Price: £12 Developer: Jutsu Games Publisher: PlayWay S.A Platform(s): PC
It's a filthy cliché to open a game review by saying I wasn't sure what to expect, but in this case, it's 100 percent accurate; bear with me.
An errant email caught in my spam filter offered me a chance to try 911 Operator, a game that offers to put you in the unenviable shoes of an emergency services operator, managing emergency response teams, moving police, fire department, and paramedic resources around while taking call after relentless call as the citizens of a city look up at me and shout 'save us!', leaving the emergency operator to look down and whisper, 'help.'
Being an emergency services operator sounds like a lot of stress, balancing the needs of the many against the needs of the few near constantly as you try to do the best you can with what little you've got, and trying to do that in video game form sounds like a very unique type of stress that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
Still, there's something quite seductive about being that calming voice on the phone, the guiding hand behind the brave men and women that keep the city from chaos, and no-one's going to die if I screw it up, so how much stress could it really be?
These were famous last words. Within 20 minutes of escaping the tutorial, I had a cold sweat running down my back. 911 Operator's real strength is the way it slowly ratchets up the tension from your very first shift. You'll set up your response teams, and the game will start slow: A car has caught fire and needs a fire engine, someone has severe stomach pains and needs paramedics.
Suddenly, five minutes later, you're trying to deal with a shootout in the north of town while you also try to quiet down a house party, and your paramedics are needed in five or six different places at once. Your officers are desperately calling for backup, but you don't have anyone to send them, and every 20 seconds you're getting an unimportant call that requires your utmost attention, with you required to focus on all of these disasters but also give kind, courteous responses to asinine questions as you slowly watch the city fall apart.
In the career mode, your reward for success in a smaller city is to be assigned to a bigger city, and this is how you go from managing small house fires in the small Hawaiian city of Kapolei (population 15,186) to having to stop Washington D.C. (population 658,893) falling into chaos during a wave of terrorist bombings. It all plays out on the same dispassionate blue map, with cars, helicopters, and bikes all moving never-quite-fast-enough around the city at your command, the team working inside the vehicle displayed in a similarly abstract fashion as a tiny little faces with their key attributes stuck on the top. Life-saving gear is dragged onto those that need it, a pistol here, or perhaps a long ladder — handy for getting to the top of tall buildings — as is needed.
There's never enough equipment, of course. Never enough staff. Never enough money or time. The only thing you've really got in abundance is the growing disquiet as you realise that what you have isn't enough to do what's needed.