Montgomery Memorial Hospital in Alaska is the remote setting for this hospital drama-cum-hand of God game where you take up syringe, scalpel and sutures as either Dr. Markus Vaughn or Valerie Blaylock. The Trauma Center series have been through a few versions with decent success, and the latest, New Blood, won't let the team down. Developers, Atlus, have produced a tidy wee title.
Surgeons can spend up to nine years in medical school, so it wouldn't be right (even in video game land) for you to be able to start widening gunshot wounds and sucking up pus without at least a basic tutorial. A voiceover and text based surgery sim will teach you the basics for the O.R. (that's operating room, for you the medically uninitiated). You get the lowdown on disinfecting your patient, making incisions, stitching wounds, bandaging, and in a later tutorial, lasering tumors, and using a syringe and ultra-sound. The controls are all pretty basic: point and press A to splash about the game's cure-all, antibiotic gel, which you select (along with all the other implements) with the nunchuck. Hold A to make incisions, press A and B together to use the forceps (extract glass, bone, etc). The Remote makes for a great multi-purpose surgery tool, and as long as you're quick enough with your selection and sharp following the nurse's guidelines, your patient ought to be okay.
Your first patient is a man who's had a fight with a Grizzly. Well, it is America, and even rednecks deserve proper care. He's got lacerations to his chest and a broken arm. Little pieces of story are gifted as you and your colleague get about preparing for the operation - clearly the hospital's head office in California has sent along some bad news, and Markus isn't happy about it. But there's no time to worry about that right now: time to scrub in.
While most of the actions are easy enough, I did find suturing to be a bit difficult. This has something to do with the zig-zag motion you must make to join the sides of an open wound. Too quick, and your needle-pricks miss their mark, too slow and you'll bed the string down in the wrong area by mistake. There's a very delicate interplay here between the skill of the player and the overall usability of this feature. The developers couldn't have done it any other way, I suppose, but they could have made it slightly more realistic. Much of the action is quite true to life - you have to disinfect before you can cut, the patients vitals rely on it - but the stitching is a matter of making a three-string zig-zag across even the most gory of holes. Once you learn this, it's not so bad, but at first, one's instinct is to really seal that gash closed with tight, repetitious stitching. Let me be clear though: this is the only one of the numerous actions in the game that is too frustrating to be a lot of fun.
While the basic premise behind some of the procedures in the game seem to be anchored quite well in what actually goes down (I don't know for sure, I'm not a doctor: my handwriting was always too pretty) some of the science is a bit dodgy. The aforementioned antibiotic gel heals with the effectiveness of unicorn tears, and a patient's vitals can be boosted from near-death to near-Olympic with several sneaky injections. But hey - you want real, you get off the couch. Later in the game certain alternative healing powers also become available to you, which smacks any realism right outta the park anyway. Now we got ourselves a game.
The first time I ran into a real snag was patching up a gunshot victim (shamefully early on - and it took me some time to get past it). The patients vitals drop very quickly, and when they hit zero she's all over. Extracting a bullet that's broken in two, keeping blood from pooling, shooting up adrenaline and keeping everything nice and clean is all a bit much at first, but Trauma Center is a game that rewards you for sticking at it.
The story line is presented in the cut scenes that come before and after each episode and is quite well thought out. The voice acting is sometimes a bit poor and the writing leaves a lot to be desired - using the words *laugh* and *sigh* are particular low points - but it does add a certain depth. Atlus could have easily upped the gore (the game is remarkably tame for its subject matter) and tried to hook in a different demographic, but as it stands Grey's and ER fans might find they quite like it.
Graphics in game are pretty sweet; the way the question of blood and guts has been tackled is to make it all very false-science-ish - the kinds of colours and technological flash you see in advertisements for hygiene and quasi-medical products. That said, the mechanics of the human body have been stuck to where possible, and although bone doesn't fracture quite so neatly in real life, putting it back together at least gives you a decent looking finished product. The interface is easy to find your way around, and the game only slips in its hammy cut scene backgrounds and still-life characters.
I mentioned the poor voice acting before, but this sound downer is countered by the in-game music, which is plenty dramatic. The squelch of a suction tube has been made to sound something like it should, even if it's not the real thing, and same goes for most of the other instruments. I do like the ping of the ultra-sound, but mostly you'll be far too focused on keeping your patient alive to worry about the gong-like sound of the scalpel: I can only imagine this was meant to add drama.
Trauma Center: New Blood can claim to be something a bit different, and this gamer likes it. It sort of hovers right in the middle of the road, where some gamers are liable to kick it into the gutter, and some are liable to rescue it and enjoy its little eccentricities. It's fun, serious and silly by turns, and, dare I doom it by saying... possibly educational?