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Game Profile
Atlus Software
Atlus Software
GENRE: Simulation
October 04, 2005

Trauma Center: Second Opinion

 Written by Byron Tsang  on September 07, 2006

Review: Hello, sick gamers and their loved ones!

Thanks to videogames, I've done things I wouldn't normally do and have seen things I wouldn't normally see. I've toppled colossi of stone and magic. I've taken part in the Battle of Normandy; repeatedly, if I may add. I saw the corruption of the Sacred Realm and the desecration of Hyrule. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser gate. Wait, maybe not that last one. However, for all the wild and wicked things I've seen and done, there was one experience I felt I was missing out on: saving lives. Sure, I stop maniacs from wiping the galaxy clean of life on a regular basis, but I'm talking about helping people without needing to destroy entire armies.

I'm talking about being a doctor. And Trauma Center: Under the Knife lets me live that dream.

By 2018, life is good. The killer diseases of the past like AIDS and cancer are now practically non-existent thanks to the power of science. Naturally, something worse has manifested: GUILT, a mysterious virus that has a high possibility of being a bioweapon. It's turning into a pandemic and the organization Caduceus, an establishment of doctors dealing with this threat, is having a difficult time suppressing it.

Your character, Dr. Derek Stiles, is oblivious to these going-ons, as he and the rest of the world should be. A young surgeon, Derek is simply performing his duties and gaining experience. Certain events lead to another and before you know it, you've become embroiled in the GUILT crisis.

The story is an effective draw, setting up the eventual conflicts to come. Derek is a wonderful avatar for us, since we're inexperienced like he is at first, but through accomplishing surgeries we grow confident as he becomes confident (although not too much, thanks to an early incident in Trauma Center). He is supported by Angie Thompson, the assistant nurse for most of the game. The ride is definitely electric as you bounce from situation to situation, becoming acquainted with the increasing roster of characters. Is it dramatically character driven like ER or House? Not to that degree, but the cast is easy to sympathize with, as they all have their own distinct incentives for doing what they do. While Trauma Center doesn't have the most original plot, it's still stimulating and, more importantly, keeps this up throughout the whole game.

Pacing and maintaining the feeling of excitement in a game is vital, to which I can say Trauma Center does admirably. The start of the game has Derek being shown the basics of surgery and with each successive mission, new options and tools are given. It's a practical learning curve, easing players into the game. This is all done through the use of the touch screen, with the stylus being the perfect extension of a scalpel, syringe, laser... anything. The top screen is used as the status menu, informing you of the patient's health (which decreases during the surgeries), the time limit, and the amount of ?misses' you're allowed to have. For example, pull out a piece of glass the wrong way or use tools in the wrong order and you'll get a miss. Get too many and it's an automatic failure. There's the addition of the feature known as the ?Healing Touch', which slows down time, giving you the much-needed ability to treat multiple areas quickly.

All seems very simple, doesn't it? Well, in a way, it is. All missions begin with a briefing, detailing the patient's illness, the goal of the surgery, and complications that may arise. And then you cut straight into the matter. Your performance of the surgery is always graded, with almost every single action counting towards your score, individual actions being graded as ?Bad', ?Good', or ?Cool'. In order to get that perfect S-rank, you're going to have to consistently receive ?Cool' on everything, along with keeping the patients vitals up and completing the surgery in a minimal amount of time. Yes, you can get by with a C-rank, but you'd rather be called a master surgeon than a rookie, wouldn't you?

There are a few problems keeping the gameplay from being the shining achievement it should be. Certain annoyances like the use of the magnifying glass (instead of drawing a circle like they say, it's better to use a ?C' shape) and the draining tool is a headache due to the limited amount of space often given. The suturing also seems strange, as scribbling is sometimes more effective than carefully zigzagging. It's not always clear on how to attain the ?Cool' grades, thus making the achievement of the S-rank even more difficult. These are just nitpicks, but to the meticulous gamer in me, I wish there was a way to find out what part of the operation I did wrong and how I could improve. Instead, I'm just given scores.

I've heard criticisms of Trauma Center being too shallow as a ?doctor game'. I think this is a very good time to note that this is certainly not a doctor game, but rather an arcade surgeon game. All gameplay moments will be spent in the operating room (and occasionally more unusual areas) working on the patient. The surgeries themselves usually last only minutes and this is not a downside. Even though short, the more complicated surgeries have several problems to deal with, forcing you to think extremely fast. It makes for a riveting five minutes, which is perfect for a handheld game. It's probably best to play this on solid surface, since you'll need all the concentration you can muster. Who says gamers are violent time-bombs? I just want to save lives, damn it!

But ease your fears, all you squeamish gamers. Trauma Center is very easy on the eyes. It's detailed enough so that you can tell what organ you're slicing open but not to the point where it's vomit-inducing. It's tastefully handled and anyone avoiding this due to ?violence' or ?partial nudity' is missing out. The top screen is where most of the dialogue takes place and has well-defined backgrounds and lively character portraits to spice it up. The artwork is anime-styled though, so that may distract some people. What can also be distracting, in a good way, is the music. All the music during dialogue and briefing scenes is buoyant and matches the moods. Then when you enter the operation sequence?things get intense. We're talking ?if-I-screw-up-this-person-dies' music. It's a top-notch accompaniment to the gameplay, creating a suffocating feeling of pressure. Each time you get a ?miss', the sound that signifies it and things fits so well that it's almost painful. There's also the little touch of a few voice samples, used often as audio cues in order to alert the player to something that is going on.

Allow me to say this: Trauma Center is hard. Like, nigh-impossible hard, even with your ?Healing Touch' ability. Once you reach the GUILT stages, your hate for such a malignant plague will increase twelve-fold. It's an ever-evolving disease so it makes for a delightful reoccurring antagonist of sorts. Luckily, there'll be a few missions to break up the constant stream of surgeries, like some puzzles and a certain operation that's not quite an operation?let's just say it's a very volatile situation. It's unfortunate that there's not much else to do aside from replaying completed missions but if you're bent on attaining higher scores, this game will appease that craving. You may actually want to use two styli for quicker actions and covering of more space. It's not absolutely necessary to complete the game but it's an option for you score monkeys. Just watching someone do it with such speed is mind-blowing, especially when they don't even use the Healing Touch. Now that's mad skills.

Bottom Line
Atlus continues to live up to its reputation for bringing us unique and fascinating games with Trauma Center: Under the Knife. There have been quite a few doctor games in the past, but none have ever been done like this. Here's an excellent example of the use of the touch screen, as it's not a game that could be played without a stylus. I implore you, don't skip out on this one because it's ?too hard' or ?too weird'. The sheer anxiety of carrying out the surgeries with accuracy and haste is a thrilling affair, one that needs to be experienced by all gamers.

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