Right before the holidays I got to sit in on a web demo of Trauma Team, hosted by Aram Jabbari of Atlus USA. I’ve been a fan of Atlus’s Trauma Center series ever since the first one came out on DS, so I was pretty excited to see what they’re doing to grow the franchise. After watching Aram work through a couple of operations, I can safely say that Trauma Center fans are in for a fresh new take on the series that’s bigger and deeper than any of the previous games.
As its title implies, Trauma Team is a new direction for the now classic medical sim series that takes it out of the emergency ward and now touches on six separate branches of medicine. You’ll see the whole spectrum of treatment: diagnostics, endoscopy, orthopedics, first response, forensics and of course the last-ditch trauma surgery that made the games famous. While all of the action happens at the same hospital each branch has its own specialist. While the characters, art style and storytelling are just as melodramatically anime as ever, the actual medicine is much more realistic than the work Dr. Stiles and nurse Angie were doing.
The game takes place after the already futuristic Second Opinion and New Blood but the sensational story elements have been toned down a lot. There isn’t a huge pandemic like GUILT or STIGMA to battle; you’ll be doing real medicine on real ailments, and you won’t have the Healing Touch to bail you out this time.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the game is even harder than the notoriously challenging Trauma Center games. In some fields the emphasis is on delicate, meticulous work where you aren’t always down to the wire—in fact, several operations have no time limit at all.
This was immediately apparent in the endoscopic surgery that Aram demonstrated. The gameplay is viewed through a fiber optic camera as you explore the digestive tract of a patient. You can move forward and back through the viscera of the unfortunate guy you’re working on, but your field of view is limited to what your camera light illuminates. You’ll often have to stop and explore an area for problems like cysts, ulcers and blood pools.
Once you’ve located some hemorrhaging you can use familiar tools like the suction to drain the area, but others, like the hemostatic forceps, are new to Trauma Team and let you stop internal bleeding through cauterization. Regardless of what tool you’re using, depth is important in endoscopy; if you’re too far away or too close to a wound you won’t have the room to work on it. While previous games in the series were pretty flat and static at times, Trauma Team looks and feels genuinely 3D.
The emphasis on realism that Atlus is going for really became apparent when Aram demoed an orthopedic operation. The patient had a seriously nasty compound fracture that needed to be set and secured. I’ve encountered something like this in a few of the past games—arrange the bone fragments like a jigsaw puzzle, slather on some magical antibiotic gel and close. After piecing an arm, femur and ribcage back together this procedure was almost routine for me, but Trauma Team changes all that.You still have to retrieve shards of bone from the affected area and rotate them back into place, but you can’t just stick them together with gel anymore; you must brace them with titanium plates and affix the plates by drilling screws into the bones. You need a light touch on the drill too—press too hard or go too deep and you risk making the fracture even worse. As in the previous games occasionally a fragment will be missing, but this time it isn’t conveniently embedded in the nearby tissue, but missing entirely. You must carve a new fragment out of artificial bone, tracing the unique shape with a laser to get the new fragment to fit just right. This whole procedure is a lot more labor intensive and as a result looks far more interactive.
Aram said that the total number of operations will be in the mid 40s, with each branch of medicine getting 7 or 8 operations. The forensics missions, which play like a first-person interactive novel like Phoenix Wright, don’t fit multiplayer well and thus will be single player only, but the other five branches have full cooperative support. Co-op was introduced in New Blood but felt a bit unbalanced and chaotic. Aram assured me that Trauma Team’s co-op has a cleaner division of tasks so you and your friend won’t be pouncing on the same suture or tumor over and over again. The difficulty is also balanced between solo and co-op, so you won’t have New Blood’s problem of being ridiculously hard in single player and too easy in multiplayer.
In fact, one of Trauma Team’s goals is to be more accessible to all Wii owners. Longtime fans of Trauma Center’s sadistic difficulty and impossible X operations need not worry—Trauma Team does have a hard mode, but you have to play through the game on easy or normal first to unlock it. Still, Atlus is hoping that the lack of time limits on some operation types, the more balanced co-op and a general decrease in gameplay frustration will make Trauma Team more approachable for people who aren’t already in love with the series.
There isn’t a set release date for Trauma Team yet but you can expect it within the first quarter. After watching just two operations I’m already psyched. From what I’ve seen, it looks like they addressed all of my complaints with the older games and are growing the Trauma Center series into something much richer and more engaging.