"911, what's your emergency?" Imagine doing one of the most stressful jobs in the world. Now imagine playing a video game version of it. 911 Operator does exactly what you'd imagine. It sits you down as a 911 operator and gives you a variety of different emergency situations for you to deal with. You have to be quick on your feet and be prepared to dispatch police, fire and medical services to different areas around various cities. By buying more staff, vehicles and upgrades for your units on the ground, you can make their lives (and yours) much easier. The game was crowdfunded on Kickstarter on August 20th, 2016, with 1,975 backers exceeding the original goal of CA$9,110.
911 Operator is available for $11.99 on Steam.
Story-wise, 911 Operator doesn't have much to offer, but that's generally to be expected given the style of the game. You are an emergency operator (obviously), and it is currently your first day on the job. After a short tutorial getting you used to how everything works, the game just leaves you to advance through Career Mode, unlocking different cities once you earn enough reputation points working for each one. Different cities allow you to expand your vehicles and staff, making your job easier. It's a simple game with a simple story, and it is absolutely fine for what it is.
The premise of 911 Operator is rather simple. Left-click on an emergency vehicle (either directly by clicking on their icon or selecting the vehicle in the pop-up 'Units' menu) and right-click on where you'd like them to go. Emergencies can simply pop up on the map, and you have to see which icon is present at that location before sending the corresponding service. A blue icon indicates police are required, red indicates fire services, and white indicates medics are needed. Occasionally, some require more than one – sometimes requiring services from all three. The mechanics are simple to learn and use, and I found no trouble directing my desired emergency service to the appropriate location. Sometimes you don't have enough units for all of the incidents you're dealing with, and it becomes a waiting game as you hope little Timmy holds on and doesn't die while you wait for a paramedic to free up. It's great, in all honesty, and I totally get the vibe they were going for with this. There were sometimes bugs where the service decided to stop heading to the scene completely out of nowhere, and I had to redirect their attention towards it, and sometimes a vehicle would drive in a straight line across the map (see below).
But aside from that, this point-and-click mechanic works well and I had no real complaints with it. You can also purchase new vehicles for units to use, such as police motorbikes (faster, better to deal with urgent emergencies or speeding criminals) and even helicopters (faster and incredibly reliable). In addition, you can also purchase item and weapon upgrades for your staff, allowing you to mix and match the units and what they'll be using before each shift starts. If you're having trouble with officers being shot during every one of your shifts, invest in a bulletproof vest and some heavier weaponry for them.
The real fun, though (and I use the word 'fun' loosely given the theme of the game), comes in the form of the phone calls you take as the operator. These are from panicked people who require your assistance. You are able to choose from a few possible responses to each call, ranging from simply hanging up the call to teaching them how to perform life-saving actions. Unfortunately, a lot of these calls are very similar, some being exactly the same. I must have talked to the same man about eating the same poisonous mushrooms at least 7 times in my 3 hours of playtime. With the exact same voice clips and child-like naivety (you'd think he'd have learned not to do it by now), it does lose its uniqueness and charm far too quickly.
Another issue arises when you consider the repetitiveness of the missions. I understand there aren't too many variations of real-life emergencies to work with – and the game does have a lot, all things considered – but the fact a lot of the exact same dialogue and options are repeated between shifts just makes the game grow rather repetitive after even just an hour of playing. You realise you're talking to the same people about the same issues and giving the same responses to each of them. Once you find out the correct way to deal with something (I thankfully had two attempts to tell the same woman how to put out a toaster fire), you will not feel any stress when that call occurs next time – and that's the whole appeal of this game: stress. The game excels when it's hectic and you genuinely believe for a second you're making split-second decisions that could result in life or death, but other times you're sick of talking to the man who's complaining about someone else parked in his spot and just wish he'd get off the line.
'Special Resources' DLC
It is worth noting that DLC has been released for the game. Coined as 'Special Resources' DLC, this add-on allows the player to purchase additional vehicles. This could be anything from a police bicycle (yes, a push bike) to a large police helicopter. Naturally, my first instinct was to purchase a push bike and see how it performed. To no-one's surprise, it was slow… very slow. Obviously a bit of a novelty, a few of the other resources in the DLC pack (such as the aforementioned large police helicopter) are rather expensive, and you have to wonder what you paid the money for if you still have to grind away in order to earn enough money to actually purchase them. While fun for a short while, the DLC ultimately adds nothing to the game and doesn't address the other issues as mentioned before.
With a sleek and easy-to-use user interface, the presentation of 911 Operator is rather impressive. You're able to forget about the fact you are, in fact, playing a video game and immerse yourself in a fairly convincing role as an emergency operator. The icons are all clear, although the further you zoom out, the harder it is to distinguish between the specific vehicle types. I could tell I was controlling a police officer, but whether it was a regular patrol car or a van was sometimes unclear unless I took the time to zoom in. Maybe I need better eyesight, who knows? An indicator (such as a shield icon for the van or a >> for the bikes) would definitely help with this problem. It isn't major, however, and was a minor annoyance at times more than anything.
The maps you're playing on are all real towns and locations, and it's definitely nice to see real addresses being used instead of fake ones. In addition, police, fire and medical services drive to actual police stations, fire departments and hospitals corresponding to the actual, real-life locations of those buildings. I realised this when I was utilising one of the game's best features – the ability to play in whatever town you like. Naturally, I picked my hometown in England (which doesn't use 911 as an emergency number, but we'll just breeze past that minor detail). Thankfully, no emergencies took place at my address (in-game Michael apparently was not stupid enough to eat poisonous mushrooms). It was nice to play in a familiar environment and direct emergency services back to their actual headquarters which I knew I, myself, could see simply by walking down the road. It's a nice touch and definitely one of the best features of the game.
The audio, as expected, can get quite hectic at times. While playing, there is no music. At first, I found this quite odd, but maybe that's because I've been spoiled by playing games with music for so long. But then I thought about it and realised that it's supposed to be a simulation of having an emergency operator's job, and I doubt any competent employee would be taking an emergency call while shuffling through their Spotify playlist. In retrospect, it works. This can mean, however, you have long periods of nothing but the radio chatter of the units. You start to notice the same muffled radio chatter repeated over and over. While obviously unavoidable, it is rather noticeable. Anyway, this silence is often interrupted by the hectic workload finally catching up to you. It's nice to start a new shift with silence, but then dread fills you as you realise all hell is about to break loose and you're going to be up to your knees in stress before too long.
Perhaps one of the biggest letdowns with this game, however, is the voice acting. It's worth noting that, as mentioned previously, this game was crowdfunded, and one of the rewards for people who backed $100 or more was being able to voice some dialogue for the game. I didn't even need to check the Kickstarter page to be able to tell this was the case, as several lines of caller dialogue were so glaringly unprofessional it was almost laughable. One "caller" in particular just sounds so painfully bored and monotonous you could never possibly believe he was supposed to be in a real emergency situation, and that's the one thing this game did so well – it made you believe you were dealing with an emergency situation.
|+ Tense and stressful gameplay||– Becomes repetitive rather quickly|
|+ Simple and addictive mechanics that work well||– Poor voice acting overall|
+ Ability to play in custom cities