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Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2: Doctor!

Company: Atlus

It's not uncommon to have people who know about my secret life at this site ask me what I'm playing, especially when I have a giant preview ROM sticking out of my DS. However, Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2 was the first game where people not only stopped to watch me play, but also began cheering me on.

Trauma Center 2 is a direct follow-up to the original DS game. The story begins in Costigar, an African nation that is being torn apart by a civil war, where Derek and Angie are working as volunteers. Even though conditions are improving in the area, tensions are still high, so many of your early surgeries find you tending wartime injuries like bullet wounds as well as a few third-world diseases, one of which is under investigation by Derek's employer, Caduceus, a medical group that identifies and cures mysterious diseases.

The wartime setting for the first part of the game gives the entire storyline a much more somber tone than previous games. In the first few chapters, the small clinic is attacked by guerillas in a late-night raid, a doctor deals with the ramifications of neglect and a main character suffers life-threatening injuries as a result of an un-detonated land mine. Using sensitive, real-world issues, especially those dealing with war, is a tricky thing to pull off, but Trauma Center 2 manages to strike the right balance of commentary and humor that it never feels overly preachy or hokey.

While in Costigar, Derek and Angie meet a young surgeon named Adel Tulba who begins working at the clinic. Adel's surgical skills are impressive, though he lacks confidence, a trait that endears him to Derek who sees a lot of his younger self in Adel. Derek and Angie take Adel under their wings and eventually offer him the chance to travel to America and work with Caduceus when the duo are called back to deal with a mutation of the GUILT, the terrorist-bred disease from the first game. Although the disease hasn't come back, several patients who suffered from the disease are now showing odd symptoms, such as mutated tumors that are resistant to normal treatment.

Aside from glossier menus that mimic the look of the Wii version, Trauma Center 2's gameplay is nearly identical to the original. Before each operation, you are given a short pre-op briefing that outlines your goals for the procedure, after which you are rushed right into the emergency room. Action takes place on the touch screen while the top screen is used for various patient read-outs and occasional tips from your co-workers. Icons run along the sides of the screen, representing the various tools at your disposal. These include common tools like scalpels, forceps and stitches, as well as a few futuristic instruments like advanced laser tools and a heal-all medical gel. All of the tools are at your disposal at all times, even during your time in Costigar, which does hurt the "poorly supplied infirmary" angle of the first section... but whatever.

Pacing was one of the first game's major sticking points, and one that follow-ups had a hard time getting right. About a quarter of the way into the game, Trauma Center 2 feels like a much better balanced game. There's a lot of hand-holding in the first part, though even veterans will appreciate the chance to reacquaint themselves with the mechanics - especially when they come across post-GUILT issues for the first time.

With so many game's focusing on taking lives, the concept of saving them helps to make Trauma Center 2 stand out from the crowd just as much as the preview ROM.

Trauma Center: Under the Knife 2 ships July 1. Stay tuned for the full review.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Related Links:

Nintendo DS Naruto: Path of the Ninja 2 Microsoft Xbox 360 Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix

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