"Hellooooo, Nurse!"

Imagine yourself, if you will, as a fledgling surgeon at a prestigious American hospital. It's your first operation in this theater; a motorcycle accident victim with glass splinters lodged in his arm. It's a bloody, lacerated, torturous sight, and you can feel the sweat roll down your forehead - or is that because the room is so damn hot? Or maybe it's the expectant eyes of your superiors bearing down on you, expecting an S-rank surgery. Slowly, cautiously, you prepare to make that first suture, lowering the scalpel towards your anesthetized patient...

Welcome to Trauma Center: Under the Knife. Perhaps the intensity of the surgeries as I described it is a bit exaggerated, but quite often the game proves to be a white-knuckle, balls to the wall experience. With a stringent time limit on all of the levels, as well as a life bar for each patient that depletes quickly, you may find yourself challenged by some of the game's later missions. Completing them is hard enough, but if you're trying to get an S rank on every operation, you're going to have a hell of a time.

It's a remarkably enjoyable experience, however, because Trauma Center puts the DS's touch screen to use in what is still the most innovative way yet. You will employ a multitude of medical tools, each of them handled in their own way - while the scalpel requires a mere line drawn from one point to the next, draining a patient's blood involves dragging little drops of blood up in an extremely thin tube. When your character develops a supernatural talent called Healing Touch, you'll find yourself frenetically drawing stars in the middle of your operation to slow the action down and take a little breather. If this sounds a little hokey...well, it's all in keeping with the rest of the game.

Trauma Center is surprisingly plot-driven. It begins as a simple tale about a young man named Derek Stiles, who has just completed his internship at Hope Hospital. Talented but overeager, Stiles has a lot to prove to both himself and the people around him; you'll guide him through a myriad of challenging surgical procedures, as well as a handful of personal difficulties, and generally guide him on the path to becoming the BEST SURGEON EVER. Sounds pretty engaging, right? Atlus didn't seem to think so, and after you complete about a fourth of the game, they introduce a new plot element. An evil terrorist organization is introducing crazy creature-like virii called GUILT into the population, and it's your job to stop them.

This sounds interesting in concept, but once you actually play the game, you'll find that no-nonsense operations are a lot more engaging than ridiculous sci-fi beastie removals. This is primarily because, despite there being a variety of GUILTs for you to remove, they get repetitive very quickly. And on a writing level, it robs the plot of a lot of credibility, turning what could have been a mature medical-themed drama into Anime Hospital Hijinks. Don't get me wrong - the game still remains very enjoyable. But when you've been working on GUILTs for a few chapters, and you are suddenly tasked with giving a patient an open-heart surgery on a turbulent plane, you're going to realize how much more fun it was when you weren't lasering green lobsters out of someone's lungs. Still, this is by and large a personal opinion. Some people would agree, but others found the science fiction twist very refreshing. I personally would like to see less of it in the upcoming sequel.

I probably expected too much from the game in the maturity department, considering the melodramatic presentation and the slightly ridiculous graphics. Trauma Center's story scenes are rendered in a rather subdued anime style, featuring such original designs as Generic Nerdy Protagonist, Generic Gruffy Head Surgeon and Generic Hot Nurse. It doesn't look terrible, but it's pretty underwhelming. The surgery sequences are much cooler-looking, featuring pulsating 3D body parts, bleeding lesions and thick suppurating polyps.

Those graphics may be hit or miss, but when Trauma Center gets it right, it gets a hell of a lot right. As mentioned previously, the gameplay is challenging, exciting and usually diverse, except when you're operating on the same GUILTs over and over. The game is reasonably long, clocking in at maybe 10 or 15 hours, which is a good length for it considering the occasional strains of repetition it already shows. There are some pulse-pounding surgeries to be had in the game - I recall my stomach absolutely dropping at one point during an operation, and my hands shaking as I attempted to remove a massive shard of glass from a patient's heart.

There's just something inherently fun about operating on people, and Trauma Center proves it. The creativity that went into this game shows; an awesome premise is used to full effect here. Scary as it may be, I could see Trauma Center recruiting a small cluster of people wanting to become surgeons, which is perfectly fine as long as they don't expect hot anime nurses and awkward-looking biological viruses.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 07/16/07

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