Did you dream of being a doctor as a child, diagnosing illnesses and saving lives? Or maybe you’ve just watched too much Scrubs and want to be Turk? Surgeon Simulator is probably for you then! The A&E Anniversary Edition has made the transition from tablet to console with its release on PlayStation 4, and in a game renowned for it’s deliberately tricky controls and crazy premise, how has the transfer from a touch interface to a controller faired?
The Prof and Brian reviewed the iPad version a few months back and quite enjoyed the craziness, so when the chance to play the PS4 version came up I jumped at it, donning a surgical smock, mask and goggles and getting settled into the virtual operating theatre with my controller. Not my Move controller mind. After dusting it off and pairing with the PS4 for the first time, I was disappointed that it doesn’t do a single thing. Shame, the game seems perfectly suited to it, so let’s hope there’s a patch to enable it in the future.
The control system is reasonably intuitive – tilt the controller to rotate, guide your hand with the left stick, hold the right shoulder buttons to grab and grip – all pretty sensible, though it’s never going to be better than touching the screen directly. The control mechanism is probably the talking point of the whole game because ultimately you’re going to hate it. Whilst it’s simple, it’s also incredibly difficult to make work smoothly. Several hours of practice and turning the air blue have failed to improve my ability to control the game, and that’s been evident since the reception area that doubles as a menu screen first appeared. Throwing you into operations with no tutorial and a world that runs on an alternate version of physics only compounds the feeling of helplessness and detachment from what you’re doing. But… there’s something there that makes you want to have another go.
Performing surgery is like herding cats – everything just goes off on its own and it feels like luck if you pull anything off. Getting thrown in at the deep end with a heart replacement as the first task is daunting, and more so when you realise you have to figure out what to do with no prompting from anywhere. Each scenario gives a choice of tools, usually more than one to do the job with, and you steadily hack, slash, stab and saw at the inside of Bob the patient until he either bleeds out or you manage to save him. How well you’re doing is measured in blood loss and the rate at which it’s flowing. The faster the flow, the quicker the death. This can be paused by using injections to stem the blood flow (or speed it up), and becomes a critical success factor very early on. Just be careful to pick the syringes up correctly, stabbing yourself with them will trip you out.
The surgeries get tricker and fiddlier as you progress, and you feel a mix of triumph and relief when they’re done. Then the game just laughs and ups the ante. Managed to replace a brain in under 2 minutes? Well done, now try it shooting down a corridor with random equipment being made available for you to use. How about in the back of a fast moving ambulance? Or even with no gravity? There are some great scenarios to try out, though it’s a shame there are effectively only 5 operations for you to do. The different environments provide unique challenges though. For example, I lost count of the number of times in the corridor operations where banging through a door made me drop a scalpel or hammer, forcing me to use another tool or restart the surgery. Picking the wrong thing to use results in having to give the family some bad news.
The corridor surgeries are where the game started to lose it’s appeal if I’m honest. I like a challenge, but I just found frustration in the lack of control I had. Performing brain surgery on a patient in a moving wheelchair just had me cracking his skull open and killing him; or being within seconds of finishing but not being able to find the transplant organs before the Bob kicked the bucket. And there was a point where I couldn’t finish a surgery because my virtual hand wouldn’t go into the ribcage to remove the kidneys, it just wouldn’t grab them despite it being an action I’d done multiple times before.
What makes Surgeon Simulator unique on the iPad is unfortunately its Achilles heel on the PlayStation 4, it’s nearly uncontrollable in anything but the most stable of environments – i.e., the plain operating theatre. You’ll never have the same experience twice with an operation even if that’s just down to the wacky physics, or the fact you can’t see what you’re doing because your hand and arm will obscure the view. There is still fun to be had, and as a party game with several people around it’s a good laugh. That’s short lived though, and any attempts to play it seriously on my own had me frustrated with my inability to translate the controller movements to reliable on screen actions.
Surgeon Simulator is not a real sim, and is just intended to be fun with it’s Casualty style music and bright and thoughtful presentation, but the degree of control mastery needed to complete the procedures makes you realise that in its simplified way it’s telling you exactly how hard it is to be a real surgeon. For a while it draws you in and makes you want to improve, but sadly that doesn’t last long and soon I’ll be neglecting it like the plethora of surgical tools strewn over the operating room floor by my incompetent hand.
A review copy of Surgeon Simulator A&E Anniversary Edition for PlayStation 4 was provided by the Bossa Studios PR team.