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DS  header logo

Lifesigns: Hospital Affairs

For: DS

Dead on arrival

Product: Lifesigns: Hospital Affairs | Developer: Spike | Publisher: JoWooD Productions Software AG | Format: DS | Genre: Simulation | Players: 1 | Version: US
Lifesigns: Hospital Affairs DS, thumbnail 1
Doctors have long taken the approach of being blunt with their patients, so allow us to do the same. Don't bother breaking out the paddles to resuscitate Lifesigns: Hospital Affairs. The grating tone of a flat-line is less annoying than its astonishingly dull play mechanics, which are hardly worth saving. Symptoms include a lack of interactivity, peculiar character designs, and general gameplay malaise which point to a grim diagnosis: Lifesigns: Hospital Affairs is a morbidly bad game.

You wouldn't be blamed for believing that Lifesigns casts you as a young hotshot doctor, equally as talented around the operating table as he is swooning at his female counterparts. How disappointing, then, to be put in the shoes of a second year intern whose social coups parallel the number of surgeries he leads: excruciatingly few. As an intern, most of your time is spent dealing with hospital politics, trading quips with nurses, and making rounds to grumpy patients.

Lifesigns isn't a surgical simulation as much as an interactive graphic novel that focuses too much on dialogue and not enough on gameplay. Almost all of your time is spent tapping through conversations instead of actually examining patients and performing operations. In fact, medical procedures are intended as plot devices, not as activities central to the experience. This makes for a remarkably boring game, if Lifesigns can even be called a game.

When you do finally get the opportunity to do something other than gossip at the nurses' station, expect to be underwhelmed by the sheer lack of fun in treating patients. The game holds your hand through every step, breaking up each little swipe and tap of the touchscreen with instructions and cut-scenes. Use of the stylus for procedures is inventive – zig-zagging on the screen to suture a wound, disinfecting skin with circular motions, etc – but the pacing is entirely off.

Every admitted patient must undergo a thorough examination in order to ascertain a diagnosis, then treatment can commence. You have three examination techniques at your disposal: visual identification, a stethoscope for listening to heart, lungs, and stomach, and tactile palpitation. When using your eyes or stethoscope to identify symptoms, you simply tap an area on the patient's body. Palpitations are done by rubbing the area in question rapidly with the stylus. It's surprisingly difficult to establish symptomology in many patients, despite the ease of the examination techniques.

While diagnosing a patient often is a challenge, the actual surgery is rarely ever difficult due to the aforementioned excessive hand-holding. Instruments are automatically selected for you and instructions given as to the specific action to be performed. Surgeries have been partitioned into minuscule tasks for the purpose of keeping the procedures simple; however, the actions are too short. While some division is necessary to prevent an operation from being overwhelming, Lifesigns cuts up its gameplay into segments so small that the suspense and thrill of surgery are all but lost.

Slogging through screen after screen of inane dialogue instead of actually performing operations would perhaps be tolerable if the game exuded any keen sense of style. Yet the pre-rendered two-dimensional slides are hardly impressive and the character designs are unfashionably bizarre. Professor Sawai, for instance, looks more like a Liberace cos-player than the head of a surgical department. His subordinate, Dr Suzu Aso, perfectly plays the role of underling, complete with a giant bell tied to her neck. Eccentricities are to be expected of great minds, but what respecting surgeon wears a puffy shirt to work or clatters about with a bell choker as if they're a kitten?

Localisation in a game calls for more than just a good translation of the text and voice recordings. Changing character designs, menus, and other small items are often necessary to meet another culture's expectations. Lifesigns fails to recognise this, expecting its odd style to be embraced by an unadjusted western audience simply because it possesses a solid translation. It certainly isn't the result of a lack of time – Lifesigns saw an original release three years ago in Japan.

Unlike so many of the fantastically wild role-playing and over-the-top action games that come from Japanese developers, Lifesigns doesn't achieve the same lovable quirkiness.

Without compelling gameplay or a stylish presentation, then, Lifesigns offers little that's worthwhile. Frustratingly, the potential for interesting gameplay exists, only to be covered up by hospital gossip about unlikeable characters. Ultimately, it's a terminally boring experience – a guaranteed negative prognosis if you so dare as waste your time on it.
Lifesigns: Hospital Affairs
Reviewer photo
Tracy Erickson | 21 November 2007
About as mind-numbing as brain surgery, Lifesigns: Hospital Affairs concerns itself too much with gossip rather than gameplay. It's an utterly dull game that's better left on the operating table
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