by Johnathan Irwin
reviewed on PC
In 2010, for a brief time I served as a part time dispatcher for a small town not far from my home. While my time there was less than a year, it was also an experience I'll never forget. From small reports of public intoxication to a possible firearm discharge, I dealt with quite a bit even in such a small town setting. So, when 911 Operator came along, I was more than eager to see how well it stacks up to the real deal. It's not touted as a hardcore simulator by any means, so I approached it more as a game just based on the profession that lurks behind the scenes of emergency services. The question is, does the game do the field of emergency dispatching justice as well as maintain an atmosphere of fun?
911, What's Your Emergency?
The game is split up into two modes, Career and Free Play. Should you choose career, you advance through preset cities as you meet reputation quotas to move onward. It's pretty much what you'd expect, each new city tends to throw more at you to handle and have distinctly different layouts which can help as much as hurt your strategies. But, my favorite part of the game rests in Free Play.
A big feature of the game is being able to dispatch for any city you can think of. Yep, even your own city! It works by downloading a map of the region laid out accurately (if only containing a large chunk of it) and I thought that was pretty neat. That put me in the dispatchers chairs of Kansas City, MO, St. Louis, MO, Chicago, IL, and even a few small towns. I only took it for a spin but it seems like it works by taking maps directly from the internet and displaying them in-game. I spent most of my time in my city, trying to help direct the emergency services and maintain the peace.
At the beginning of each On Duty segment, you have a chance to buy and outfit your units (Police, Fire Department and Paramedic), vehicles (consisting of three different police vehicles, ambulances and firetrucks) and their equipment before starting the day. It pays to direct each unit to various sections of the city in as balanced a method as possible, so they are ready to respond at a moment’s notice. A neat feature of the units is that police will actually patrol small areas keeping an eye out for crime that could appear on the fly without calls into dispatch.
As the time goes on, incidents will begin appearing. You may be directing a fire truck to reports of a car on fire, or a building fire. Paramedics to the scene of a person in cardiac distress, police to respond to reports of an erratic driver. Different from incidents, and the part where you really get to feel like a dispatcher, is when you actually receive calls. Though limited in scope and scale, the voice work done for the dispatcher and those who call in actually aren't that bad. For the most part, they sound convincing enough. During these calls, you have to direct the caller through a series of questions that will hopefully lead to a positive outcome once your units arrive.
One that stood out in particular was the panicked call of a woman who said her ex was trying to break in, possibly armed. The first thing I did was direct her to a room with a lock and asked for her address. After getting the address I sent police and an ambulance towards that location while still being on the line with her. You can hear the guy yelling in the background, sounding drunk. The woman reveals that she's armed with her father's handgun and asks if she should shoot. I calmed her down and let her know that if it escalates further she's within her legal rights to defend herself in her home. She yelled that she had a gun and while the beating on the door stopped it sounded like he was still out there.
She hung up shortly before my units got there and almost immediately there were reports of shots fired. The ex had advanced on officers with a knife and was shot. With the ambulance on scene quickly, his life was able to be saved as well. Everyone made it out alive. It was after this I realized my neck was sweating. I never had to handle anything like that during my time in the chair those years ago, but wow if that call in particular didn't bring me back to the more tense moments I had then.
As fun as it is and as intense as it can be, it's not perfect. After a while, you'll start to notice calls repeating. There's only so many times I can tell the same woman how to handle her psychotic ex boyfriend, only so many times I can tell a guy he probably just has indigestion based on his symptoms and circumstance that lead to it, before it begins to grate. It becomes routine, and routines can become stale. Any moment where shots are fired, however, always brings me back to that moment of tension trying to make sure everyone comes home alive.
Police Officers, Fire Fighters, Paramedics... they all get their time to shine. They are the day by day heroes and they deserve every bit of praise they get. That being said, their job would be so much harder without the men and women around the globe manning these dispatch stations and directing the emergency calls back to them. 911 Operator is far from perfect. It's far from being realistic, but it's still pretty interesting and a welcome sight to see a game focused on the unsung heroes for a change.
A fun spin on a serious profession, ability to play in any city is a great touch, gradual challenge build is welcome.
Gets repetitive after a while.