LGR – Theme Hospital – DOS PC Game Review

[typing] OK, internet. Let me clear something up. SimHealth and Theme Hospital are
about as different as two games can get. Both are mid-’90s computer simulations
that happen to deal with healthcare, but that’s where the similarities end. The fact of the matter is that
SimHealth is about as exciting as reading over a list of mathematical assumptions, and Theme Hospital is like
candy-coated laughter in a box. Yes, Theme Hospital is great, being developed by the Pluto development
team at Bullfrog Productions in 1997. This version was designed for
MS-DOS and Windows 95 PCs, and there was also a PlayStation port, but I’ll be showing the DOS version here. “You’re in charge of a very sick hospital,”
states the fold-out box cover, teasing you with the delightful diseases and
haphazard hijinks you’ll encounter while playing. As stated on the back of the box,
it’s made by many of the same people who created 1994’s humorous
simulation game Theme Park, and even labels itself as the sequel. And while that’s somewhat
true, it’s a bit misleading, as you won’t be dealing with any
roller coasters or bouncy castles here. What you will be dealing with is made quite obvious inside the small but thorough
manual packed inside the box. It’s got all the information you’ll need to start the game, including details of every detail of every button and interaction in the game, and even a “Getting Started” tutorial. Really, the game is easy enough to dive
into without having to read all of this, but it’s nice to have when making
offerings to the porcelain god. The game starts off with a CGI intro video showing who the box art refers to as Dr. Groper going about his daily routine at the hospital. Playing video games, smacking nurses, operating with chainsaws, and showing a general disregard
for the patients’ well-being. Sounds a lot like another doctor I know of, actually. You’re then met with the animated main menu, where you’ll be able to start a
new game, load a saved game, continue the last game, or quit while you’re ahead. Starting a new game provides you
with the new game starting screen, where you can choose your difficulty, video resolution, and whether or not this is your first time playing, choosing “Yes” for First Game will
have you go through a guided tutorial showing you the gameplay basics. If you’ve played games like Theme Park,
SimCoaster, or Roller Coaster Tycoon, then you probably won’t need to
do this, but it’s still not a bad idea. Next you’ll be shown a board game which represents the various challenges
you will face in Theme Hospital. Each space on the board is a different
scenario or level that you’ll play, and each are played sequentially
until you’ve beaten the game. Then you’ll actually start the game and you’ll be greeted with your current level, some cheery music, and the user interface. The graphics have a bright, colorful aesthetic, are all isometric and grid-based, and are quite pleasing to look at. And the eight musical compositions
in the game are fun to listen to, even after hearing each of them for the hundredth time. Although, thankfully, you can disable it completely. And the UI is clean and efficient, with all the information you’ll
need at the bottom of the screen. You also have a more traditional drop-
down menu section at the top of the screen, in case you prefer to stay on top, rather than on bottom. All of this helps set the tone for what is overall a
very light-hearted and enjoyable gaming experience. Each scenario starts you off with
an empty building or set of buildings which will become your hospital. You’re given a set of objectives to complete, and from here it’s up to you on how to complete them. If you lose track of what to do, don’t worry, You’ll have an omnipresent advisor
popping up during normal gameplay like a friggin’ jack-in-the-box, so help is never far away,
whether you want it or not. For you really get started,
it’s always a good idea to get a few basics out of
the way, like a reception desk, general practitioner’s office, general diagnosis room, maybe some benches and plants, and, of course, some hospital staff, to take care of the various activities. Once you are ready, or the timer
on the left of the screen runs out, the hospital will be open for business and patients will soon start making their way inside. For the most part, you can
take things at your own pace, placing new rooms, items and staff
members as you come to need them. But, of course, planning ahead
is also part of the game, so you’ll want to go ahead and
start augmenting your hospital as soon as you find the money and the time. You’ll start things off with a certain amount of cash, but you know how money is:
before too long, you’ll run out of it. So, of course, earning more is a big part of the game. There is a banker that you can
use to take out loans and stuff, but he’s a last resort and he looks kind of creepy, so avoid this screen at all costs. The other main resource to keep track of is reputation. This is the general feeling of the outside
world regarding your current hospital and though you can’t see them,
there are other hospitals around, so you do want to stand out from the rest. If people hate you, they won’t come inside, they won’t get treated,
and you won’t get paid. This is where your obsessive
micromanagement skills come into play. Just like Theme Park, people
will come into your little world with very specific needs that need attending to. Things like thirst, body temperature,
punctuality, comfort, and, of course, some kind of horrible affliction that needs curing. [PA: Doctor required in Inflator Room.] These are all pretty self-explanatory, and can mostly be taken care of by providing enough skilled staff members
and properly placed items. What isn’t always clear is how to take
care of the numerous made-up diseases. All of these are humorous and very memorable, like “bloaty head,” where the patient’s head is overinflated due to sniffing cheese and drinking unpurified water. It’s cured by building an inflation room, popping the head of the patient, then re-inflating it to the proper size. [crowd cheering] Another is “slack tongue,” where the patient’s tongue swells
to five times the normal size due to talking too much about soap operas. You’ll need to place a slicer machine in order to cut off the tongue quickly and painfully. Other diseases aren’t so straightforward to cure, like “invisible man syndrome.” This is taken care of by an x-ray
machine and an invisibility drug, but until your staff know this,
you can’t do anything about it. So another big part of the gameplay is
deciding what to do in situations like this. Every so often, you’ll get a fax about a weird disease or something that needs your immediate attention. Each possible decision can drastically affect the reputation of your hospital for better or worse. Sometimes this’ll be as simple as trying a drug
on a person without a complete diagnosis, which could cause the patient to die and the Grim Reaper to pay a visit. Obviously, this hurts your reputation a wee bit. Other times, the fax will ask whether or not you want to accept a bunch of
patients in an emergency situation. This will cause a ton of people to come in at once and a lot of stress on your hospital, but if you cure them all,
you’ll get a nice bump to your reputation. There are other events like
epidemics, earthquakes, and rats, which will cause more trouble, and depending
on how quick and well you remedy them, you’ll get another nice reputation boost. So all of these things have a nice
risk vs. reward mechanic going on. In preparation for this, you’ll
also need to hire researchers to research research in the research room. These guys will seek out new and wonderful
technologies, cures and improvements to help smooth things over and give you new abilities. You’ll frequently get patients with weird diseases who will need a researcher to
find out what’s wrong with them. Otherwise, you’ll have to either turn them away or try weird drugs on them and
hope they don’t keel over on the spot. And before too long, you’ll run
out of room in the hospital, so you’re given the option to expand the place to other buildings, if you have the cash. And this brings me to one of my
very few complaints about the game, and that is the room sizes. When you’re placing a new room, it will
turn blue to tell you it’s the proper size. But for some reason, certain
shapes of rooms are not OK, even if they contain what should be enough tiles. This results in what seems like wasted space to me, and often I have to expand to another building just to get another basic diagnosis room or something. I know this is part of the strategy of the game, but this arbitrary room size and shape
wasn’t really explained, and it annoys me. The rest of Theme Hospital is like a
really involved game of Whack-A-Mole. Every several seconds, there’s something
that’s going to need your attention, whether it’s making a call on an unknown disease, dealing with an emergency, hiring new staff, building new rooms, or dealing with the demands of veteran staff members. And good grief, these guys never shut up! It seems like every time I turn around, these dudes are demanding a raise
by the end of the month or they’ll resign. These guys are insatiable. The doctors, the nurses,
even the freakin’ janitors. I wish there was an “auto-approve
raises” option or something because having to deal with this
starts to grate on you quickly and does nothing to make the game more enjoyable. Another thing that really gets on my
nerves is the actions of the staff AI, or rather their complete inaction half the time. Way too often, it seems like they’re in the
wrong place or ignoring their duties completely, no matter how skilled they supposedly are. And you’ll have to physically grab
them and place them somewhere to get them to do anything at all. And during emergency situations,
this gets incredibly tedious and made me want to fire everyone, which I guess I could do,
but that’s even less productive. Once you’ve finally balanced all
of this and reached your goals, you’ll get a cutscene asking if
you’d like to finish the current scenario. Accept and you’ll go back to the game board. If you fail, you are a failure and are shown one of the several
somewhat disturbing game over videos. [camera click] [violins crescendo] But yeah, if you’re successful,
you’ll move on to another hospital, start the process all over again and yeah, yeah, yeah. While this is par for the course
for these “Theme” games, it can get a bit depressing to leave a
well-tuned and prosperous hospital, not to mention it gets VERY
repetitious in the later levels. This is both good and bad, and,
of course, it’s the point of the game, so you have to take it or leave it. At least each hospital is unique enough with
its own problems, diseases and disasters. So even though it starts to wear out
its welcome after several hours, it’s still fun to come back to
later on and start all over again. Theme Hospital is still a fantastic
game and a timeless classic. Due to its essentially flawless
combination of quirky British humor, well-drawn graphics and addicting gameplay, I think it stands the test of time rather well. It’s unfortunate that some of
the later levels are so infuriating due to the AI and repetition of certain actions, though. Ah, well, the PC version of the
game is great fun while it lasts, and I totally recommend it. If you could track down a copy of this one, just go out, grab an old PC, or play it on
your modern computer with DOSBox. You will not regret it. [MIDI music plays to the end]

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