Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D Review

Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D, developed by Brain Game and published by Viva Media.
The Good: Day and night cycles, respectable variety of animals
The Not So Good: Pace is too slow, game is very repetitive, too easy to find correct illness, hokey voice acting, terrible human character animations, just not fun to play
What say you? The rewards are not worth the effort in this tedious veterinary simulation: 4/8

For whatever reason, people seem to love animals. “Dog people” anthropomorphize their pets to a level I just can’t understand. Maybe your dog is excited to see you because you are the keeper of the food, not because you have some unspoken bond that words alone can’t describe. Not surprisingly, this disturbing fetish has spawned a number of successful computer games (and expansions to successful computer games). The next of the litter is Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D, a vet simulation that is clearly geared towards young girls (the pink box and female lead character tipped me off). The game takes a couple of aspects from The Sims and applies it to more directed interactions with animals.

The graphics of Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D are very reminiscent of The Sims. The game is played from an isometric perspective, giving you a view of your vet and her hospital of horrors. The graphics are better than the original Sims, but don’t complete with other 3-D games that are similar in nature. The hospital is not very detailed and can’t be rearranged at all, and there are serious issues with your character. While the animals exhibit some good, semi-random behaviors, the examination portion of the game is completely horrible: your character never visually picks up or uses any objects (just air) although the “appear” to: the result is comical in a very bad way. It’s odd to watch your vet examine a rabbit with a thermometer by waving at the creature with no thermometer in their hand; it’s like they are performing voodoo on the poor creature. If you’re going to be a vet simulation, you had better simulate the vet part of being a vet visually using the real instruments instead of cryptic animations involving nothing but empty space. The sound is very similar to the graphics: the voice acting is awfully corny and repetitive, and since most of the actions in the game are accompanied by talking, you’ll be hearing plenty of it. The background music actually isn’t that bad and what you’d expect in a game like this meant for a specific audience, but it’s the lone bright spot in a sea of ineptitude.

Most of Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D is played by fulfilling the objectives of a scenario. The objectives are clear, but the game doesn’t specifically state how to go about performing them. There is a tutorial available that covers most of the concepts in the game that does a pretty good job, but some of the actions in the game need to be clearer without having to delve into the manual. You’ll be instructed to treat and take care of a number of different animals along your journey, including rabbits, dogs, cats, horses, and pigs (although the game sadly does not include a “make ham and bacon” scenario). Customers will bring in their sick animals and you can choose to accept them as patients. The game then automatically goes into the examination, where you use any or all of your instruments to determine what’s wrong with Fluffy. The game gives you a choice of five to ten possibilities, and with each instruments, the probabilities of each illness change. This is a lot less fun than is sounds, however, as each sickness has a “money” instrument that will instantly tell you what’s wrong, and it’s just a matter of having and using that particular instrument. The game would have been better if examinations involved more guesswork or had some sort of hard time limit instead of being so easy. Because of the lack of difficulty, examinations become boring very quickly.

After the examination is complete, the animal may be discharged or held in the hospital for observation. If you need to keep an eye on them, you’ll need to feed, clean, and play with them until they leave your care. This is also a very simple operation, as each animal has clearly indicated needs (like in The Sims) that have a direct solution, and it’s just a matter of doing these things. All of the feed and instruments in the game are bought through the store, where you can also purchase books for better veterinary care or hiring a caretaker to watch the animals for you (although it’s so simple there’s really no reason).

Your veterinary character also has needs that must be fulfilled, although there are only two: sleeping and eating, each of which are done by clicking on the appropriate object (bed, refrigerator) and selecting a duration (depending on how tired or hungry you are). You’ll also need to purchase and read books to make more advanced medical observations, and the books give the player some superficial information about the pets in the game. There are some bugs involving character movement in the game that are frustrating. You will routinely click on far-away location to keep your vet on the move, and your character may or may not move there. It’s quite a mystery as to which locations your character will run to and which she won’t, and when there is an impatient customer waiting, time is of the essence. You also can’t stop any actions in the middle. This makes sense in some cases (like sleeping or during an examination), but the game won’t allow you to stop reading when a customer arrives. Since the customers come in at random times, this makes reading some background information a tricky proposition. People in real life would put down their book and answer the door, but not in Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D: reading is too important to be interrupted!

Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D is very similar to The Sims in terms of gameplay: you must maintain yourself and the animals by performing set tasks. However, the daily grind of veterinary science comes into play too soon, and each day becomes the same as the last in a never ending struggle of monotony. The tasks in the game are accomplished too easily to make the game challenging. In The Sims, there was a time element that made the game move along at a quick pace, but Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D involves way too much time just waiting for something to happen, especially early in the game. You can finish all of your tasks in quick succession, and then it’s just a waiting game until your next patient shows up, which may be a long period of time. You can’t make time accelerate by going to sleep because patients are almost guaranteed to show up while you take a midday nap. There are no real long-term goals either, other than unlocking new animals that behave essentially the same as the ones before them. There is just no real reason to play the game, and that’s the biggest fault of Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D.

A veterinary simulation could have resulted in a somewhat compelling game, but Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D falls short of those lofty goals. I’m not too terribly concerned about the outdated graphics and sound, although the lack of meaningful instrument use during examinations is unforgivable. My main problem is that Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D is just not fun to play. The game isn’t challenging to any level of player, as examinations are too easy and taking care of the animals is repetitive and it yields no real rewards. The game is dull except when you have lots of animals to examine and take care of, and this really doesn’t happen until the end of the game; by this time, most people would have grown tired of Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D anyway. Most of the animals behave the same and there is no concrete different between a horse and a cat except in terms of appearance. Even if you love animals, Animal Hospital: Pet Vet 3D doesn’t offer gameplay that’s exciting enough to keep you interested for very long.