This is what ER hath wrought. And Grey’s Anatomy. And Private Practice. And Chicago Hope. And Trauma. And Nurse Jackie. And the awkwardly-capitalized HawthoRNe. And General Hospital. And, um, sure, Miami Medical. Did I miss any?
Well, of course I did. I missed plenty. Feel free to point out my egregious omissions.
The point is, a hospital is a natural place for drama. Almost every single medical ailment that has ever been diagnosed has been used as a metaphor for some comparatively inconsequential emotionally-charged situation. “That man and his horribly disfigured limbs reminds me perfectly of how I feel when my significant other doesn’t stroke my large but terribly insecure ego at every meal!” “This woman’s bravery in the face of a terminal illness WILL FINALLY GIVE ME THE COURAGE TO ASK FOR A PROMOTION!” There’s a certain tension to entering a hospital because there always exists the possibility that life will be completely different when you leave, and television hospital dramas make sure that that’s the case for every single one of the characters in the show, whether they’re the afflicted, or the caregiver, or the incidental visitor who only gets 30 seconds of screen time. BIG THINGS ARE HAPPENING, they say. LIVES ARE CHANGING.
Atlus has already established that they can create a successful game in the hospital setting with the Trauma Center series, games that used a futuristic setting to explain away a simplified approach to surgical procedures that would be far more complicated and risky in the present day. The Trauma Center games, two for Wii and two for the DS, all had stories that filled out this futuristic setting and provided some extra motivation for the procedures being performed but that derived most of their drama from the tension of the surgeries themselves.
Trauma Team deviates from this formula by placing the emphasis squarely on the characters of the game—an approach evident even from the game’s cover, which features the six playable characters sans medical equipment, with the possible exception of reformed prisoner CR-S01 (His prisoner number is the only name he knows. DRAMA!) who is wearing a little lanyard-thing with the game’s red cross log on it.
The characters each have their own specialties and their own stories, though the stories take place in a timeline that ensures that their tales directly effect and involve each other. While this might not seem all that novel, what Atlus has done here is allow us to play the story of any character at any speed—if you want to play the story of one character front to back because you enjoy the gameplay in that character’s specialty or you’ve taken a particular liking to that character’s personality, you can. If you want to spread the love around and play all of the story bits in the first tier of the timeline first, followed by the next tier, and so on, you can. Not only does this allow you to personalize your play experience, but it allows you to move on to other gameplay possibilities if the intricacies of a certain play style are frustrating you. It’s a nice touch on the part of the developers and certainly offers a more immediately welcoming experience than the quickly escalating difficulty curve of previous Trauma Center games.
By designing the framework of the gameplay so obviously around the various characters and their stories, however, the intent seems to be that players will be interested in those stories and that the stories should be filled out to RPG-scale depths. This, unfortunately, is where Trauma Team falls flat.
Hours and hours of exposition line the gameplay bits of Trauma Team, and while the characters are interesting on their own merits, the exposition quickly feels extremely drawn out and tedious. We get loads of background information on every single character to the point that we know the six main characters, their relationships with each other, their family problems, their deepest, darkest secrets, and so on. It’s a ton of information, most of which is told in the narrated equivalent of thought bubbles and largely inane dialogue. The English dub of the game is just a bit off—it’s the type of dub where it feels like just a little too much time passes in between each line of dialogue—and the voice acting is largely subpar. It’s a little too emotive when it comes to everyday happenings, a little too deadpan regarding tragedy.
Really, even those who enjoy CSI (there is a forensics specialist here, after all) and any of the many hospital dramas listed in the first paragraph will find the pace of Trauma Team far too slow for any sustained interest.
Thankfully, the gameplay is as good as it’s ever been on the Wii, and there’s plenty of it—all told, you could spend a good 50-60 hours getting through everything that the game has to offer, more than half of which will likely be actual play, rather than simple watching. The variety in the characters ensures that the game never gets too tedious and even odd sounding specialties like performing an endoscopy (!!) are engaging and hour eating. It’s unfortunate that so much of the focus of Trauma Team had to be on a story that never really has a chance to get off the ground because it takes away from the game as a whole. Still, it’s a proper adult gaming experience on the Wii, and even if that’s not such a rarity as it once was, it’s still worth a look from those who enjoy the series and those who may be looking for something to do on the system that’s a little different from the action-oriented mainstream.