In recent years, the BBC have become more open to media platforms other than their original Television channel, so far as becoming advocates of bringing their successful franchises to the digital gaming world. Video game adaptations of Doctor Who, Integration of the Top Gear track into Forza are probably the most commonly recognised uses of their intellectual property. This has now changed with our team here at Midwife Gamer getting a sneak peak at the latest offering directly at Broadcasting House.
We were notified about this unique opportunity a few weeks ago, and we were ushered into a darkened conference room where we were greeted by Michael Cumings to show us the latest title he and his team have been working on. We watched on in silence as the familiar intro music began and before we knew it, we were watching the familiar opening sequence rendered fully in the Unreal 3 Engine with a distinctly cel shaded veneer.
We watched as the digitally rendered scenes of life and work in the East End unfolded in Black and White before the game proper began. Michael blanked the screen as he explained that their inspiration for the gameplay was from one expected source and one which we may find somewhat surprising. Picking up the Xbox controller from the table at the front of the room he moved on to show us the first 30 minutes of the gamplay.
Starting out, you are given the option to modify your character, with an avatar creation system that boasts (according to Michael) almost five thousand unique features enabling you to truly design your own “avatar”. He quickly randomised the tool a few times and selected one of the default names, Nurse Willow, for his character. Starting at the familiar and somewhat iconic buildings of the East End of the 50s we watched as the camera flew through the surrounding streets with the main character’s monologue explaining who she was and why she had come to the East End to aid the well known sisters of Nannotus. The camera finally stops and panned to reveal Michael’s avatar, standing at the exit of the docks from the all too familiar opening episode.
Panning round, it focused on Nurse Willow and immediately a HUD popped up to reveal Michaels “surprise source”. The map and street names font and positioning is instantly reminiscent of the Grand Theft Auto series. I immediately stifled a giggle at the prospect of Nurse Chummy “boosting” a pushbike to get to an urgent delivery. Michael must have noticed as he immediately advised that although the layout is familiar, most of the core gameply is not. “This will not be Grand Theft Midwife, I should confirm, although the thought did cross our mind”. The movement of the character instantly distinguished itself from Rockstars titles, with Michael moving Nurse Willow gracefully through the streets of London towards the blinking icon on the screen and highlighted on the minimap.
Michael stopped to look around advising that they had made the greatest effort to replicate the world we know and love, and bring the London of the 50s to life in this title. Workers in flat caps wandered too and fro, children ran through the streets tussling and chasing each other, and housewifes chatted in closes and outside doorways as Willow wound her way to her first destination.
Arriving at Nonnatus House, we are introduced to some of our first gameplay mechanics. Sister Evangeline greeted us at the door, and once the introductions were made, we were handed a midwife kit which would be our inventory for the remainder of the game. At this point, I was handed the controller and got my chance to try out the game first hand.
Movement of the character is fluid, and although she walks at a brisk pace, there is no run button. If you wish to get anywhere fast, you must approach and interact with one of the handbikes to reach your destination. These traversal sections are amusing, with a very simple approach. Although you control the bikes position on the street, cornering is all managed by the in game engine. As you approach a junction you simply have to aim towards the side of the road on which you wish to turn, and the game detects and turns you left or right depending on your proximity to that side of the street.
To make things interesting, you must avoid numerous hazards in each street by either moving left or right, or alternatively using your bicycle bell to get the obstruction, if living, to move. Streets are littered with carts, dogs, workers and children all going about their daily lives and each one you collide with slows you down. This plays an important part when you are rushing to a mother in labour and failing to arrive at th destination results in restarting that section again. Simple, yet entertaining these last no more than five minutes and resetting also changed the obstructions in each of the streets ensuring that the gameplay at no point got repetitive. I was advised by Michael that longer runs have a checkpoint system that allow you to restart either at the beginning or at approximately the half way mark should you fail to arrive in time.
When on location for a birth, you are tasked with utilising your tools from your kit, to aid the birth, with a health bar allocated to both the mother and the child. Utilising the wrong tools can reduce either’s health, and the mothers health drains the longer the labour continues. This is where the second reference arrives. Each of these sections, and those back at Nunnatus House are very reminiscent of the Trauma centre series of games with reaction based minigames utilising the tools to hand. None more evident, than when attending Mothers at Nunnatus House itself.
During the introduction, it is revealed that your specialty was in caesaerian section, and this plays well into the Trauma centre style of gameplay. Sometimes during complicated births, when either the Mother or childs health drops to below 50%, you are given the option to perform an emergency C-Section. This opens up a new wealth of tools, options and minigames to be undertaken to successfully perform the birth.
Each completed Birth grants you experience, which can be allocated to any of the nurses core skills. Some are obvious with improved ability with each of the specific implements available for the births but others such as Bedside Manner assist in reducing the rate at which the Mothers health level reduces, giving you more opportunity to get a higher score and avoid having to perform invasive surgery.
Plot within the game centres around your nurses search for information on her missing brother, who disappeared in the East End shortly after returning from World War 2, and interactive conversations with the inhabitants of the area unlock clues to uncovering what happened to him. This changes up the pace quite nicely, with some clues unveiling block puzzles, or point and click sections where you can find out more of your characters back story.
All in all, this is a fantastic title, and with another few months of polish left to go before the official release date, could be a necessary addition to any Midwife Gamer’s collection.
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