If the very idea of either staring at images of phony human wounds adorned with fake, copy-pasted graphical blood or performing a virtual stool test sets your heart a-palpitatin', get out of your chair and grab yourself a copy of Emergency Room 2 this very minute. If not, you may want to read a bit further.
Legacy Interactive's Emergency Room 2 places you squarely behind the wheel of a shiny new rip-snortin', two-fisted, no-holds-barred medical student on his rounds in the emergency ward of Legacy Memorial Hospital. Once you sign in, you begin your shift in the waiting room, where four patients await treatment. After you decide on a patient and have consulted the relevant research pamphlets, it's time to whisk your patient off to the exam room, X-ray room, lab, and treatment center. Treat your patients poorly and they may end up in the morgue; treat your patients correctly, and you'll eventually advance through the hospital ranks to the lofty position of chief of staff.
The actual game boils down to selecting a particular patient with a certain ailment, then figuring out the right way to treat him. Presumably, the processes of selecting a patient with a particular ailment and becoming familiar with the different medical tools, hospital rooms, and procedures are intended to build memory and association skills, as well as provide a general source of information about medicine and emergency room practices. The actual selection and use of the correct equipment and procedures would, in turn, seem to be intended to further enhance deductive reasoning skills. That is to say, you should not only learn what sphygmomanometers, stethoscopes, and EKGs are and do, but also how to use each, and when, and to what part of the patient's body each should be applied.
In this educational vein, Emergency Room 2 succeeds for the most part. There are exactly 100 different patient cases, subdivided into five levels of difficulty, and each requires its own particular plan of action to treat successfully; patients may be selected either randomly or specifically by case. Once you select a patient, you can consult the CME, the continuing medical education data, for that particular case, to help decide on a plan of action. Next, you bring the patient to one of many hospital rooms, each of which is equipped with a specific tool or set of tools to be used on the patient. As in a real hospital, you're encouraged to err on the side of being overly thorough in your examinations, though avoiding costly and unnecessary procedures, such as X-rays or CT scans, will maximize your score.
The entire interface is mouse-driven, and a few points and clicks will always yield at least some relevant information in every single room in the form of instrument or medication descriptions, anatomy charts, or your own notes from your own in-game handheld computer. In addition to the standard exam and admitting rooms, there are also the hospital lounge and the library, which you can use not only to take a break from the examination, but also to have another look at the patient's CME or to consult reference materials filled with pictures and nifty factoids about the history of past and present medicine. And once you do manage to familiarize yourself with the tools and procedures necessary to treat your patients, you'll find your success rate with your patients will climb.
Unfortunately, while Emergency Room 2 might be an interesting and challenging cognitive aid, it's not much of a game. One of its most obvious shortcomings is its presentation - it sounds merely adequate and looks thoroughly unimpressive. The game can be run in no higher than 16-bit color mode, which doesn't really hurt the simple diagnostic charts and diagrams, but doesn't do much to help the dull, grainy-looking FMV sequences. There's no background music whatever, only the voices of your patients, the staff, and the hospital intercom. The intermittent and random chatter from the hospital intercom attempts to simulate the environment of a real hospital but clashes with the fact that all rooms - including the waiting room - are, for the most part, completely static. Instead of busy interns pushing around gurneys with their patients' friends and loved ones in tow, nearly everything in every room is deathly still, and the odd contrast curtails all hope of creating any kind of immersive atmosphere.
The only real non-FMV movement you'll see is that of the patients in the waiting room as they describe their conditions; they do so in a hilariously stilted routine that recalls the paper-cutout cartoons of Monty Python. And though a good deal of the voice work is fairly well done, like that of Chasing Amy star Joey Lauren Adam's friendly nurse and In Living Color alumnus Steve Park's (no relation) wisecracking radiology technician, several of the patients suffer from an overdose of overacting. These include the excessively gruff, excessively enthusiastic father of the boy who burned himself and the utterly absurd jive stylings of the Jimmie Walker wanna-be who scraped his knee.
Emergency Room 2 also suffers from the omission of any kind of tutorial whatever. The CD case-sized manual is filled with squint-inducing fine print that doesn't go into any sort of specifics on the use of particular tools, rooms, or procedures. Going in for the very first time, you're very likely to fail miserably in your examination and will subsequently be chastised for failing to do some key action or actions. Monkeying around with everything isn't allowed since your examinations are timed and will automatically end when your time is up. The timing of examinations can't be turned off either, presumably in the interest of keeping things "realistic." As a result, you'll have to learn the ropes the hard way - through trial and error, which isn't exactly the way real hospitals are run. As you scratch your head and try to figure out what's what, the tag on the back of the box that reads "Bad news is you killed him, Good news is you can save him next time" will suddenly make a whole lot more sense.
In addition, Emergency Room 2 has a bad case of interface problems. For whatever reason, scrolling up or down a long list or document is far too sensitive to mouse clicking. Even the most timid peck will send the scroll arrow flying up or down to the beginning or end, which makes selecting the desired case needlessly difficult and reading long reports more trouble than it's worth. Also, with the exception of the decision to select a particular patient, there's no cancel button or option anywhere in the game - pressing the escape key will quit out of the game entirely. Though probably designed in the interest of "realism," this can be a game ruiner, especially if you accidentally choose the wrong treatment. You can't save games either, so making a critical error in one of the more complex cases means going all the way back to square one in the waiting room, sitting through the patient's speech, then retracing your steps back to the exam rooms and doing everything over again.
It might seem that the time limits and the lack of both a general cancel button and saved games would add a level of realism and excitement to the game. Unfortunately the idea falls apart in practice. If Emergency Room 2 has a strength, it's its informative and academic treatment of medical information, for which a no-rush, learn-as-you-go approach would have been far more appropriate.
In the end, Emergency Room 2 seems like a decent piece of edutainment software. To its credit, it's chock-full of accurate, if not tremendously in-depth medical information and would fit perfectly on the shelf of a high-school computer learning center. Unfortunately, its mediocre presentation and its gameplay problems keep it from being appropriate pretty much anywhere else.