Trauma Center: Under the Knife
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Here's your problem - you've swallowed too many Trionimoes
Despite telling about eight different people that this game sounded far too frightening and that I would never play it, I bought Trauma Center: Under the Knife to keep me amused and distracted on a long bus journey. I even went to the trouble of downloading a replacement cover from The Cover Project (which is really handy) to put on the box instead of Gamestop's usual missing-box substitute, and it looks pretty convincing even though it felt strangely like pirating it. And by actually playing the game and not just reading about it and letting my imagination run its course, I've found it's actually a lot less horrifying than I had thought before, even if the patients usually have even scarier diseases than on House.

The game begins by getting you to do a couple of more normal operations, gradually teaching you how to take a syringe, forceps, miracle cure gel, scalpel and the rest of the ten different items that you have on the sides of the screen - the whole model of gameplay is a bit like the healing screen from Metal Gear Solid 3, only much more organized and not nearly as pointless, getting you to juggle your available time among using these tools in specific orders to deal with certain types of wound, infection or other nastiness. Most of these are types of a made up artificial parasite called GUILT, or Gangliated Utrophin Immuno-Latency Toxin (which in a masterful example of obviously writing a desperate definition around an acronym is not gangliated, utrophin-related, does not attack the immune system and is not a toxin). Some of the later ones make me wonder why they have to rely on an off-screen "chiral analysis" to identify it - who needs a chirality check? All you have to do is look to see that this man has colour-coordinated ladybirds living in his stomach.

Speaking of which, I seem to have reached a point where the game starts relying quite heavily on colour, after progressing in it fairly quickly during my nine hours of bus-induced boredom last weekend. I'm not sure why I'm noticing my colourblindness as an actual obstacle more and more these days - is it possible for it to get worse over time? - but I'm sure that I hardly noticed it until I played Super Puzzle Fighter a few years ago (which has no secondary backup identification, unlike most other puzzle games, and is therefore unplayable) and I've been blaming a lot of my recent games playing failures on it. This game isn't totally impossible - when presented with a row of four vials I can just memorize that "white" means "the bottle on the left" and "pink" means "the other one" after being told it once, and the disease that involves having to memorize and inject three matching colours aren't too bad if I just concentrate on one of the colours that are harder to tell the difference between first (to me they're dark, light, and blue). There are also missions that rely on finding a "hazy part" that's a slightly different colour that's difficult to see, but I believe that's the idea.

This is the first release from Atlus that I've played, and I had been warned that all their games carry the implicit agreement that they're going to be harder than cutting through a bank vault with a plastic fork. I've had to attempt many of the missions a couple of times or more, but so far they haven't generally been too backbreaking once I knew vaguely what I was doing and any special events to watch out for - with a couple of exceptions that I'll get to later. According to the game, though, I'm not getting through them particularly well - it gives you the normal Japanese rating scale from C to S at the end of each operation, and I've pretty much always been in the C category, apart from an S on the bomb mission where I just memorized everything to laser after messing up the very last part once and having it blow up in my face (I was on a bus. That's a whole new level of difficulty.) and a couple of inexplicable A-grades after that. I know that they must be related to the various "Good" and "Bad" labels that keep popping up after you do anything, but my efficiency never seems to have much bearing on either those or the rank. In fact, I always have an inordinate amount of trouble using the bandage at the end of operations - sometimes apparently identical actions will suddenly work after the game's counted my effort as a Miss a couple of times. I failed an operation because of this once - I feel the time limit should probably be relaxed if the cost of failure at that point is just the patient going about with a bit of a scar for a while.

As you might reasonably expect, the operations against the Kyriaki, which are shark-like parasites that cut your lungs apart from the inside, are the ones that I have the most trouble with. Realizing that I only had to touch the small ones with the laser twice instead of keeping it on and burning through most of the organ that they were hiding in helped, but they still cause a lot of damage that you have to chase around and repair very quickly - especially the star-shaped cut that the large ones make when they emerge. Part of why I'm not particularly bothered by the game's content now, though, is that it makes you think of everything as a puzzle to be solved. The most blatantly puzzle game-like disease so far has been Triti, which could have been out of Wondermaths and takes the form of a tesselating mass of triangles that regrows if you don't pull the spikes at the corners out in the right order, like a really malicious Conway's Life. I had a lot of trouble with this one and just got it by sheer idiotic perseverance when I first encountered it, forcing it into a corner where it didn't regrow. I've now been provided with a description of it from that's about a page long, but it's a very difficult thing to have to do under pressure of time even when you think you know how it works.

Come to think of it, I haven't been using the Healing Touch much - it's a special ability that you get which slows down the passage of time for a while, and even though it's meant to be most of the point of the plot of the game I completely forgot about it after it stopped actually prompting me to use it. Trying that might make things a little easier.