Review: 911 Operator (Steam)


Finally, an emergency services simulator that is offering the much deserved recognition to the hard working folks which are the liaison between critical situations and the professionals which can solve them. 911 (or whatever emergency phone number your country uses) operators are a literal lifeline which deserve the same respect as the policemen, firefighters and paramedics they coordinate to a certain level. Jutsu Games chose an excellent topic as their Steam debut and I’m more than pleased by the end result of their labour.

911 Operator is everything “This is the Police” should have been. It’s true that the game I’m writing about today is featuring a larger scope than just coordinating law enforcement personnel, yet we’re finally discussing about a proper simulation on a city-wide map and this time, the cops are no longer on the payroll of corrupt city officials or various street gangs. 911 Operator does its job by the book and that is quite obvious once you notice just how many in-game tips are being offered for a large variety of emergencies. They act as a tutorial since the phone calls you shall receive while on-duty, may require that you extract futher information from the callers, beyond simply asking them for their address and critical issues. A true operator may have to instruct the callers upon emergency first aid or find out as much as he or she can about other potential threats such as additional hazards, armed assailants or building/vehicle descriptions, as the situation might demand.

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In other words, it takes more than just dedication and distributed attention. Some cases will require indirect intervention long before the professionals may arrive on the scene. Some scenarios may be false positives through either prank calls or simplistic mistakes and an overestimation of the actual emergency. Wasting resources on “empty calls” can potentially represent an unnecessary risk for the real cases that require immediate action. As a 911 operator, it shall be your task to distinguish between a false and a real case. The game makes it very clear that it has adapted the emergency scenarios in a manner in which they may appear more often and with an escalated gravity, in comparison to the actual work of an operator which usually receives over a hundred phone calls during a single day, out of which only a quarter may represent cause for concern.

Within its fully 2D environment, 911 Operator is still skillfully powered by the Unity Engine. As expected, it scales perfectly to 4K, runs maxed out and never drops below 60fps not even once. I know it’s not a performance intensive title and that it could probably run even on my first laptop, but the point is, I don’t need eye candy at all times and I’ll never judge simulators from a superficial point of view. These aren’t spartan graphics anyway. The interface shows as much detail as you need in order to accomplish your daily missions and you can even pause the action when you’re not answering emergency calls (which are locked on default game speed). For more realism, I suggest you never pause the game though. Just speed it up when you’re bored by the “quiet activity”, even if that signals that no lives are currently in danger. You’ll do your best to save them all though, won’t you?

Nearly all sounds are adequately represented, whether we’re talking of voice acting or general effects. Obviously the soundtrack is featured through a couple of “elevator songs”, but you’ve got an important job to do, no time for music when lives are on the line. I’m glad that all the phone calls within Career Mode are fully voiced, since it would break apart the overall experience if they’d just be text-based. I do kinda miss the microphone gameplay mechanic from Tom Clancy’s EndWar which allowed players to coordinate troops by voice commands. Wouldn’t be cool to perform in a similar manner during an emergency services simulator? Missed opportunity, Jutsu Games…

I’ve played my share of emergency service sims over the years. Most, if not all, just focused on a few cases that were closed levels. A burning factory, collapsed bridge, train derailement, you name it. They never were connected in the sense that in real life, a firefighter may have “long, boring sorties” and in other times, a full and stressful day. It always depends on the settlement size and its complexity, but the keyphrase here is “real time emergencies”. Unpredictability is what separates 911 Operator from its 3D rendered counterparts. There should be plenty of room in your collection for both subgenres, but I wanted to emphasize how this game does things a bit differently than Sixteen Tons Entertainment’s “Emergency” series, for example. Thanks to the OpenStreetMap service, you can download in-game countless maps to play during the Custom Mode. They’re more like neighbourhoods than actual city maps, but that’s a competent simulation of not having a single operator coordinate more than he can supervise or handle.

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Well known US cities such as Chicago, New York or San Francisco are featured during the voice acted Career Mode. The chaos of daily routine which quickly escalates all over a city, is well simulated. One moment, all is fine and dandy and the next will see you scrambling to contain a large fire, armed robbery and a medical emergency at the same time. The secret to success in our case is well-planned division of labour. Knowing where to dispatch your stationed emergency units. Law enforcement, firefighting and medical branches have their own specialized vehicles and properly trained individuals who risk their lives saving others. Keep in mind that as a 911 operator, you need to ensure the safety of your human resources as well. Don’t send out a single squad car to a bank heist, since reinforcements and bulletproof vests are the only guarantees for survival.

Also never dispatch your firefighters without ensuring that they all have breathing masks. This will be hard during the initial phase in which you have next to no funds at your disposal. Soon as you’ll be rewarded by the city hall with a proper budget, focus on equipment for your existing squads, before committing to additional units through the acquisition of new vehicles. Hire new personnel as you’ll see fit, but keep in mind that you can’t fire anyone and you’ll just need temporary replacements for your injured staff. Efficiency relies on a number of factors, but you’ll get the hang of it in soon enough. I have over 150 successful interventions in 911 Operator so far and just two of them weren’t solved by lack of personnel at that time.

More often than not, I acted sooner than I should have and sent units on empty call missions thinking that they could be hostage situations in which the caller can’t even press a digit to confirm they’re in danger. I still consider that I did the right thing by checking out the situation instead of just ignoring it. The game’s reputation system disagreed. If you’re gonna give me GPS trilateration through which I can find out even an unspecified address and expect me not to act upon that information, you got it all wrong here, Jutsu. But I forgive this minor issue since your title is an excellent simulation in nearly all other aspects. Focus on a sequel, perhaps in 3D, please.


All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.


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