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ESRB RATING: T
DEVELOPER: Legacy Interactive
PUBLISHER: Vivendi Universal
“Wait, who let this prick in on CHUD’s video game goodness?”
I know many of you are probably asking yourselves just that. Three words: Blame Russ Fischer. Seriously though, I met and spoke with Russ at a junket here in Los Angeles and I told him that I’d like to lend a hand and simply try and alleviate some of the video game workload that he and Slater have to deal with here. I know Master Control Program has become a popular aspect of the site, and hopefully in the near future, we’ll be able get even more video game related content out for all you lovely people to enjoy the hell out of. So keep your fingers crossed!
But right now, it’s time to bite the bullet…
The Sims was a pretty damn cool game/diversion at the time of its release, no question. The ability to create either yourself or some form of alter-ego was both charming and funny, especially in the way that you essentially played God and watched over your creations… slightly nudging and influencing them, trapping them in small door-less rooms, etc. You know, just simple and fun omnipotent type stuff. The problem? Like all other great games in their genres, it spawned mediocre clones bearing superficial similarities with none of the heart, imagination, or just simply the quality design of the original. Unfortunately (and not surprisingly), ER is one of those games.
Is there a story? Sort of. The gist (Joey) is that you basically start off as an intern, fresh out of medical school, and you’re sent to start off your career at Chicago’s County General Hospital while being trained by the likes of Noah Wyle, Sherry Stringfield, and Mekhi Phifer (all of which do some decent voice acting).
Now, while the show from which this game is based did, for the most part, an admirable job of balancing the medical drama and the relationship stuff, the game itself is actually just a linear sequence of events (that get repeated over and over ad nauseam) with a backdrop of VERY silly drama. Using the word “drama” is a stretch and when I say “silly”, I mean SILLY. You’ll be treating a kung-fu master, a robot that looks like a cross between Robby from Forbidden Planet and Bender from Futurama, guys dressed up as superheroes (because a comic book convention is set on fire… Shit! I hope the terrorists aren’t reading this!), and so on.
Silly is fine. I love it and obviously we’re all about being silly here. The problem is that this game is supposed to be based off of a television drama and it’s obviously going to be appealing to those fans expecting something along those lines. This isn’t it. I mean, there are a few bits of lunacy in the game that work, but even then it doesn’t really fit into the context of the story (at least in how it’s executed). What’s even stranger is that one minute you’re there saving some Zen master’s spleen from imploding, the next you’re called to witness a patient’s death (and there are numerous in the game… mostly kids). The game tries at times to be solemn with some moments of the later, but the balance and the way the story unfolds is such that it’s all just completely inconsequential, and thus, as compelling as my flacid manhood.
Point and click. Get used to it because you’ll be doing a whole lot of it!
Now, that’s not to say that point and click games are bad. Some of the greatest games ever are point and click (SCUMM engine anyone?). The difference here is repetitiveness and a lacking sense of you, the player, making any sort of real difference in the game. You wanna specialize in Neurology? Awesome! Please read this book on pointing and clicking. Pediatrics you say? Dope. Here’s an instructional video on the merits of the pointing and a pamphlet on clicking. That’s it!
The game essentially forces the player to perform as many surgeries as possible in order to build up experience points. The more experience you garner, the more difficult the operation you’ll be able to handle. What’s the point? None. There’s nothing special that you have to do or learn in order to better handle the more difficult operations. For example, you start off as a Level 1 in General Surgery. That means you’ll be able to cure patients with a Level 1 grade of severity in General Surgery. If the patient is a Level 5, then you have to be at least a Level 4 to be able to handle it. Anything lower would result in the patient getting worse. It’s a simple system that could’ve been so much better if it were made more interactive. Shit, give us a computerized version of Operation or something! But as it is, the system is one that’s so devoid of imagination and skill that you’ll tire of the whole process in a heartbeat. And that’s pretty much the core of the game. That’s all you’ll need to do in order to advance. Point, click, select “diagnose” from the menu. Point, click, move patient to a bed. Point, click, cure patient. Sometimes you’ll be thrown the occasional curveball and be forced to send the patient to the medical lab for further testing. In other words, it’s simply prolonging the inevitable point, click, cure patient routine. At this point, I was about ready to OD on some crack, ‘cause you know, that would at least be interesting.
Another thing you have to watch (at least, you’ll think you have to watch) are your personal meters (think The Sims’ hunger, happiness, sleepiness meters). There are three; one that shows energy, one that shows composure, and one that shows hygiene. So basically, you spend a whole given work day curing patients and trying to keep your meters as full as possible. The thing is, you don’t need to. The whole system is so poorly constructed that there’s no in-between. You’re clean, calm, and rested or you’re not. It wasn’t until a day into playing the game that I realized that these things had absolutely no impact on my performance as a doctor (despite the fact that the game tells you specifically that it does).
The only other element of interest in the game, the relationship system, is yet another very cheap and uninspired knock-off of the system seen in The Sims. While it might be fun to see how many nurses you can make out with and how many doctors you can piss off, it again has absolutely no consequence as to how people see you or interact with you. They may end up hating you but you can just as easily make them like you. There’s no effort to it. It doesn’t affect your medical skills at all either. The game still boils down to you curing as many patients as possible. This is the most frustrating element by far because it’s the one that could’ve given ER some longer term value, and more importantly, a sense of purpose. Instead, it all seems like little more than an afterthought that the developers felt needed to be shoehorned in.
I never thought a game like this would be so damn linear (and unimaginative), but is. I mean, if you’re going to ape another game, go all out. Batman Begins had this same problem. It was basically Splinter Cell minus EVERYTHING that made Splinter Cell a classic. Same case here.
Just lazy, lazy shit.
Well, it’s not horrible! The graphics aren’t going to be testing the limits of your latest Nvidia or ATI graphics card, but they’re clean enough if not very complex. There is a dickload of clipping issues, however, so don’t be surprised when you see your intern magically walk through the nurse he’s trying to mack with. The sound is actually pretty well implemented and it consists of mostly ambient noises that actually do give you the sense that you’re in an ER. The best part is probably the voice acting, of which there’s plenty. Noah Wyle gets the most dialogue (he is your mentor, so to speak), with Sherry Stringfield and Mekhi Phiefer rounding out the other majors. They’re also decent.
What’s not good? The menu system used to check stats and other information (which you refer to a lot) is not very intuitive at all and confusing as hell at first thanks to the fact that there’s no help menu (F1 does nothing). Figuring out how something is done pretty much becomes an issue of trial and error. The only assistance you ever receive during the course of the game is from a little indicator on the far right of your screen, but that’s usually reserved for very specific events or situations. When you’re first just roaming around the ER, you’re pretty much on your own… which means walking around aimlessly and clicking on everything you can, trying to get your guy to interact with an object, and fumbling with an absolutely horrendous camera. You’ll be doing that for about the first half hour (if you’re any good).
The only replay value I see in ER is possibly going back and creating a whole new persona with different or varied attributes. Though judging from the way the game is constructed, I doubt that even that would bring much variation to the actual game experience. I guess you could go back and fuck up on purpose, but even that’ll become boring quite quickly because the events are heavily scripted with little to no improvisation. The only things that are reactionary are the different people you talk and interact with (and even then there seems to be only like three or so responses that you can get).
Pick up. Play. Throw away. There’s not much more to this one, unfortunately (well the first time through is a bit of a chore, so I suppose this is actually a blessing).
If you’re the type of gamer that is just ACHING to play a game based on a popular dramatic series, get Law & Order: Justice is Served or Law & Order II: Justice Harder. Those, while not necessarily great games, are not insulting to the fans of its show. Plus, they’re actually developed with a modicum of care and don’t come across as just cash-ins on the brand name. ER, on the other hand, is all those things and about as mediocre and by the numbers as you can get. Sure, there are moments that’ll make you chuckle a bit, but there are way more that’ll just piss you right off. So if you’re looking to play a something like The Sims but that’s actually worth your cash, get The Sims 2.
Noah, Sherry, Mekhi, and Hollow Man: Ready to absolutely suck.