Science:Gamed’s SORS is a medical simulation game in the vein of socially conscious works like Papers, Please, combining social commentary with engaging, challenging gameplay. While SORS sometimes veers too heavily toward difficulty over fun, its multitude of paths and clever mechanics make it a worthwhile experience, if a frustrating one.
Medical Advancements Outweigh Societal Advancements in SORS‘ Story
Initially, SORS appears to have a narrative that only serves as a player tutorial for the game’s scanning system, but there is much more going on. As a new doctor at a futuristic hospital, players must scan patients for illness and treat them accordingly, while receiving information and encouragement from bosses and coworkers via email.
After just a few minutes, some intriguing story details become apparent—this isn’t some idyllic future where illness is nearly eradicated and doctors are nearly a thing of the past. Instead, it’s a darkly dystopic world where government restrictions and funding problems limit the treatment available to patients, overloading the hospital with too many patients and not enough time.
Science:Gamed makes no secret that the game was heavily inspired by Papers, Please (even referencing and comparing a fictionalized version of SORS to it in-game) and it shows in the game’s narrative. Despite the oppressive structure of the game’s world, there are avenues to work in and outside of it.
It’s up to the player whether they value job security over freedom and ethics, and what they’re willing to do to achieve their goals. Whether you play right into the hospital’s plans or you fight back with the aid of outsiders, there’s an intriguing narrative to be unearthed; there are four possible endings to the game,
Though the Science is Sound, Gameplay Suffers
Few games use medical diagnosis as a game mechanic—it’s difficult to pull off, and even more difficult to do accurately, but SORS manages fairly well on both counts. Players must use a scanner by clicking different areas of the body to find illnesses such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and cancer, and match the pings on a chart to how conditions are supposed to be set up.
Treatments can be prescribed using a text input system, with treatments varying between age and condition. Most of the gameplay involves clicking on the body to find data and then analyzing that data on the chart. Improper scans will send up flaws in the chart, meaning you have to pay close attention to ensure that you don’t misdiagnose the patient.
All that clicking can make SORS a little tedious at times. While the analysis takes brainpower, and hacks from outside the hospital’s system do complicate the process, sometimes those hacks result in making a monotonous process a frustrating one. An added degree of difficulty can make a dull game better, but in SORS the complications often mean annoyance and not an improved experience.
That’s the difficulty of citing another game as inspiration—it’s almost impossible not to compare the two. And between Papers, Pleases‘s document-checking mechanic and SORS‘ medical scanning, it’s the latter that falls short. The scanning is often repetitive, and while the same can be said of checking documents, the failures in Papers, Please were always on the player. In SORS, the time crunch and inaccuracy of the scanner mean sometimes you just have to sigh and hope that you’ve scanned enough times to count. It certainly echoes the pressure of the conflict in the game, but as a mechanic it’s more annoying than eye-opening.
Other aspects of the game do help balance out the drawbacks. SORS can be pretty liberal with ‘cheat’ codes that can be used to erase flaws on the scanner, pass a patient on without penalty, or give you more time on the clock. And the narrative is interesting enough to make you want to keep playing, even as you repeatedly fail the same level.
SORS‘ Ambition Eases Some Other Symptoms
Science:Gamed’s SORS is pretty gutsy, which helps offset some of its flaws. The devs aim to make games that incorporate real science, and the desire to do that without making it boring—while also including an intriguing story and engaging gameplay—is a lot to balance. The frustration of repeatedly failing might be too much for some people, but the realism of SORS makes it a different experience from something silly like Surgeon Simulator, and the story prevents it from becoming boring. Despite some flaws, the game’s dedication to originality and a science-based narrative is to be admired.
SORS is available now through itch.io for just over $9, and was recently Greenlit for Steam. Game Rant was provided with a download key for this review.