Review by Time_Keeper

"I never knew how many places you could get a tumor."

Surgery can be a frightening ordeal. The thought of having your life placed in a stranger's hands is not a very settling one, and neither is the prospect that you might not survive the operation if something goes wrong. But if you think being a patient is nerve-racking, imagine how it must feel to be the doctor. That's the scenario that Trauma Center: Under the Knife explores, and the result is a great game.

You are Dr. Stiles, a surgeon straight out of medical school who has started working for Los Angeles's Hope Hospital. Your first surgery comes quickly with a man who had a car accident and need glass removed from his body. It's a relatively simple surgery, but you quickly find out how hard being a doctor is.

The majority of the game involves performing surgeries, so here's an idea of how they work. On the top screen a nurse gives you directions as to what to do. The bottom screen shows the part of the patient's body you're operating on, while boxes representing surgical tools take up the left and right sides. The entire game is played with the stylus, with the controls deceptively simple. You tap on a box to select a tool, and then do some motion on the touch screen to use it. For example, if a patient has an open wound you tap on the box for stitches and squiggle a zigzag line across the area of the cut. Alternately, if you need to get inside something you select the knife box and quickly make a straight line through the middle of what you want to cut.

Here's the hard part: every patient has “vitals,” which are represented by a number from 0 to 99, and if it reaches 0 he's dead. As the patient's have medical problems, their vitals are constantly going down, and making a mistake will hurt them more. If that knife cut isn't straight enough you'll hurt him and his vitals drop. One of the tools is a “Stabilizer Fluid” that restores a patient's vitals, but even misuse of that can lower them. In addition, you have a miss limit. Follow improper procedures too many times and you're kicked out of the Operating Room. And did I mention that all of this must be carried out in a strict time limit? Being a doctor is not easy.

The story of this game could easily have been left at that, with the whole game just being different surgeries people come to you with. However, the plot soon becomes more complex. During a near-death during a surgery, Dr. Stiles finds out that he has the Healing Touch, and ability that allows him to slow down time to a crawl and work with super-human concentration. Around the same time, a new virus, GUILT (Gangliated Utrophin Immuno Latency Toxin) breaks loose. Believing to be a new act of bio-terrorism, doctors everywhere attempt to find a cure and stop it from getting airborn. Thinking he can help, Dr. Stiles joins Caduceus, a medical research organization, to aid in stopping it.

Throughout all this you'll meet a terrific cast of characters. There's not a huge amount of character building, but in between surgeries you get enough insight into people's lives to feel like you know them. Most of their personality comes from when they're your assistant and giving you advice. For example, one of the nurses is usually authoritative yet panicky whenever something goes wrong, while one Caduceus member is apathetic about what happens as long as the GUILT is contained. Most of the characters' feelings are expressed through their faces, and their anime-esque designs fully express everything they would have to say. There's also very little voice acting. Every now and then there are things like “Good job, doctor,” “Oh no,” and “What is that?” during surgeries, but not much more. The surgeries still manage to be submersive despite this, largely because of the excellent music. No matter what part of the song is playing, it will seamlessly become more intense once something bad happens. Once you stop that the musical mood will return to normal. The game is very immersive.

This game is far from flawless, though. As a whole the game does get harder and harder throughout, but there are a lot of surgeries that are way too hard or easy mixed in with surgeries of drastically different difficulties. There are many times where you'll be stuck on a near impossible one earlier in the game then you should have to, and although the pacing is generally good, they really should have moved some stuff around. The magnification tool is extremely hard to work with. The game asks you to draw a “small circle” to zoom in, yet never recognizes circles. It actually works better to draw squares, yet even then it's unresponsive. When you finally get a zoom to work, you'll find that the game won't accept as the proper zoom and so you'll have to zoom out (the same way) and in again. All in all it's not uncommon to waste up to twenty seconds on zooming, which is horrible in a game that's a race against a clock. The game is too linier, even within surgery. If you use the laser in the wrong place when you need to use it, you'll burn a hole in the patient and he'll be hurt, but if you just randomly pull the laser out when it's not needed you won't be able to hurt the patient. Though it's not a huge deal, if you could use any tool any time it would really help you immerse yourself in the experience (and you could write your name in a patient, which is always a plus.) Finally, there isn't much replay value besides trying to get better ranks in surgeries.

Despite these complaints, Trauma Center is definitely worth checking out for any DS owner who seems remotely interested. It will keep you occupied for a good while and is perfect for showing skeptics what a touch screen can be used for.

Trauma Center gets a great 8 out of 10.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/10/06


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