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Trauma Center: Under the Knife (DS) artwork

Trauma Center: Under the Knife (DS) review

"My first patient in Trauma Center: Under the Knife was named Kevin Turk. He was riding a motorcycle when he suddenly lost control of the vehicle and crashed through a glass door. The accident left him with lacerations in his upper right arm, and they were starting to hemorrhage. The man also had shards of glass lodged deep within his right shoulder. This procedure would require me to remove all foreign objects from his skin, and then suture up any wounds. "

My first patient in Trauma Center: Under the Knife was named Kevin Turk. He was riding a motorcycle when he suddenly lost control of the vehicle and crashed through a glass door. The accident left him with lacerations in his upper right arm, and they were starting to hemorrhage. The man also had shards of glass lodged deep within his right shoulder. This procedure would require me to remove all foreign objects from his skin, and then suture up any wounds.

I can make this scenario sound dramatic. Observe.

My first objective was to take care of the large cuts lining Turkís arm. I pulled out a needle and, using a careful zigzag motion, stitched the lacerations shut. Next, the glass. There were two shards protruding from the patientís skin, and, making the best of my forceps, I pulled them out slowly and carefully, and disposed of them. The smaller wounds leftover were treated swiftly by an antibiotic gel that (rather helpfully) is able to cure minor injuries in the blink of an eye. It seemed as if my job was doneÖ But as it turned out, more glass was embedded beneath the patientís skin. I disinfected an area on the flesh and made an incision with my scalpel. Three more shards revealed themselves. I removed them as I removed the others. I finished the procedure by suturing, disinfecting, and bandaging the incision. Mission success.

Now hereís how it really went.

My nurse, Mary, told me to start with the lacerations, and to select the needle icon. I did. She then told me to follow along the cuts in a zigzag pattern. She interrupted me in the middle of this process to inform me that this is a basic surgery skill. This information astounded me. Next, she commanded me to take out the forceps and remove the glass from the skin and place them onto a plate that appears at the top of the screen. Upon dropping each shard onto the plate, I was rewarded with a COOL! because I did such an amazing job dropping the shards onto the plate. Next up, she instructed me to take care of the wounds with an antibiotic gel, and then once again interrupted the medical emergency at hand by explaining how far modern medicine has come. She apologized for being an annoying bitch, and then pointed out a convenient dotted line along which I needed to cut to reach the rest of the glass. After more instruction, this time for tasks sheíd already taught me, I was able to patch up my patientís arm and send him on his way.

This does not even count the mountains of text you must scroll through in between individual missions, nor does it count the insurmountable volume of blabbering that takes place while life-threatening emergencies are underway, even after youíre well past the gameís introductory phase. Atlus makes the unfortunate mistake of thinking Iíll actually care what a bunch of anime characters in a surgery game have to say, and thus bogs down a potentially appealing title. I literally think Iíve spent more time in Trauma Center flipping through text boxes than actually playing, which might be okay for an RPG but not for, you know, a surgery game.

I will not bore you with plot details because I do not wish to make the same mistake as the game Iím criticizing. The point is that even if the story had been interesting Ė and itís not Ė I probably still wouldnít care. Not with as much emphasis as Atlus puts on it. This is game, and I want to play it!

Or so I thought. A surgeon sim is a concept that, to my knowledge, had not been tackled in the gaming world before Trauma Center came along. The whole idea of simulation games is to provide lifelike experiences that most people will never get to participate in for real. (The exception to this is The Sims, which is a simulation of Ė wait for it Ė real life.) On that level, Trauma Center succeeds. I will never be equipped with the intelligence, commitment or patience to handle real-life surgery, so Trauma Center is certainly a unique experience.

But hereís the thing. No matter how unique your idea is, itís never going to work unless it makes a good game. And to my great surprise (seriously), surgery as portrayed by Trauma Center isnít particularly fun.

Iím reminded of the ďclassicĒ board game Operation, in which players would use a pair of tweezers to extract various bones and body parts from tight spaces without hitting the edges, so as to avoid failure and a startling BZZZZT! sound. That objective is a very simple one. The key to the game was cautiousness. You had to remove the game pieces slowly and delicately Ė a daunting task for jittery grade schoolers, but a rather easy job for anyone else. The simplicity of Operation is the very reason I stopped playing board games a long time ago.

Same thing for Trauma Center. You have to perform a set of very simple, mundane tasks, but do it carefully! The act of using the DSís stylus to drag a piece of glass out of a patientís skin takes no intellect whatsoever. You merely have to perform this action slowly and efficiently, which frankly isnít hard. That goes for everything you do in Trauma Center, be it suture a wound, excise a tumor, or inject a serum. The game is basically the videogame version of Operation, with the BZZZZT! effect replaced with spurts of blood.

Trauma Center gives the false illusion of variety by giving the player a large set of medical tools and constantly throwing them into new situations, gradually escalating to an alien-like virus that must be exterminated. (Yeah.) It would be awfully unfair of the game to toss you into any of these scenarios without telling you what to do, yet once you know what to do, your objectives are simple and easy. Itís not long before I got sick of suturing cuts, or disinfecting lacerations, or draining pools of green fluid.

Itís a lose-lose situation. Half the time I was growing bored with playing through the same tasks over and over again. The rest of the time I was being taught something brand new, but had to sit through mounds of text to get to it. A good game gives the player the basics and lets him figure out how to utilize what heís learned; Trauma Center tells me everything I need to know, and then keeps telling me even as Iím playing, thanks to the irritating nurse screaming orders on the top screen at all times. Itís like having a living, breathing FAQ sitting beside you as you play, walking you through every corner of the game Ė a game thatís frankly too simplistic to warrant the use of a FAQ anyway.

The DS is a system for which many new ideas have come into play, and with games such as Kirby: Canvas Curse, itís brought about some fascinating concepts that never would have occurred to us otherwise. But the DS has also done something else Ė itís giving us a platform with which we can bring to life all the ideas that may have come to mind before but simply couldnít have been done anywhere else. I donít think the concept of a surgery game is ďinnovative,Ē really Ė hell, the idea has occurred to me, and I donít even make games Ė but now that Trauma Center has come and gone with lackluster results, yet Iím sitting here with no suggestions on how to make the game better, Iíll assume that surgery just flat-out doesnít make a good game.

Who knows? Maybe someday a better developer will come along and give us a medical game that completely blows us away. Until then?


Suskie's avatar
Featured community review by Suskie (September 07, 2007)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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