House, M.D.

Review

posted 12/27/2010 by Ben Berry
other articles by Ben Berry
House, M.D. is a terrific TV show. It has strong scripts, diverse plotlines, and each medical mystery brings more depths to characters and relationships involved. Include the very strong cast of actors led by Hugh Laurie and you have a perennial Emmy contender. Sadly, the House M.D. game by XXXX doesn’t even come close to being award winning, unless that award is for most disappointing game I’ve played in a long time.

When you spend the money to license an IP, you set a certain level of expectations; players will know the characters, the setting, the background of the game, and have a firm understanding of the quality of material the game has to build on. Developers, game runners and writers need to have a solid understanding of these expectations, and at minimum deliver up to the quality of the average episode (whether that be movie, show, or comic) of the IP. In general that happens way too infrequently, and definitely didn’t happen with House.


Let me start with what they got right on this game: for a story-driven game, I thought it was fine that they didn’t have any real motion or action coming from the characters involved. The cartoonish representations of the actors from the show weren’t exactly awe-inspiring in the realism, but the characters were all recognizable, and they managed to make “13” look hot in a couple of scenes (not that it’s all that hard). Finally, the actual diagnoses provided at the end of each case made sense for how the story line developed.

One of the complaints that I’ve heard PR folks and developers give when they get a review in which a game is torn to shreds is that the reviewer says “it sucks” but then doesn’t provide the details as to why people should avoid buying the product. So, I’m going to provide for you the many reasons why NOT to buy this game.

First off, the true strength of House M.D. is the acting of Hugh Laurie. He literally embodies the character of Gregory House in a way where no other actor could walk the fine line of savior and misogynist the way he does that keeps House human and a character we can love despite his drug abuse and other failings. Making a House game without the voice acting of Mr. Laurie (or in this case any other actors) is completely without validity. If there’s going to be no action, there should at least be voiceovers by the actors or at least narration by House of the case at hand. Instead, the player is forced to read dialog off the screen. This limits the minimal amount of immersion into the game even further by drawing your eyes away from the graphics.

Even if the player can get around the way in which information is presented in the game, it’s hard to get around how the game expects you to solve the cases you’re presented. For each case you’re given a series of interactions with the patient and House’s team. You are provided multiple scenarios within each case to attempt, and much like on the show, investigate the places where the patient lives and works to collect samples. These visits do not rely on your ability to notice minute details or logically assemble what might be causing the illness of the patient; you simply mouse over the entire screen looking for an object that becomes highlighted. Once you click on the item, you have collected it, and can move on. It takes no thought to do this, and it merely adds to the amount of time spent on the case, not to the enjoyment. A far better solution would have been to simply allow the player to explore the environment and either made everything collectible or nothing collectible, and have the player use their own deductive reasoning to understand what was wrong in the environment that should be tested for based on clues in the game.



Once you investigate the whole area, you’re returned to the hospital with your samples to run tests. Tests consist of mini-puzzles that are far better suited to the Wii than a point and click PC game. It’s difficult to understand how working blood through a mousetrap like machine or “zapping” or collecting various bacteria as it moves across across microscope slide is anything like the work seen on the show. These tests are highly repetitive and offer almost nothing to the feel of the game. I understand they were looking to make it feel more medical and less like a CSI game set in a hospital, but they were way off track with this approach. Offering tests that required less interaction with machines and more with the patient may have a far better way to approach the game. An example would have been giving a patient a CT and having to identify the area of the brain experiencing problems based on what the patient has told them and what the game could provide in terms of medical knowledge.

The little bit of audio in the game is distracting as it comes mostly during the tests and feels incredibly fake in trying to provide drama to a scene where there is none. The background music in the show suits the mood of the case, not the drama of the tests being run, and the game could and should have picked up on that same usage.


The worst part of the game, the part that still makes me disappointed to think about was the attempt to replicate white board differential diagnosis sessions that are the centerpiece of every episode of House. Instead of perhaps providing a list of a few potential diagnoses of the illness along with cause and symptoms, and expanding and contracting that list based on the symptoms that the player has seen, they simply throw words at the player in a sort of moving word jumble that only requires the player to click on the diagnosis that properly fits the number of Hangman-style blanks at the top of the board. If I was say 10 years old, I still don’t think I would have seen this as the best way to re-create this part of the show.

There is so little right with the game, I wonder how much of the show the development team had actually seen. I mean they got the characters names right, and the faces drawn matched those names. But beyond that, there’s just so much wrong or bad here that it simply isn’t worth playing. And for a game that would mostly appeal to House, MD fans to begin with, their target audience is the group most likely to be disappointed and the least likely to be forgiving. House, M.D. the TV show is smart, funny, occasionally crass and often touching; House, M.D. is none of those things.




* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

F
This patient could be a zombie except that zombies have to have been alive once to come back to life after death. House, M.D. is D.O.A. and isn't even suitable as a time waster.