8 mins read

Review by Harvard L.

Emergency operations sounds like it could be a fascinating job, but I know that I’d never be able to cope with the stress that emergency services providers are constantly under every day. So when Jutsu Games’ 112 Operator promised the responsibility with none of the real-world consequences, I was intrigued. In this game, players field phone calls and tipoffs to direct a fleet of police, fire engines and ambulances to keep a real-world city safe and secure.

At its heart, 112 Operator is a resource management game. Players take charge of a limited number of emergency vehicles and must distribute them efficiently across a growing jurisdiction of streets as the game develops. As emergencies ramp up in severity and resources become scarcer, players will be challenged to triage and adapt to unexpected changes in order to best serve their city.

I can’t make many comments about whether the game is realistic, but I do appreciate the way the narrative refuses to pull punches in its depiction of emergency situations. The game can and will fail the player in a variety of circumstances, whether it’s giving the wrong advice on a phone call, or failing to provide critical services in time. This is a game where people can die, and you’ll find this out early. An interesting, cruel factor is that many of the game’s mini-scenarios are based on real-world situations; so if the player doesn’t know what to do in case of a gas leak or an engine stall in a busy highway, they won’t be able to give the advice that saves the caller. Whereas in real life there’s no way that an emergency services operator wouldn’t be trained on those details beforehand, Jutsu Games exploits the average person’s inexperience with critical situations to force a few early disasters and show that it means business.

It is, in universe, a bit weird that the emergency operator is the single point of failure for an entire city’s emergency infrastructure. Fire engines will willingly drive-by fires if you command them to, and the phone could remain unanswered if so inclined. If you make a bad decision, there’s no one to clean up for you. The city’s morale goes down, and your superiors start sending passive-aggressive emails to your inbox – you’ll eventually lose funding for your vehicles and things start to fall apart from there.

Lose states in this game sure are unpleasant.

At the end of each day of work, players can look through the various situations and see whether they earned or lost points based on their handling of each situation. While this is useful as it provides accurate advice on what to do next time, it does rob the game of any gravity if, on the next attempt, the player knows all the answers. This is arguably the biggest failing of 112 Operator’s gameplay loop. It’s a powerful narrative when the player is struggling and on the razor’s edge between life and death. But if the player is confidently succeeding, then the game is just busywork – there are no stakes, and no way to exceed expectations. It’s a similar problem to most work simulators, but exacerbated here because there’s little in the way of economic simulation: the better the player does, the more boring the game becomes.

The three difficulty modes do alleviate this problem somewhat, as do the special scenarios which model real-world catastrophes. I wonder about whether the recreation of recent events like the 2020 California bushfires could be interpreted as poor taste, but for what it’s worth these scenarios are handled maturely, without being sensationalised.

So if you’re in the mood for high-stakes management gameplay and don’t mind too much about a lack of replay value, then 112 Operator is a great game to capture the imagination. The immersive UI and strong voice acting performances carry the experience, recalling the tension of a real life-or-death situation.

I did wish that the actual staff of the game were more humanised – This Is The Police gave every officer a name, a face and a personality, to help with player empathy – and 112 Operator largely ignores this facet. My human resources felt like exactly that: resources. And so while there is a bit of cheap sympathy that comes from each emergency call, I didn’t feel that investment in the long term.

The Switch version of 112 Operator is also the most unwieldy way to play this game. In both docked and handheld mode, the font is way too small, and the text colour is too dark to show up on the primarily black background. This was a PC game through and through, and the bare minimum of ergonomic design went into the Switch port. Gameplay is done with a virtual mouse cursor instead of buttons, except for directing emergency vehicles, at which point the entire map locks onto the movement of the left stick. It’s disorientating, and I can only imagine this problem is non-existent on PC. And yet, despite an iPad port of this game existing, there is also no touch-screen support when playing handheld.

112 Operator is ultimately a niche game let down by some bad design choices on the Switch. While the premise is interesting, the UI immersive and the gameplay compelling, the control options and confusing visuals on the Switch make it hard to stay focused. This is a game best played on a workstation with no distractions, and that’s about as far away from the Switch’s capabilities as one could imagine. If you’re the kind of player who can stomach the game’s flaws and dry moments, you’d still be better off to try it on another platform.

– Harvard L.

This is the bio under which all legacy articles are published (as in the 12,000-odd, before we moved to the new Website and platform). This is not a member of the DDNet Team. Please see the article's text for byline attribution.

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