The year is 1997. My 11-year-old self is sitting in class, trying my best to look like I’m paying attention. In truth, my mind is at home, curing patients of Bloaty Head and the Uncommon Cold, mathematics has no place in my brain right now. I count the seconds before I hear that bell ring, the bell of freedom that will release me from my current prison.
When that high-pitched alarm echoes through the hallways I grab my already packed bag, and run the 5km to my house, because it’s 1997 and kids can still do that without being kidnapped or suffering some form of emotional distress. I push the power button on my trusty Pentium 1 PC and finally get to do what I’ve been dreaming about all day, play Theme Hospital.
Theme Hospital was the very first management sim I ever played and although I’ve played some great titles in the past 2 decades including the Caesar/ Pharaoh/ Zeus franchise and the various iterations of Sid Meier’s Civilization, to name some, few have been able to compare to Theme Hospital in sheer fun factor.
Bullfrog Studios, the geniuses behind our favorite hospital sim were also responsible for masterpieces like Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park, and Populous. Unfortunately, their success drew the attention of a little company named Electronic Arts, nowadays known as EA, and if you’ve been gaming as long as I have, you know that when EA gets involved, it’s only a matter of time before things go belly-up.
It was no different with Bullfrog Studios. Their co-founder Peter Molyneux left EA soon after the merge to create another gem in the gaming world, Lionhead Studios, who would develop the classic Black & White. As expected, EA did their whole corporate thing which caused the remainder of Bullfrog Studios to cancel several of their projects until they were eventually merged into EA UK, and the name Bullfrog Studios was no more, an event which was the gamer's equivalent to the day the music died.
In 2016 Two Point Studios was brought screaming into the world by visionaries who previously worked on both Theme Hospital and Black & White. Not to repeat the sins of their fathers, Two Point Studios avoided EA and instead approached Sega as a possible partner to help them publish their games. A deal was struck in 2017 for Sega to publish an upcoming “simulation game”. Not long after, we heard whispers of a Theme Hospital remake and I could barely contain my excitement.
Today I happily report on my time playing Two Point Hospital, the spiritual successor to Theme Hospital. I say spiritual successor only because of the different names, but in actual fact, this is Theme Hospital 2.0. With so much talent behind this project, I never had a doubt that Two Point Hospital was going to be epic. I only had one question, was 20 years of anticipation too much?
The game can be bought on Steam for your regional price.
Those who've played Theme Hospital will feel like they're being welcomed home. The interface, the game mechanics, the design, even the humor in Two Point Hospital is near identical to that of its predecessor. Each level starts with you plopping down a reception desk, followed by a GP’s office, a pharmacy and some other familiar rooms. You’ll need to hire doctors, nurses, janitors and assistants, and make sure your hospital has all the facilities your patients require. Keep an eye on your finances and reputation to ensure patients keep flowing into your hospital and hopefully they’ll leave with a smile on their faces and not a tag on their toes, because this time round dead patients won’t just add a digit to your death ratio, they could also come back as ghosts and haunt your hallways. Should that happen though, a janitor with the “Ghost Busting” skill can luckily make easy work of them.
The original game introduced the world to a bunch of unique and comical illnesses which we won't soon forget. Even though I'd love to see a patient with Bloaty Head in HD, the new illnesses are equally entertaining such as Lightheadedness which sees a patient arrive with a glowing lightbulb where their head is supposed to be. Theme Hospital had patients suffering from The King Syndrom looking like Elvis Presley, now we have Freddie Mercury lookalikes who suffer from Mockstar, although I feel the fact that they didn't call this one The Queen Syndrome is just a missed opportunity. Additionally, you will no longer find your hospital infested with rats, instead, patients who suffer from Monobrow will have a giant unibrow cut from their faces and these pieces of hair tend to escape and crawl around the corridors like centipedes. You still get to shoot them with your mouse pointer though, disgusting as that sounds.
In Theme Hospital your staff kept bugging you for pay increases, a repetitive process that saw you mindlessly hitting the approve button until your finances ran out. Now though, a promotion, in addition to increasing your expenses, also improves the overall performance of your staff and gives them additional training slots. These slots can, in turn, be filled with various skills including increased diagnostic skills, bedside manner, motivation, mechanics, and so many others. Training is also no longer limited to your doctors either, but available to all staff and depending on the training course you're focussing on, you can even train doctors alongside nurses and assistants at the same time.
Furthermore, Two Point Hospital allows you to unleash your inner interior designer with a multitude of decorative options ranging from oooh to WTF. To start, you have a few basic items available like plants and drinks machines but as you progress you'll earn a secondary currency named Kudosh which allows you to purchase additional items. Some of these items serve a purely decorative purpose while others cost more to unlock but provide additional benefits. A medicine cabinet, for example, increases the diagnostic and treatment power of doctors and nurses when placed in treatment rooms, the coffee machine gives the drinker a "caffeine buzz" and the arcade machine lets your patients play some classic Sonic the Hedgehog while they wait for their appointments.
The list of unlockable items seems endless at first and makes you eager to tick all the achievement boxes in order to earn more Kudosh. You will also receive the occasional staff challenge to reward you further in this regard where you'll be asked to do things like not kill a patient for 90 days or build a level 4 toilet, which forces you to either provide a giant floor space or hang every section of the walls with posters of clowns, something I've personally always felt was missing from our public bathrooms.
Before actually starting work on your first hospital, you are presented with a map and one possible hospital location. Once you accomplish the list of goals set for that hospital, you'll earn a golden star and unlock the next location. However, instead of abandoning your creation for a newer model, you can choose to remain there to accomplish further objectives and earn more stars. Even after you've earned the maximum of 3 stars, you can continue working on each hospital until your patients are completely satisfied with their care. An additional benefit of continuing on earlier levels is that you can research new treatment rooms before you actually need them which saves you a lot of headaches later.
Each hospital located on the map provides you with a unique challenge and a steady learning curve. One hospital will only have junior staff available, forcing you to do a lot of training to get your customer service up to scratch. Another hospital is built right next to an abandoned power plant and will suffer frequent electrical storms which damage your machinery. This makes every level unique and will force you to plan out every hospital setup much more carefully to meet the requirements.
Of course, the game provides you with numerous information and statistics screens which allow you to keep an eye on your finances, staff, and patients and while these are not strictly necessary to be successful, they are useful. One aspect I particularly enjoyed was the ability to see the scores of your Steam friends on the leaderboard alongside your AI competitors.
I'll start this section with my one and only gripe about Two Point Hospital. The visuals retain the fun, cartoony look of the original game, and while this is still incredibly charming, I did see a few things that were a little too pixelated for my taste so I do feel they could have done a little more in this regard. By no means am I suggesting the models should have looked realistic, that would be absurd, but 20 years have passed after all, and computer technology has advanced greatly so I feel the visuals are lacking a certain something.
That said, I found the interface incredibly intuitive. Usually, I don't enjoy having to manipulate the view. In most games I typically choose an angle and zoom ratio and stick to that because I feel swinging the camera around unnecessarily just gets in the way but only a few minutes into my first hospital, I felt like a first-class movie director. I initially utilized the keyboard for navigation which worked great but an overactive 3-year-old constantly seeking my attention sometimes forces me to resort to playing with only one hand. Fortunately, the seamless navigational controls in Two Point Hospital made this an easy transition to the point where I don't even miss the keyboard anymore.
On the audio side of things, I am all smiles. There is a wide assortment of tranquil soundtracks which are pleasant enough when you notice them and can easily become white noise in the background without ever forcing me to turn the music down. You also get the occasional radio DJ making some obscure announcement which has yet to grow old. But most importantly, the over-friendly announcer is back with even more quirky one-liners like "Attention, don't feed the ghosts, they're dead", “Security alert, please be alert”, or “We’re sorry for the litter that you dropped on our floor”. Even though they used a different voice actor for this charming lady, hearing her do her job tugged on every one of my nostalgic heartstrings.
As far as gameplay mechanics go, Two Point Hospital doesn't do anything revolutionary but instead sticks to a tried and tested formula. Despite how that sounds, I don't mean it as a complaint because to turn a good management game into a great one requires balance. There certainly is no shortage of management sims available but very few of them are able to balance things out as well as Two Point Hospital. Add to that all the goofy elements and every moment with this game is unforgettable.
To sum up, Two Point Hospital is very much the sequel we've been waiting for these many years. When I saw the first teaser trailers I was concerned that maybe they were making it too much like Theme Hospital and not doing anything new to reignite the passion we had for the first game.
Mostly, I was correct in that Two Point Hospital is a near carbon copy of the game its based on, only with more of everything. However, my concerns were all for naught since this game is every bit as addictive as the original.
Just like my 11-year-old self couldn't wait to get home from school and start playing, today I have the same sentiments about finishing work. I could have finished this review days ago but I simply couldn't pull myself away from the game long enough to put pen to paper. This is the kind of experience that turned me into a hardcore gamer.
In my many years of gaming, few games have had me so glued to my screen as Two Point Hospital. It is a worthy successor to one of the greatest management sims ever made, and one of those rare games that will have you promise yourself to go to bed in 5 minutes, only to look up a moment later, and be surprised to see the sun coming up. Now, if you'll excuse me, a doctor is required in the GP's office.