Legacy Interactive is cornering the market on computer games based on television series. They’ve already released three “Law & Order” games, in the future they’re going to release an “Apprentice” game and a “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” game, and this month they’ve released ER, a game based on the long-standing “ER” television series. With the “Law & Order” games, Legacy Interactive did a nice job of putting you into the show, but that’s relatively easy with a police procedural. Could they manage the same sort of thing with ER? Not really, but they created an interesting game nonetheless.
In ER, you play as a new intern at County General Hospital. When you start out, you get to set some things about yourself, such as your appearance and your attributes. The attributes, like charm and intelligence, determine which specialties you excel in. For example, intelligence helps with neurosurgery while charm helps with pediatrics. Once you’ve created your character, and perhaps once you’ve played the short but effective tutorial, it’s off to the emergency room to begin your career.
ER is broken down into six “episodes.” Each episode covers a 48-hour shift and takes about an hour and a half to play. For most of the time, you’ll just treat the patients who come into the waiting room. This is pretty easy. First you click on them to diagnose them, then you assign them to a bed, and then once you, the patient and a nurse are all at the bed, you click on them again to heal them. Each patient has some sort of injury or illness based on a 1-10 scale (you never get to see what the malady actually is), and as you treat patients with different problems, your skills rise. If you diagnose a patient with an injury too difficult for your character, or if your treatment goes badly, you can “curbside” them to another doctor. If you can’t even diagnose the patient, then you’ll have to send them off to the lab for tests.
The other mainstay of the game involves meeting the needs of your character. Obviously, you won’t be able to go 48 hours without sleeping or eating, and so you’ll have to take breaks from treating patients to get those things done. Sometimes that’s a challenge, because you won’t always get to choose when you treat patients. To help you out, patients can give you “perks” after you’ve healed them. These perks sometimes award short term bonuses (like earning more experience from your treatments) and sometimes they can help you meet your needs.
To make each episode unique, you’ll receive “edicts,” which in other games might be called “objectives” or “quests.” Edicts involve things like treating special patients (such as a boxer or a clown), helping security track down unwanted people in the hospital, or working triage, where you’ll simply assign patients to beds for other doctors to deal with. There are also themes within the episodes, such as one where a fire will break out at a sci fi convention, and you’ll have to treat people dressed in a variety of costumes and prevent the “superheroes” from getting too close to the “supervillains” and starting fights.
The game is fun enough, and it’s certainly different than anything you might have played before. It’s just that a few things don’t really work. For example, besides improving your skills, you’re also supposed to be gaining prestige, and to do that you can have Sims-like conversations with your co-workers. The problem is that you can also gain prestige simply by treating lots of patients, and since treating patients is how you improve your skills, there really isn’t much of a reason to talk to the rest of the staff.
The other problem is that while ER is an interesting doctor game, it doesn’t really feel anything like the “ER” television series. Now, I haven’t watched “ER” since the good old days when George Clooney was on the show, and so maybe I missed a few references, but basically the only ways in which the game ties in with the series is that the layout of the hospital is the same and that there are doctors named Carter, Lewis, and Pratt who are voiced by the actors from the show. The drama of the show is totally non-existent. With a few minor changes, Legacy Interactive could simply have called the game Emergency Room Doctor, and that would have been more descriptive of what you actually do.
Still, ER looks nice, it is acted well, and it was entertaining enough for the ten hours it took me to play through it. Plus, the gameplay mechanics are simple enough that fans of the show who aren’t necessarily computer game players might be able to enjoy it. So, if the subject matter interests you, and if it doesn’t bother you to spend $30 on a game that might only take you ten hours to complete, then ER is a worthwhile purchase.