Never before has one game promised so much and yet delivered so little, with the marked exception of the PS1’s “Who wants to be a millionaire”. When I first heard of Trauma Centre: Under The Knife my mind instantly began turning over all possible permutations. It would be a detailed surgery simulator. It would be like Operation on steroids. It would be like all of my medical fantasies rolled into one but with a high score table. Whatever it was going to be it was going to be amazing. Imagine my dissappointment when it turns that it is little more than a simple action puzzle game. Go on. Imagine it. All my young hopes dashed against the bleak wall of reality.
I was left a broken shell of a man but now that I’ve stopped crying inside, recovered from the private humiliation and moved on I finally feel like I can talk about this game.
It’s an action puzzle game with a medical theme. However if you stop and consider the tasks you’re asked to perform they bare almost no relation to anything even remotely surgical. You could just as easily be chasing bacteria around a petri dish with a scalpel or lasering aliens who are breaking into a geodesic bubble set upon the surface of the moon. Frankly either of those scenarios would make more sense. Ultimately it doesn’t matter as the plot of the game bears absolutely no relation of anything even remotely surgical either.
The plot of the game is slightly close to utterly insane. You are a wunderkid surgeon with the ability to slow down time (yes, you heard) who discovers an evil virus/pathogen/parasite created by terrorists. You are quickly dispatched on a mission which takes you across the globe to destroy said virus/pathogen/parasite. I would have appreciated a translation of the Japanese by someone who knew the difference between a parasite and a virus. The terms aren’t interchangable. The small beasts you chase around the various organs have a scale that suggests they are parasites. The mistranslation grates and annoys.
The graphics are bold and cutsie in that anime way but nothing to write home about. They do the job. Also, it’s obvious what is going on when you’re playing. I will freely admit to fancying the Angie the nurse a little more than is healthy, considering that she’s a cartoon.
Controlling the game is simple and intuitive, your stylus masquerades as the various “surgical” implements and the implements can be selected using the icons arrayed around the touch-screen’s borders. As always the touch-screen is precise so it’s never a source of any frustrating programming errors.
Sadly, the UI is let down in a couple of key places. Several points of pointer/mouse behaviour that everyone is used to in GUI’s have been ignored. The first and most annoying is the x-coordinate locking you usually get when you grab (click and hold) scroll bars. When you fill the syringe you tap the syringe icon, then you tap and hold the medicine bottle and drag the stylus up the y-axis to fill the syringe. If the stylus drifts too far along the x-axis then it lets go of the “syringe”. 95% of the time the “syringe fills” you perform are succesful but those 5% where you drift and you have to repeat the action prove to be frustrating. It’s not the standard GUI behaviour you’re used to, you expect a slider to be held regardless of the amount of x-axis travel (try it now with your browsers scroll bar). You might argue this “feature” is there to make the game a greater test of skill. I’d say that having to repeat actions because of an unexpected behaviour feels more than a little arbitary and unnecesarily interupts the flow of the game. This interupted flow spoils the immersion in the task at hand. Alongside this is the arbitary screen placement of certain items. With most modern GUIs we are used to drop down menus “dropping” upwards should you get too close to the bottom of the screen. For the “drain” tool you tap, hold and drag upwards to drain blood. However if you get too close to the top of the screen the drain doesn’t pop downwards so that you would tap, hold and drag downwards. Instead you’re left with no option but to make multiple tiny upwards strokes. Again, seemingly arbitary and spoils the flow of what you’re doing.
While playing the game the flow of what you’re doing is often interupted by game characters filling in plot details or explaining what to do next during surgery. On the whole this is fine but if you fail a surgery and have to repeat it a couple of times having to pause during the tasks to skip through the dialogue gets pretty old pretty quickly. Also you can’t just tap the screen anywhere to skip lines of text, you have to tap the top right corner, this proves rather frustrating when you’re in the middle of something. Once again spoiling the flow of the game. On the whole this isn’t actually much of an issue during the main game. When you come to replay levels in challenge mode to acquire perfect ratings these dialogue issues become exceptionally frustrating. I can not believe that you aren’t provided with an option to disable text in challenge mode. Another exceptionally annoying oversight.
Getting perfect ratings is hard. You have to be precise, quick and make no balls-ups. Having cast around the internerd for tips I discovered that some people suggest that you use two styluses (styli, stylii, styluseses?), wielded in either hand, to speed things along. I’m not sure what I think about this. It feels a little as though it’s suggestsing that the interface you’re basically presented with isn’t actually up to the job to playing the game.
It is hard for me to be truly objective about this game given that it is so far removed from what I wanted it to be. Nonetheless I should at least try. This is a solid action-puzzler, with a unique theme and attractive, fun graphics but it is let down by several unneccessary “features” (not bugs) in it’s implementation. It’s certainly above average but all in all I can give this no more than 6 out of 10.