You might remember the adventure game slash job simulator This is the Police by Belarusian developer Weappy Studio. I reviewed the game late last year, and while it was interesting for a while, it started to feel like a chore after a few hours. This is the Police had two major gameplay elements. You managed resources as a police dispatcher by day, and growing your retirement slush fund by night. Now Polish developer PlayWay has taken police dispatcher element of This is the Police, and turned it into a game of its own; 911 Operator.
911 Operator builds further upon the basic features of This is the Police’ basic dispatcher mini-game. You’re managing all three branches of the emergency services: The police, the fire department, and the ambulance service. You also have to handle vehicles, staff and equipment, assign teams, and make sure the teams have the equipment they need to deal with every situation effectively. Through your 12 hour work shift, you have to use your available units as effectively as possible, while juggling both reported incidents and incoming 911 calls.
All the small things…
The game itself looks pretty basic, and there’s not fancy 3D graphics in sight. The main screen contains a map, an overview of available units, ongoing incidents, and not much else. Still, PlayWay somehow manages to clutter everything up. Even on my laptop’s humongous 3000 x 2000 pixel screen, information overlap and gets hard to see. 911 Operator also has a number of other usability and user interface issues. One great example is the total lack of keyboard shortcuts. There is no way to use the keyboard to select units, open and close menus, or perform similar actions that most other games allow you to assign keyboard shortcuts to. Pausing and unpausing the game, in particular, is a pain, as it involves clicking some rather tiny icons with your mouse.
Out of five available game speeds, “faster” is the default speed. After you’ve handled a 911 call, the game speed will jump back to “faster”. It doesn’t matter if the game was paused when you answered the call. This might be intentional to simulate the stress of being a 911 operator, but I doubt it. Instead, it can quickly get annoying when new incidents and 911 calls start flooding in.
The unit and incident overviews will show you available units, and all ongoing incidents, respectively. But they don’t tell you what incident a unit is going to, or if an incident is actually being handled or not. To do that, you have to click on each individual unit to figure out where it’s headed. Had PlayWay put a little more energy into the these two UI elements, they might have actually been useful.
But it’s the sum of all things that counts
Despite all its flaws, 911 Operator is entertaining. The learning curve is just right, the background chatter is nice, and the voice acting in the 911 calls is believable. In short, this is a good game. But it could have been an even better game had PlayWay put in a little more effort on the usability and user interface side of things. PlayWay has released two expansions to the game already, one free and one paid. 911 Operator also supports the Steam Workshop. It’s not exactly overflowing with items, and there are 78 available when I write this. But it still opens the door to quite a lot of replayability since you can add fresh content over time. I’ve already put 6 hours into 911 Operator, making it pretty good value for money.
So if you’re looking for a casual1 game that’s easy to learn, and easy to master – and you’re not easily annoyed by a few weak spots – 911 Operator is a game you should give a try.