitive tactics, the game will regularly spawn monsters (Ordeals) to fight or threaten timed containment breaches (Qlipoth Meltdowns). The former can trigger the lesser employees (clerks) roaming the facility, potentially resulting in more containment breaches. These trials will test the player’s adaptability and flexibility. An energy reward awaits should they succeed.
This is where the player’s quick-thinking management skills are tested. Successfully passing these miniature trials rewards the player with additional energy for the quota. Once the quota is reached, the day ends, providing new story cutscenes, another expansion to the facility and a new Abnormality. Rinse and repeat. It’s not simple, but it’s not too complex; and more importantly, it sounds manageable, doesn’t it? The game agrees with this sentiment in its first week. Then it not-so-politely reminds you that this is a game inspired by SCP. In Lobotomy Corporation, what can go wrong often goes wrong.
(This was not planned)
It’s so easy to send an incorrect work order to an unprepared agent, especially considering that new Abnormalities have nothing revealed about them. If the player is lucky, the agent will simply die. If they’re unlucky, this will start a chain reaction of a containment breach caused by the agent’s death, resulting in the Abnormality massacring a group of hapless rookies, leaving the survivor to go mad and break out another Abnormality and…
Let’s just say that many a manager has glanced away from their screen, only to return and find their entire facility a smouldering wreck, Abnormalities feasting on the corpses of their prized agents and, worst of all, the daily energy quota nowhere in sight.
("You absolute moron. You complete knobhead. You careless buffoon. Do you understand what you are doing to our employees? You cannot possibly create energy like this.")
Of course, a good manager will calmly deal with the first incident and guide their agents to suppress the Abnormality and control the facility once more. Most managers don’t start out that way, which is where the roguelite mechanics of the game come in.
The player can rewind time at any point. They have two options: restarting the day or rewinding back to the start of a five-day week. The former is a clean wipe, while the latter allows the player to keep Abnormality research and purchased gear (but not any stat upgrades or new agent hires acquired in the five days). This feature exists to prevent the player from being locked in with a facility that they cannot handle. A shrewd player can utilize this feature to fill up their research logs and efficiently grind for gear.
The facility itself is split into multiple departments, each with their own identity, perks and missions. Completing these missions will unlock tools that make managing the facility easier.
The story of Lobotomy Corporation is intertwined with the gameplay. Story segments are told in visual novel cutscenes between each day. As the player acquires new Abnormalities and expands the facility, they will meet with the various department heads and uncover the truths of this morally dubious energy production facility. What starts off as an SCP pseudo-clone expands into something much greater in scope. To go into more detail would be spoilers.
In short, the gameplay of Lobotomy Corporation is anomaly management that feels like juggling a lot of plates and having to pay attention to all of them at once. You will wish your eyes had eyes.
Relation to Containment Fiction
It’s easy to see where Lobotomy Corporation’s similarities to SCP lie. Both have settings rooted in morally dubious fictional organisations. Both present emphasis on containing anomalous entities inside chambers and researching them. Both ask the reader/player to discover anomalies in the context of their own world.
Indeed, Lobotomy Corporation’s anomaly format seems to take much after SCP. The three main Object Classes are replaced by five Risk Levels (Zayin, Teth, He, Waw and Aleph). Containment Procedures are split between Managerial Works, Work Preferences, and Breaching Information. All Abnormalities have an Information Section that can be unlocked after reaching a certain research level; the contents within are usually similar to the addenda and exploration logs found in many SCPs. The Abnormalities themselves resemble SCP Series 1, being singular anomalous objects with not much connection between them.
However, if that was where Lobotomy Corporation’s relation to containment fiction ended, there would be no reason to write this article, nor play the game in the first place. It may not be containment fiction strictly, but it does a few things with its anomaly presentation that allow it to stand out apart from SCP and contemporaries.
The first strength of Lobotomy Corporation’s presentation is its most obvious—the visuals. Instead of reading multiple clinically-toned paragraphs about an anomaly’s appearance, the player can simply look at an Abnormality, inspect its design and understand within seconds. Animations provide personality, while the Abnormality’s movements and the cartoonish art-style can help stick it inside the player’s memory. The supplementary information logs don’t have to waste time describing how an Abnormality moves and can get straight to the point. As the old adage goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
(How would you begin to describe this?)
The second advantage of Lobotomy Corporation’s presentation lies within its interactive nature. A popular SCP trope is the experiment log, wherein researchers send hapless D-Class towards dangerous anomalies. The reader experiences all of this from an outside perspective (barring a few SCP format breaks). Lobotomy Corporation understands it’s a video game and makes the player experience this phenomenon themselves.
It starts from the beginning of each day. Three mysterious boxes hang within a red-black void, each revealing a single line of ominous text when hovered over. After much deliberation, the player selects a box. The box grinds slowly down into their facility, resting at their newest containment cell.
And yet, there’s still nothing revealed about the Abnormality. The Risk Level, Management Tips, Work Preferences and more are all completely blank. Numerous questions are quickly raised. What work type does the Abnormality prefer? What happens when work ends with a neutral or bad result? Are there any patterns that must be adhered to, lest the agent trip an instant-kill trigger?
(They just don’t know.)
The conclusion is the same. The player must send their agents to the new Abnormality. Sick tension fills the manager’s office as their brightest agent walks towards the new containment. The work starts. The agent is locked in, unable to be recalled. Perhaps the manager’s intuition will come through against all odds, earning enough research points to unlock the Abnormality’s preferences on the first go. Or perhaps it will fail, resulting in a dead agent. God forbid it’s one of those Abnormalities with deadly lingering effects—the equivalent of a ticking time bomb.
If the Abnormality does breach, well… the player gets to see what happens when fragile humans square up against ungodly horrors. You know those scenes in SCP exploration logs where an unsuspecting MTF squad is torn apart by a new Keter-class? It’s close to that. As a bonus, the player gets to know it’s entirely their fault!
Otherwise, it’s back to the sacrifice mill once more. How many agents or employees must be thrown at the new Abnormality to learn its ins and outs? Even if the Abnormality is fully researched, the context of the initial first line now clear, will the sacrifices have been worth it?
By obscuring vital information and demanding it be researched, Lobotomy Corporation immerses the player in the fear of the unknown. It burdens them with responsibility over the facility’s employees. It makes them invest in their own agents, only to present the risk of instantly losing them to a new foe. When alarms are blaring, the new ALEPH-class is breaching, and half the facility’s agents are dying left and right, the game shrugs its shoulders and asks the player to deal with it themselves. As they’re stumbling through the wreckage, wondering if anything can be salvaged, only then do they realise just how much the big black box at the beginning truly matters.
Lobotomy Corporation embraces its interactive nature to enhance the sense of discovery and horror. It lets new players feel that same Series 1 SCP sense of terrified wonder by unfolding the consequences of researching anomalies directly in front of them. The standard SCP article, with its lack of first-person perspective or any gameplay mechanics, cannot hope to achieve this level of immersion.
Now, Lobotomy Corporation’s approach is not without its downsides. It’s less approachable than SCP, since you have to play and enjoy the game first. Abnormalities are defined by their gameplay mechanics, which limits what can be done with them. For example, anomalies too large in scope (e.g. SCP-3000), are conceptual in nature (e.g. SCP-3125) or encapsulate an entire event (e.g. SCP-787) cannot exist as Abnormalities.
Only four work types exist, which break immersion somewhat by reminding the player that it’s a game. The same can be said of the rewind mechanic, allowing the player to undo any sacrifices (though they have to keep their memory). Finally, the research process involves trial and error, which can ruin the sense of discovery by becoming too frustrating.
Lastly, the Abnormalities are reminiscent of Series 1 SCPs. They are singular anomalies with little connection between each other. Their Story Records feature common Series 1 tropes: catastrophic containment breaches, instant-kill traps and the almost-casual sacrifice of human lives. Series 1 is contentious with the modern SCP audience for frequent usage of these tropes, coupled with inconsistent quality amongst its entries. Hence, the resemblance between Abnormalities and Series 1 SCPs could be off-putting.
However, I’d argue that Lobotomy Corporation resolves a number of Series 1’s issues. The visuals and animations reduce the chance of unclean prose in the writing. Each Abnormality, while not the same in quality, has been crafted with attention and a definitive purpose. There are no unnecessary redactions in the Story Records. Most of all, the game engages the player in those Series 1 tropes through its gameplay. Reading about yet another bloody containment breach is one thing. Having to figure out how to suppress one ingame, before all your employees die, is quite another.
Through its gameplay and aesthetics, Lobotomy Corporation is able to enhance the presentation of its anomalies and demonstrate a fine alternative to standard containment fiction tropes.
But is it worth playing?
It depends on what you’re looking for in a game. For starters, Lobotomy Corporation is a management game. Most of the time, the player will be assigning orders, watching animations run and dealing with the consequences. Tense moments come from dealing with breaches and additional challenges in the mid-late game. But beyond that, there’s not much else to do.
Lobotomy Corporation is also a rather challenging game. It will dump a simple tutorial on you and expect you to figure the rest yourself. It will have no qualms about sending Abnormalities that your facility may not be prepared for. It will not hesitate in stringing you along with false hope, before dumping a fat new challenge and letting you deal with the fallout.
It is a game that requires a shift in mindset. You will need to accept that your agents can and will die at any moment. You will need to put up with the trial and error nature of Abnormality research. You will need to accept that you must rewind time at certain points. Indeed, the gameplay of Lobotomy Corporation sometimes skirts the line between challenging and plain frustrating. It is not uncommon for a player’s facility to receive too dangerous of an Abnormality, forcing them to choose between another retry or going five days back.
There are also little niggles that can grind down the experience. The UI of Lobotomy Corporation isn’t the best. Certain options require one too many clicks, while other crucial pieces of information (such as agents growing stats via Abnormality interactions) are not displayed at all. The tutorial only touches on the basics of the game. Finally, Lobotomy Corporation has multiple small bugs, the most infamous being a memory leak issue that can crash the game if left idle for too long. Mods can fix these, but their existence is demonstrative of Project Moon’s first effort to develop a video game.
Lastly, while subjective, the cartoonish art-style is opposed to SCP’s mostly realistic, serious aesthetic and can be a major turn-off to some.
However, there’s a reason why the game has a fanbase in the first place. If you can get past all the issues, you’ll find an engaging management game with a unique, memorable aesthetic. The gameplay flows quite smoothly once the player adjusts to it. Many players have found the underlying narrative quite engaging, despite initial impressions. The Abnormalities have a lot of love and care put into their designs and mechanics. They should be quite appealing to anyone seeking a return to the earlier SCP style.
Henceforth, I am giving Lobotomy Corporation a tentative recommendation. It is flawed in multiple aspects, but there’s nothing else like it on the market, nor in containment fiction. Give it a chance if you’re looking for something different, at the cost of a few gameplay issues.
Lobotomy Corporation can be purchased on Steam. It is recommended that new players install the following mods, as they fix various issues while still retaining a mostly pure experience:
Basemod (All other mods rely on this)
Alternatively, if you wish to only explore its story, you can also read an excellent Let’s Play by TeeQueue here.
(Images sourced from the Lobotomy Corporation's Steam page, the Lobotomy Corporation wiki, the game itself and TeeQueue’s Let’s Play under Fair Use. Also thanks to TeeQueue for loaning a line from his Let’s Play.)
© Salt Blossom
© Confic Magazine