Review: Surgeon Simulator14 Mar 2014 0
Surgeon Simulator on iOS is like an ultra-violent version of The Producers.
The challenge is thus: how do you take a PC title where unresponsive controls are the whole point, and translate it to a touch device while preserving just the right amount of... wrong, and exactly the wrong amount of right? And how do you make those right-wrong and wrong-right controls bad (that is, good) in a manner unique to touch screens, and how can you ensure that new, good (that is, bad) control scheme is off in a fun, chaotic way, and not just... off. Gods above, what if someone were to actually complete a kidney transplant without spilling half the patient's body ketchup onto the operating table?
This is the conundrum situated at the--hopefully still beating--heart of Surgeon Simulator. Here's to failure.
The point of the title—both the original game-jam-entry-turned-commercial-PC-release and this iOS port—is straightforward. Be surgeon. Do surgeon things. Transplant hearts, resect dead tissues, administer anesthesia—you get the picture. Sure, you're doing all this completely alone and, yeah, you're also apparently an anesthesiologist somehow, but this isn't a huge tax on one's suspension of disbelief.
But, right, you're also so freakin' clumsy. The original Surgeon Simulator tasked you with controlling the gloved, inhumanly rigid hand of “Dr.” Nigel Burke, whose surgical technique boiled down to jamming his fully extended arm—some variant of sharp object in hand—repeatedly into the afflicted area of Patient Bob until whatever was meant to be transplanted got cut out and made room for the questionably healthy replacement organ. This new tissue usually just needed to be placed somewhere within the gaping bloody terror you'd birthed surgical cavity, and it was JOB WELL DONE.
Surgeon Simulator Touch doesn't deviate much from this procedure, though Nigel's actual hand (and the wristwatch on it—always coming loose at inopportune times and plopping into Bob's open thorax) is gone. Now, you can pick up the vein-slicing scalpels, rib-cracking axes, and lung-deflating lasers simply by tapping and holding. To aim, tap where you'd like to inflict some surgery, and your chosen meat-mangler will automatically rotate towards that area. Roughly.
You can even hold two items at once, if you like, though there's not much point. First, most of the tools at your disposal are all slight variations on the same, somewhat violent theme, and there's rarely a need to pick, say, the surgical axe over one of the many scalpels unless you completely beef and topple an entire tray of those latter tools onto the floor, and outside your grasp. Second, you need at least one free hand (or digit, if you're flexible) to aim; release pressure on that electric medical saw you snatched up and it drops, pal, likely right on Bob's inflamed esophagus. Third, and most importantly, for all the seeming improvements this scheme offers, the best-worst strategy is still to just hammer away at your malpractice target of choice until it appears that something important has given way.
It works nearly as not-well as you'd expect. With larger targets it does seem the touch controls offer more precision than one would find with the original's mouse setup, but when it comes to cutting the arteries around a heart, or an exposed bundle of optic nerves, you're still going to be missing more than you connect and putting a bunch of unnecessary bleedy-holes into Bob. Good.
That's where the local anesthetic and gas come in. While Surgeon Simulator admits to the fact that you're going to carve your sole patient up something awful—hell, it encourages it—there's still a fleeting remainder of the Hippocratic oath floating... somewhere in Nigel's noggin. Cutting up Bob causes him to lose blood (which is deadly), and makes his heart-rate spike (equally deadly). Jabbing the green syringe into Bob's face will slow this bleeding (though often not quite stopping it—and you only get so much blood), while tapping on his breathing apparatus will let you mix in some sweet, soothing, heart-calming aero-meds, dropping those thump-thumps all the way down to zero and getting rid of the annoying beeps from the- wait shit that's deadly too uhhhh...
So it's a balancing act then. Cut cut cut, drop your scalpel (damn), shrug (you've got plenty), grab at the guts for a while (they're really wedged in there), grab the laser, turn on the laser, wave that over the guts (crap he's losing a lot of blood), drop the laser, forget to turn off the laser as it shoots into Bob's head, knock over the green syringe as you try to turn off the laser, notice Bob's heart rate is in the lethal zone (shit), tap the big blue gas button (whew), leave that on while you search for the syringe, find the syringe (whew), notice you don't hear Bob's heart-pings on the monitor anymore (SHIT), throw the syringe into Bob's face as you make for the defibrillator (AHHHHH), charge up the paddles (ahhhhhhhAHHHHHHH), jam those paddles onto Bob's face and... he's okay. Well, relatively.
The first two surgeries here are the heart and kidney transplant from the original and, while gory good fun, are straightforward enough and simple enough that once you know what to do, it won't take you long to do it. Even the shakiest of hands will be able to muddle through with a “D” ranking. (For maximum enjoyment, I'd suggest going into each surgery blind, at least once, before looking at the in-game guide which describes all the procedures' steps.)
The eye transplant and cheekily-named teeth transplant, new to this version, are slightly more difficult and, without spoiling too much, occupy opposite ends of Surgeon Simulator's level-design spectrum. The former is an unabashedly over-the-top surgery where the game basically screams “THIS STUFF IS WACKY AS HELL AIN'T IT” right at you. Fantastic, then. Let's just say that “eye popping” is involved and leave it at that.
That latter bit of dentistry is probably the weakest of the four main surgeries. Sure, it's the most difficult, with you needing to drill out specific teeth so as to slot new ones in. Thing is, the idea of Surgeon Simulator is a game where you're meant to hack semi-blindly and still, probably, get through a surgery. The dentistry level reeks too much of a “boss surgery” with the demand that you perfectly file down all the target teeth coupled with a sudden, seemingly extra-sensitive ticker for ol' Bob. This should be a game about minimizing collateral damage, not preventing it, and this holds true in all the surgeries barring the dentistry. It's the most conventionally challenging level in a game where “convention” should be considered a four-letter word, and it's the least interesting (read: fleshy) surgery to boot.
Corridor mode is the true boss here, one befitting a game as bonkers as Surgeon Simulator. Same four surgeries as before, but your patient is mobile, rushing down an infinite corridor to an operating theater they'll never reach because, oh hell Nigel's already cutting. “You'll be healed or dead before we even get there,” our resident sawbones bellows with mad confidence, as orderlies chase after the good doctor and try to reclaim the perfectly healthy man he's made off with.
Instead of having constant access to a full complement of surgical tools, you have to make due with grabbing things piecemeal off trays as they zoom by. Patient bleeding out? Better hope you find a syringe soon, and that you can keep it balanced on your stretcher. No saw to crack open the ribs? Well, uh, I HAVE A SODA BOTTLE AND SOME PILLS. Scalpels, drills, even the very organs you're transplanting appear only in brief, intermittent windows—and damn if those organ cases don't have two whole latches on them. You have to unlock corridor mode, but it's without a doubt the way this one ought to be played.
What you'll get out of Surgeon Simulator depends largely on whether you can see yourself playing, yes, the same missions over again (though in a much improved format); how much you care to challenge yourself with improving your surgery ratings; and how willing you are to play around with the many extraneous odds, ends, secrets, and mini-games which festoon this title--including the fittingly killer synth score, a built-in surgery recorder/re-player, and some sort of multiplayer mode which I can't speak to because I couldn't get it to work. It also has Snake! Seems like any game can have Snake if it wants. It's like the It's A Wonderful Life of games.
Most of all, though, your enjoyment will stem from how cool you are with the fact that the game is, quite plainly, a joke, and doesn't shy from that. It's supposed to be “quote-bad-quote.” Sort of. What I mean is that when it's failing at game-ness as we know it, it's succeeding at humor—and, sometimes, vice-versa. In stand-up parlance, Surgeon Simulator has a killer fifteen-minute set. You'll play it once for yourself, and then again only when you're looking to bust a friend's gut. No, not that way.
The game was played on a 3rd generation iPad for this review.