I’ve been an avid fan of Atlus’s Trauma Center series from the very start, when the insanely hard original Under the Knife showed up on the DS five years ago. I’ve followed Derek Stiles, Nurse Angie and their medical colleagues through the Wii remake Second Opinion, its significantly larger sequel New Blood, and the DS sequel to the first game, Under the Knife 2. Under the Knife 2 was the last Trauma Center game and it’s been two years since it came out, an unusually long stretch for a prolific publisher like Atlus.
I can see why they’ve taken a little longer than usual. Their latest medical-sim entry, Trauma Team, is a full-on reboot of the Trauma series, expanding the scope beyond simple arcade-style surgery to include a higher emphasis on simulation, story and even new genres like interactive visual novels. I’ve been playing around with the retail copy for about a week, and I can safely say Trauma Team is a much bigger and more ambitious game than any of the previous entries.
If you’ve been following the game’s rather public development through Atlus’s series of dev diaries, you know that Trauma Team adds five medical disciplines to the standard surgery: first response, orthopedics, endoscopy, diagnostics and forensics. Each field focuses on a different specialist, which is a more realistic setup than the Derek Stiles master-of-all whiz kid premise from the past. Each doctor has six or seven operations, for a total of over forty missions in the game.
The most familiar field will be emergency surgery, performed by the mysterious CR-S01. That’s his prison number; the surgeon is an amnesiac inmate who has been accused of a bioterrorism attack and slapped with a 250-year sentence. As CR-S01 works off his sentence bit-by-bit through high-risk operations, his track plays like a highlights reel of the previous Trauma Center games. You’ll be excising tumors, suturing weak heart walls and treating third-degree burns. While a lot of CR-S01’s gameplay is reminiscent of earlier games it’s been refined to near-perfection in Trauma Team. Atlus has gotten this part of the game down to a science (no pun intended) so they’ve fixed a lot of the nagging balance and precision issues.
In first response you play as the fiery and short-tempered Maria Torres. The gameplay here has many similarities to standard surgery but with several distinct differences and new procedures. Blood must be soaked up with gauze rather than sucked out of wounds with a drain, and you can’t use sutures outside of a sterile operating room so you have to seal injuries with trauma pads and medical tape. CPR and defibrillators are used much more often than in surgery, and you’ll often have to intubate to secure an airway—you didn’t think you’d get out of first response without performing a makeshift tracheotomy, did you?
First response is all about getting patients stable so expect to be using splints, bandaged, tourniquets and blood transfusion IVs. It’s a juggling act, requiring that you move back and forth between multiple patients, assessing which ones are in the worst condition and dragging them out of the jaws of death. It’s much more hectic than surgery and makes you think on your feet.
In contrast, orthopedics is all about slow, steady precision. You guide the hands of gentle giant Hank Freebird, an Army Ranger veteran with some lingering guilt about his previous profession. There have been occasional orthopedic operations in past Trauma Center titles but nothing on the level of depth or realism in Trauma Team. Shattered bones must be reassembled piece by piece, and any missing fragments must be carved out of synthetic bone with a laser. Once the pieces have been reassembled, you have to drill guidelines and then fasten the bone back together with plates.
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