I should point something out straight from the off: it is impossible to play Sega’s new sim release, Two Point Hospital, without harking back to its spiritual predecessor, Theme Hospital, by Bullfrog Productions.
As much as I wanted to be neutral and objective in writing this review, I can’t. Theme Hospital was one of the first games I truly loved as a child and it holds a special place in my heart. It was my introduction to management games and back in 1997 nine-year-old me loved Theme Hospital‘s pixelated graphics, gameplay and jukebox music. It was a gateway game which greatly influenced my preferences today.
I recently re-played Theme Hospital and realised how dated it now is, unsurprisingly for a 21-year-old game. So when adverts for Two Point Hospital appeared, I got just a little excited. Finally it had happened. The updated hospital sim that I had been waiting for was finally being created and, from what the trailers showed, it had retained all the silliness and medical humour that made Theme Hospital popular. Even more exciting was the news that some of the original Theme Hospital team were on board.
One thing we expect from modern games is good graphics. Two Point Hospital does a great job of keeping to a simple yet polished, bubbly cartoon style. This works well as, due to the subject matter, it’s probably best not to have realistic gore flying around. The comical illnesses and injuries all have wacky cures and treatments which are animated effectively and entertainingly, as are the staff and patients themselves. It’s fun to just zoom in and focus on a few rooms at a time. You can tell the developers have gone to a lot of effort to create smooth, enjoyable visuals, with great success. There are so many hidden details, I’m sure I’ll be finding new things for quite a while.
You can also tell that the developers have had a lot of fun creating the new illnesses, my favourites so far being Turtle Head – the patient’s head is somehow a tiny, turtle peeking over their collar, and Animal Magnetism – patients with cat/dog/rabbit-type creatures statically stuck all-over their clothes.
There are a wide variety of illnesses and injuries to treat as your progress through the game’s many different levels, and I’m impressed by the range and originality of content. It would have been easy to simply update or modify the original ideas from Theme Hospital, but Two Point has endeavoured to break into new grounds with great success. It’s pure, pun-tastic fun, which has elicit many chuckles and groans as new illnesses are discovered. Alongside the treatments there is also a raft of new items for each room and for the hospital in general. Due to the importance of levelling up room prestige, I recommend unlocking these early on to improve your hospital’s rating.
Although Two Point Hospital does attempt to carve a new style, there are content crossovers which are inevitable when making a simulation. The announcements and music are wonderfully reminiscent of Theme Hospital, although there is a new addition in the form of a rather self-centred DJ. You can still train staff to improve their skills and research new, more effective diagnostics and treatments. You have to ensure machines are kept well maintained, staff are happy, and carefully balance your finances to avoid being in the red. The gameplay mechanics are incredibly close to Theme Hospital which makes for comforting initiation, but there are also definite improvements. Creating rooms and moving objects seems easier and there are a variety of visual filters which greatly assist running your hospital effectively. It’s always handy to be able to see at a glance which patients are about to have an untimely meeting with the Reaper. Although there isn’t a reaper any-more, but there are ghosts instead.
One thing crucial thing that is missing from this game is the level of micromanagement which was available in Theme Hospital. I miss being able to set my own criteria for diagnostics and the single most frustrating failure of Two Point Hospital is the unmanageable queues outside of rooms, especially GP’s Offices. Quite often you will find a patient with a 100% diagnosis, yet they still have to go back to the GP for confirmation, causing ridiculous queues. You can get around this by accessing queues and choosing on a case by case basis how to proceed with each patient, but this is time consuming and frustrating. Subsequently I spend a lot of time managing queues, sending 90% and above patients directly for treatment, in the vain hope of reducing waiting times. In Theme Hospital, it was possible to set the ‘auto-treat’ level to what you wanted, although risking killing the patient with an incorrect diagnostic, but that was better than having a large amount of patients dying in a 11-person queue, just to see the GP for confirmation.
One quick way to combat this is to build a lot of GP offices, but this depletes your income, leaving you with an unhealthy bank balance. Another is focusing heavily on training doctors and nurses with advanced diagnostic skills, improving their chances of an efficient appointment. Finally I recommend upgrading diagnostic machines as soon as possible. I hope there will be an update at some point to either resolve this bottle-necking issue or to add in some form of player controlled function as currently, when your hospital gets big, you feel like you need a real assistant just to watch the queues for you.
Another issue I have is, as far as I can tell, there doesn’t seem to be anyway to lose. I have had some terrible hospitals with massive amounts of debt, people dying in corridors and strange little pests living under all the benches and bins, but not one of my doctors has gone crazy and started drinking in the toilets. No health inspector has barged in and shut me down. I’m not really complaining as Theme Hospital got ridiculously difficult in later levels, but there was definitely a greater sense of peril which is missing in Two Point Hospital.
Despite these minor issues, overall Two Point Hospital is a triumph. It successfully lives up to my heavily stacked expectations and provides plenty of originality and humour. If all my childhood favourites can be re-made and given a new lease of life, in the way Two Point Hospital has for Theme Hospital, I would happily buy them all.
What We Thought
- Entertaining graphics and animation
- Plenty of levels and replay value
- Tongue-in-cheek humour
- Impossible to lose
- Gameplay sometimes feels unbalanced