House M.D. — Critical Cases, published by Ubisoft and developed by The Method, is an officially-licensed Facebook game based on the popular TV medical drama. Cast in the role of a rookie doctor on House’s diagnostician team, players must work their way through a series of critical, story-based cases while taking the time to treat less serious conditions in the clinic.
Fans of the show will initially find the visual style of the game rather jarring. While the cartoony characters bear a good resemblance to their on-screen counterparts, their abnormally large heads and exaggerated animations are a far cry from the gritty realism of the TV show, and somewhat at odds with the rather serious tone of the story. After a short period of adjustment, however, the peculiar art style will likely cease to matter, allowing players to focus on more important matters. The Method has clearly taken the time to observe the show and demonstrate their understanding of what has made it popular over the years: witty dialogue, strong characterization and medical drama grounded in reality. The in-game representations of characters such as Chase, Foreman, Taub, Thirteen and House himself act as an avid viewer of the show would expect them to, and the game’s story even refers back to past episodes to provide further “fan service.”
Those who have never seen House before can still have an enjoyable experience, however, thanks to the easily-understandable gameplay. Players are walked through their first story-based Critical Case in a tutorial which is extremely well-blended into the ongoing narrative. By treating their first patient, players are introduced to the various minigames they will be participating in order to solve the various cases in the game.
While investigating a Critical Case, players will be called upon to perform a number of tasks, each of which cost energy to perform. While these minigames are very simple, their thematic content and presentation is well in keeping with the format of the show, meaning the game keeps a good “flow” and pace throughout. When investigating an important location to the patient — their apartment, for example — the player is presented with a hidden object minigame. When doing blood work, players are tasked with quickly clicking on floating blood cells according to an on-screen display. And when performing an MRI, players are challenged to complete a Concentration-style minigame where they must flip tiles and match symbols as quickly as possible.
The completion of Critical Cases sometimes requires the collection of resources such as specific medial supplies, budget or “Favor points,” all of which may often be acquired by treating Clinic patients. These cases are usually much simpler, and involve assigning a patient to a testing minigame, the pharmacy or the ward depending on the rewards the player is seeking. Testing minigames function the same way as in Critical Cases. Sending a patient to the pharmacy requires ordering the correct medication in the right quantity for the patient’s cure and then waiting for it to be delivered. Sending a patient to the ward requires the collection of several items from friends — alternatively, they may be purchased using hard currency.
House M.D. — Critical Cases is a high quality game that shows what a difference good writing can make to a story-based game. The interactions between characters are a highlight of the experience and will be sure to please fans of the show and newcomers alike. The gameplay, too, provides plenty of things to do beyond simply clicking on things and waiting. As the player progresses through experience levels and gains the ability to treat more patients at once, keeping up with everything becomes more and more challenging — though the seeming lack of a “fail state” makes the experience rather less tense than it perhaps should be. When a patient can lie in cardiac arrest for hours until the player’s energy has restored enough to use the defibrillator, for example, it removes rather a lot of the sense of urgency from the situation.
Critical Cases faces a huge challenge in its immediate future: the TV show is in its final season and is coming to a close on May 21. This means that there will be fewer opportunities for the game to be promoted on air, and the House brand will be less prominent outside of reruns and DVD/digital video sales/rentals. The game will likely prove most appealing to fans of the show and may be able to maintain its audience long after the show has finished airing, but for the moment at least, its future is by no means certain. As such, the game is definitely one to watch, as high quality as it is. However, it will only be possible to determine whether or not it is likely to enjoy long-term success following the end of the show’s run on TV.
As a new release, House MD is not yet listed on our traffic tracking service AppData. Check back soon to track the game’s progress by MAU and DAU as well as other usage trends.
A great example of how to do a licensed game well, but its long-term success at this point is far from assured due to the show’s impending finale.