The healthcare system is something we all interact with at some point in our lives. For many of us that relationship starts at birth and will end when we shuffle off the mortal coil. For others, it is a constant in our life whether through relying on it for help, or through working in it. Personally, I’m engaged with it day in and day out, having experienced various roles within the NHS from the front desk to service management. Fall of Porcupine is a game that explores peoples’ relationship with healthcare, both the good and the bad.
In Fall of Porcupine you play as Finley, a recently qualified junior doctor whose first role is at St Ursula’s, the main hospital of the small, quaint town of Porcupine. Finley is a pigeon which is not out of the ordinary in this world as all the inhabitants are animals. Fellow newbie doctor Mia is an actual cow while their lead consultant is a snow leopard. There are a whole host of characters to meet both in Porcupine and within St Ursula’s too, with some of them becoming friends with Finley while others will take a dislike to him due to what he represents to some folk; not everyone is happy with the hospital.
The gameplay varies between exploring Porcupine and interacting with the inhabitants, along with doing shifts at the hospital to take care of patients. Things do not get off to a good start for Finley as he gets injured on his first day, but soon enough he is up and ready to help the sick. During a shift you are given three patients to look after. To look after them you go to their rooms, talk to them about their ailment, and then play a minigame. There are only a few of these but they each have different ways to play them. For example, one is a quick time event where you are to press the right button as a printout scrolls along the screen, and another is picking the right symbols in the right order. You will also manage doses by adding and subtracting from colour bars, holding different buttons on your controller together, which sounds simple. However, some of the combinations needed mean you have to put your hands in awkward positions, and there seemed to be some input lag. The input lag also seemed to affect the quick time game.
Outside of St Ursula’s there are other activities and events to take part in, but you may not see all of them in an initial playthrough as some nights you will have to choose who Finley hangs out with. The activities here including a basketball score attack, dancing to distract people, and even a bit of turn-based combat. The developers have gone out to try and make things as varied as possible in Fall of Porcupine, so I only wish there was a bit more time to take part in more of the activities during the 7.5-hour playtime, and getting to know the inhabitants. Some of the threads just end without a real resolution once the credits roll.
That said, Fall of Porcupine’s central story is good. It starts off with Finley eager and excited to get to work, and Porcupine itself seems like the kind of town you can take it easy. However, the toll of working in healthcare hits Finley, with the events at St Ursula’s unearthing the pain and anger of Porcupine’s residents. There are moments of calm and hope, with Finley taking care of his patients as best he can, but Fall of Porcupine does not shy away from the realities of working in a hospital, including the death of patients. The game also touches on other issues that plague healthcare systems, like the lack of beds, something myself and thousands of others will be familiar with when working on bed flow plans to admit and discharge patients. The game also looks at underfunding and facilities not being maintained as they should, leading to compromises that can lead to inefficient patient care.
Fall of Porcupine runs well generally and the artwork is something that really stands out, consistently looking great. The soundtrack is also really memorable, especially the main theme. However, the game is not without bugs and some story points being in the wrong order. For example, in one scene Finley greets someone as if he has met them before, but in a later scene he introduces himself to this same character for the first time while treating them at the hospital. There was also a time where one character repeated lines from a previous cutscene when speaking to them, again making no sense as the story had moved on. They don’t detract too much from the game itself, but they’re annoying nonetheless.