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Review: H.E.R.O. Unit is an intriguing textual look at the life of a 911 dispatcher
911, what is your emergency?
Developer: Jassim Albuarki
When it comes to video games, we are often only exposed to the direct actions of police officers, and for a good reason. With police officers, a game can leverage shooting mechanics, which are far and away the easiest types of games to sell. It’s a more proven formula that appeals to a wide range of gamers, but as a result, there's a bit of oversaturation of the same perspective.
H.E.R.O. Unit attempts to solve this oversaturation issue by shifting the point of view to that of a 911 dispatcher. Dispatchers are something of an unsung hero, as they have mere moments in which to discern whether something is either an emergency or a hoax and if it is an emergency, getting the necessary information to prevent their officers from walking into a deadly trap.
H.E.R.O. Unit is a text adventure where you play as a dispatcher, taking calls from random people in different situations that are inspired by real events. Gameplay is centered on dialogue choices, each of which provokes a different response from the caller. These reactions can either escalate or defuse the situation, as it is up to the player to get all of the necessary information (name, address, how many people involved, etc.) before sending officers.
Here are the things you need to know about H.E.R.O. Unit.
H.E.R.O. Unit succeeds in delivering its core gameplay.
When diving into the nitty gritty of a game like H.E.R.O. Unit, where its limitations are about as obvious as it gets, it’s important to take the game as it is, and judge it on its own merits. H.E.R.O. Unit’s goal is to be a text adventure where its principal hook is the interactions you have with the callers. In this sense, I became pretty engrossed by what the game had to offer.
Each situation is actually different, and the developers don’t just hand you a solution or outcome on a silver platter. There is so much room for variation with the game, as some of the scenarios have over ten possible outcomes. One call will have you trying to talk a mall security guard down from engaging some armed robbers while simultaneously getting enough information to send your officers in without getting them killed. While another will have you laughing at a scared teenager who is high on marijuana, but with carefully enough chosen words, can eventually lead you to a drug ring bust.
It’s these layered scenarios where all is not quite as it seems on the surface that helps you gain insight into the life of a 911 dispatcher.
But once it’s over, it’s over.
The thing that I have wrestled with H.E.R.O. Unit is how much replay value it has. On the one hand, it does let you replay every call once you’ve gotten through all of them in order to unlock each ending. But at the same time, the scenarios lose quite a bit of luster once you’ve been through them already, so you’re basically left pressing whatever buttons you didn’t last time just to see what happens.
I can't help but feel that this is in large part due to the limitations of the genre. If the story is a game's main focus, of course, it's not going to hit home, in the same way, the second time through. Most people are generally looking for nuggets they missed rather than taking in the moment one line at a time, which is exactly what I was doing.
This wouldn’t normally be such a big deal if you didn’t have to invest in the game in order to play it. And here I wrestle with another issue, cost.
Yeah, but is it worth paying for?
Honestly, it depends on who you ask. On the one hand, the cost is about as low as it gets for a mobile game, requiring a one-time fee of a dollar for admission. On the other hand, there’s an overarching expectation with mobile games that they have to be free, but at the same point, H.E.R.O. Unit doesn’t slam you with ads or microtransactions, so the one dollar really is just the one dollar.
In total, I got maybe an hour’s worth of play out of H.E.R.O. Unit, so if you think a dollar for one hour is enough value for you, then I’d say go ahead and do it. After all, there are plenty of games that charge you sixty bucks for ten hours, making it a six dollars per hour proposition, so that’s one way of looking at it. The developers are expected to launch five to six more storylines in the future around March or April, but as of right now, I can really only go by the merits of what the game offers at this time.
As a fan of narrative in games, I enjoyed H.E.R.O. Unit for the very brief time that it captured my attention. That said, the fact that it’s a text adventure makes it tough to recommend to a large number of gamers. Add in the fact that there is a price of admission in a market that demands free, and that lessens the potential player base even more.
However, if you are in the market for something new, quick, and on-the-go, H.E.R.O. Unit certainly checks all of those boxes, and it will give you a good set of stories to boot. You can find H.E.R.O. Unit available now in the iOS App Store and Google Play.
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