"With two doctors available for each stage, you can partner up with a skilled buddy to zap viruses and set bones. As the timer ticks down and you combine your skills, you'll be sharing an experience unique to Trauma Center. It's fantastic if you can manage it, but let's face it: not all of us have friends, let alone talented ones. For such individuals, there may be times when the game feels nearly impossible."
Trauma Center: New Blood is the sort of game that can make you hate everything. Perhaps you've played one like it before. You head into your living room and plop down on the couch for a few minutes of gaming, then a half-hour later you find yourself jumping up and down on the coffee table, frothing at the mouth and whirling the controller around like a mace. There's no certain point where the transformation occurs. It's a steady erosion of your sanity because you don't want the game to beat you, because you're better than that and determined to prove it. That might sound like a recommendation to avoid the title altogether, but it's really not. The verdict is a lot more complicated than that.
Things begin innocently enough. As the story opens, two doctors are working at an out-of-the-way hospital in Alaska. It's a small community without much happening, but that's what Markus Vaughn wants. In this serene setting, he can comfortably wrestle his personal demons. Along for the ride is Valerie Blaylock, a promising young doctor who hangs around because she hopes to learn the secret of her peer's “healing touch” technique. Alas, their idealistic life is not to last. Suddenly, the hospital is closing and they're returning to California with an optimistic young nurse they met on the way. There, the trio joins a prestigious institute and must prove its competence all over again. Before long, all hell breaks loose and the team is in the middle of political intrigue and a secret that threatens to put the entire world in danger. You know, typical Trauma Center stuff...
Naturally, the interesting plot is just there to give you a reason to work through one fantastic surgery after another, but it's surprisingly successful. The intrigue is sufficient to keep you invested in every new twist, and this time around the narrative isn't focused almost exclusively on absurd developments that feel like Trekkie bait. In this way, Trauma Center: New Blood resembles a fine novel. If you've ever spent half the night with a book because each chapter ended with a cliffhanger and you just had to read 'a few more pages,' you understand the dynamic that's at play here. The difference, of course, is that it's a lot easier to keep turning pages than it is to successfully complete the brutal surgeries that are the building blocks for this game.
That's true for a number of reasons, but mostly it's the case because someone responsible for New Blood's design seems to think that you have a lot of friends who are every bit as capable at games as you are. Perhaps that's true, and in that case you should look forward to a real treat. With two doctors available for each stage, you can partner up with a skilled buddy to zap viruses and set bones. As the timer ticks down and you combine your skills, you'll be sharing an experience unique to Trauma Center. It's fantastic if you can manage it, but let's face it: not all of us have friends, let alone talented ones. For such individuals, there may be times when the game feels nearly impossible.
One early example comes at the end of the second episode. A burn victim comes into your care and the left side of his chest is in horrible shape. To fix him up, you'll have to graft skin from his upper right torso. This means injecting each portion with a serum, then using your scalpel to cut bits loose. With those in reserve, you then have to clear away gunk so that you can place the fresh skin on the areas that most need it. If you don't act quickly, though, more blood will seep through and your efforts all will have come to naught. Therefore, true haste is an absolute necessity.
With a second player, this won't be so bad. One of you can work on preparing the skin while the other one drains away blood and grafts it to the wounded areas. The teamwork can be quite exhilarating as the timer counts down and things get downright crazy. If you have to do everything by yourself, though, there's little margin for error (even on the game's easiest setting). Every spurt of blood could spell failure for the surgery and every neglected shortcut could be an error you'll never have a chance to rectify.
It's important to note at this point that not every surgery is frustrating on that level. Throughout the game, many of the challenges you'll face are quite enjoyable even if you have to attempt them several times. You might not always understand quite what you're supposed to do on your first effort (some of the instructions aren't nearly as helpful as you might like), but you'll usually figure things out and sail through a few more segments of the game before getting stuck again. When you reach the final areas and a simple slip of the thumb while selecting a new tool can undo 10 minutes of work (and perhaps even multiple surgeries), though... that's when things have gone a bit too far and the frothing rage begins to well up deep within your gamer soul.
With all of that said, Trauma Center: New Blood isn't a bad game. Far from it! The presentation, while not astonishing, is more than competent and has definite appeal. Character illustrations effectively portray a variety of emotions and the voice acting is for the most part spot-on. All of that sucks you into the experience, plus there are ratings and scores for each operation that you can compare online if you're the competitive sort. Throw in the two-player cooperative mode and you have a true step forward for the series. Some people will even consider the game's biggest flaw--its unrelenting and often merciless difficulty level--a positive attribute. If you're one such person, New Blood is certainly your game and comes heartily recommended. And if you're not? Well, just make sure that you get a sturdy coffee table before you play.
Staff review by Jason Venter (November 30, 2007)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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