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Trauma Center: Under the Knife

Score: 95%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Atlus
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

Trauma Center is a mix of 2D and 3D art styles. The top screen, which displays everything from vital signs to story elements, is presented in very anime-inspired 2D. Characters now animate, but the variety of overblown facial expressions helps to convey the emotion contained in the pages of written dialogue found in the game.

The bottom screen, on the other hand, is completely 3D. The idea of a game based around surgery is probably enough to turn the stomachs of most gamers. While you’ll certainly see your fair share of blood and other vital organs, the gross factor is taken down and never gets overly disgusting. Organs are usually little more than basic, misshapen collections of polygons that look sort of like the real thing. This may disappoint a few players, but what the game lacks in realism it makes up with style.

Sound is kept to a minimum. You’ll hear a few heart-pounding melodies during tense times in the O.R. or the occasional “Doctor”, alerting you to look at the top screen for some information, but other than that you won’t hear much.


Trauma Center puts you in the role of rookie doctor Derek Stiles, a recent addition to the staff of Hope Hospital. Much to the chagrin of his coworkers, Stiles is a bit brash and careless, a trait that soon finds him in hot water and on the verge of early retirement after a botched operation. Things change quickly when an emergency calls Derek back into action and just as things are going wrong, Derek discovers a special ability known as “the healing touch”, an ability that essentially makes Derek the Neo of doctors and allows him to slow down time and gain superhuman speed. From here, the story spins off into all kinds of ludicrous plots as Derek and the rest of the doctors must face down a terrorist threat known as GUILT.

The game’s subject matter can get pretty grim at times, but always does so with a bit of humor. The story itself can get a little ridiculous at times, but that turns out to be the least of the game’s problems. Some story segments go on longer than they should and feel like an attempt at adding shallow length to a game that isn’t all that long to begin with. Story sequences tend to be on the wordy side and drag down the usually brisk action.

While the prospect of a surgery game may be daunting to some players, Trauma Center takes more of an arcade approach to action rather than going for the sim experience. All of Trauma Center’s action takes place on the touch screen while the top screen is used for various patient read-outs and the occasional scolding by your co-workers. A number of icons are found 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. Each level of the game finds you working on a variety of illnesses, from simple patch jobs to full-blown cancer surgeries.


Pacing is Trauma Center’s main flaw and helps to make a difficult game frustratingly hard at some points. One minute you could be removing glass from a patient’s arm and the next combating the GUILT virus, which causes mobile tumors to move throughout the body. The addition of a time limit only increases the stress level -– especially since some limits are unmercifully short and leave very little room for error. Granted, this is true about real surgeries, but given the allowances made in other aspects (like the magical, heal-all medicines), I’m sure some exceptions could have been made.

Each surgery is timed, adding even more challenge to an already challenging game. The goal in every surgery, besides healing your patient, is to keep their vital signs stable. Procedures take a lot out of patients. Performing the correct actions causes less strain on patients while mistakes can be extremely hazardous. A special adrenaline shot is available to help boost a patient’s vital signs up, but this takes time, so mistakes could cost valuable seconds off the clock.

Game Mechanics:

Game actions are handled through use of the stylus. After choosing the scalpel, you can run the stylus along any part of the body and cut through. You’re usually told where to cut, but you have to be accurate since messy cuts can lead to problems down the road. Each tool uses the stylus in a different way. Using the scalpel lets you cut into patients with a slash, while stitching up wounds requires you to draw the “thread” across the wound. Some tools, like the suction tube or syringes, require you to move fluids through the tube by running the stylus along the pipe.

Like any game, Trauma Center has its flaws. However, these flaws are quickly overshadowed by the innovative fun of the game. The game’s unique premises alone should help Trauma Center make it on most players’ “Must Play” lists, if not their “Must Buy” one.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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