Play the long lost game “Grey’s Anatomy”
In October of each year, my older sister – who works in a hospital, I should add – asks the same question. “When is Grey’s Anatomy going to start over?”
Fortunately, its prolonged popularity, even here in the UK, means it ends up happening easily. The show is so eagerly awaited that I once acquired an episode through questionable means on a new Windows Vista laptop, which then went through a factory reset thanks to the virus associated with the download. And yes i said View. That’s how long the show has been around.
With the recent release of Lynette Rice’s How to save a life, a behind-the-scenes look at this incredible series, personalities and the writers’ room, all I could think of was the seemingly ridiculous video game adaptation by Ubisoft in 2009. And, after submitting myself to many , many of the “episodes” of the game, I feel the need to show you around its ridiculous.
First of all, let me start off by saying, unsurprisingly, what a pain in the ass it was to even get a copy of the game. The game is being digitally removed from the list everywhere (I guess due to license), so I had to buy a used copy in Germany through eBay and hope it contained English support. Unfortunately, he did! And the first thing my goofy desktop PC with DVD drive did after installation was to open Internet Explorer from the depths of hell where it currently resides in Windows 10.
The game’s multiple plots are divided into episodes, acts, and scenes, with each scene made up of two or three characters interacting in a conversation in the halls of the hospital or during surgery. Immediately after launching the game, with the useful and characteristic beats of Psapp’s “Cozy in the Rocket” theme, I noticed that the game looked … weird. I’ll get to that in a second.
The first scene is great fan service, as we follow a Meredith Gray-like figure in the elevator to join none other than Derek Shepherd AKA McDreamy AKA Dr. Dead Face. Okay I’m a little harsh here, but his character’s face looks weird disabled here. Actually, they all do, and I think it’s because some of their heads aren’t in the right shape. It might seem like an odd sighting, but Miranda Bailey’s head (brilliantly played by Chandra Wilson, including the rest of the character’s body) looks like a round, plump tomato. The artistic style reminded me of Ubisoft’s then recent XIII remake with cel-shaded graphics, except here all the animations are incredibly stiff.
Either way, let’s get back to the elevator, where you’re in charge of Meredith’s conversation with Derek, and have a choice of acting flirtatiously or hostile. You make that decision during a break in this cutscene as you collect chunks cut out of a Polaroid. Uh … okay! Then you have to guide your mouse in a particular shape. And then finally, as the scene progresses, you have to dispel the clouds of doubt appearing in the image of your character. It seems elementary, intellectually offensive and childish, because in the end it is.
What I described is literally how different scenes play out throughout the game, you have to make a choice on behalf of one of the characters, dispel the doubt or click and drag the mouse to apply points suture on someone’s arm. It’s tedious and rambling, even as a set of minigames. Oh, and that thing I mentioned about the game that looks weird? That’s because it was first designed for the 4: 3 aspect ratio of the Wii, an absolute joke to be released on PC even in 2009.
Considering its release over a decade ago, and the known fluidity of the characters and cast in the set at one point, there are things that stand out. Let’s leave the good aside: the character of Burke of Isaiah Washington is nowhere to be found. It’s excellent not only because of his infamous exit from the series, but the dude is also a batshit right-wing poster. But then there’s the bad: in her place is the formidable (and disagreeably mean) Erica Hahn. Plus, Izzy doesn’t have the thoughtful and considerate nature she’s best known for when played by Katherine Heigl on the show.
But these mixed-up characters are the secret ingredient in the show that makes it work so well. The characters are so full of life, some being big fan favorites, and others intentionally inserted as antagonists (not evil), which makes us worry about our favorites even more. Grey’s works because it’s the complete opposite of something like Dan Harmon’s Community, with little or no pop cultural references and a complete lack of self-awareness. The transfer of the show to video game format is about as obvious as a cash grab that I have ever witnessed. Many other drama series from this era had respectable attempts as game adaptations, such as Buffy, Black Angel, and A.k.a. And yes, given that the show premiered in 2004, it’s closer to those shows than something like Succession.
But the lack of drama is what makes the game so lifeless compared to the series. There’s no Denny Duquette, the heart patient Izzy (literally) goes mad about in season two. Christina Yang from Sandra Oh is not getting anything interesting. And even Meredith is nothing as dramatic as the presentation of her dying mother or the mention of her hostile womb. Some of the allure of watching Grey’s are Meredith’s similarities to boring SNL character Debbie Downer, played by Rachel Dratch. Without the drama, what’s in this medical drama?
Maybe I’m referring to some very dramatic – almost lyrical – events that the TV show visited because that’s exactly what it’s known for. It’s as if everything that came out of the box – like the rare and obscure medical cases that some of its TV episodes are based on – is off limits to the game’s creators.
Today’s TV adaptations can be wild and experimental in a number of ways. There’s Nickelodeon happily letting his animated characters fight in his Star Brawl. Devolver released a surprisingly interesting version of Game of thrones in Tale of crows for Apple Arcade. And the explosion of card games means anything can be turned into a turn-based strategy game. Damn, there was even a Desperate housewives game that didn’t get as badly rated as this one, as it offered reasonably decent depth, context, and visuals.
And although the Grey’s Anatomy the game completely suffocates on immediate inspection, there is a great lesson here. Media conglomerates now have the ability to license their brands for games more fluidly, thanks to the ubiquity of smartphones. But with our gaming habits more accustomed to quality than ever, even dedicated fans will demand a great experience. With no effort, this adaptation ends up looking like exactly what it is: a poorly made attempt to financially exploit your own fans. Hopefully we have moved beyond an environment where such projects can be produced.