For reasons we'll not bore you with, over the last few years we've spent more than our fair share of time sitting in hospital waiting rooms. During those interminable waits, it's easy to marvel at the dedication of the staff as they buzz around you, doing their very best to keep people alive, make them more comfortable, and provide them with the care they need to get home. More than once we've wondered about the logistics involved in coordinating such a huge and important operation, and now after having played the opening levels of Two Point Hospital, we've been given the chance to find out for ourselves.
Readers of a certain age may well have played Theme Hospital, the medically-inclined Bullfrog sim that released more than 20 years ago on PC and PlayStation. It was part of what many consider to be a golden age of simulations, where the same studio made all-time classics such as Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper. Two Point Hospital comes from much the same place, with designer Mark Webley once again grabbing his stethoscope and returning to the sub-genre that he first examined all those years ago. A lot of time has passed since those first games, so we'll keep the comparisons to a minimum, but it's fair to say that Two Point Hospital is a spiritual successor to the popular original in terms of both style and tone.
Bullfrog's simulations were characterised by their charming personalities. Whether you were building rollercoasters or controlling hellish minions, the studio came to be defined by its playful approach. Theme Hospital was no different, and that playfulness has carried on over to Two Point Hospital. To be fair, this is one of those games that benefit from being a little bit silly, as nobody (well, not many people) wants to play a morbid game that realistically depicts life and death on a hospital ward. Instead of doom and gloom, here we're treated to tongue-in-cheek conditions like "lightheadedness", a dreadful affliction whereby patients walk into your hospital with giant lightbulbs where their heads should be.
These quirky illnesses and conditions all feed into the comedic tone of the game, and everything from the usually witty and amusing narrator and perky soundtrack through to the colourful visuals ensure a game that treats its subject matter with a lightness of touch. The visuals, in particular, are cartoony and characterful, and even when (not if) a character dies in the game, instead of grim scenes filled with blood, gore and wailing relatives, the ex-patient turns into a ghost and you'll need to hire a janitor who can deal with the resultant ectoplasm. When it comes to cleaning up after the dead, who you gonna call?
The comedy angle is, in our humble opinion, pitched just right, and we have to say that we found ourselves charmed during our admittedly brief introduction to the game. The demo sent over by publisher Sega included three different scenarios, each one introducing you to the basics needed to build and then manage a thriving hospital. It's actually not as simple as you might think considering the cutesy visuals, and there's a lot to balancing to be done if you're going to be a successful hospital administrator.
Many of the people reading this will be used to free healthcare of some kind, but the citizens of Two Point County aren't lucky enough to enjoy the same priveledges, and therefore they have to pay hand over fist if they're going to get the care they need to keep them tickety-boo. They don't seem to mind too much though, and if you provide them with the facilities they require in a timely fashion, they'll cough up the money you need to further expand your drug-fuelled empire.
Setting up your hospital is pretty intuitive, and the opening levels do a good job of taking you through the basics. We found ourselves confused on a couple of occasions, and the screen is quite busy and we missed some of the instructional text boxes that popped-up with helpful information from time to time. That said, the UI still manages to be pretty straightforward and after a few minutes we had sussed out the fundamentals. It's a gentle learning curve and we appreciated that, and despite the life and death subject matter, we enjoyed easing into the experience.
Rooms can be positioned all over the hospital space, which in the opening levels is laid out for you in advance. You'll need to drop a reception to greet patients and then plop down a doctor's office to diagnose them. Elsewhere a psychiatry office will help locals deal with their mental health issues, and if you've got enough patients you might need a ward for some of them to sleep in. Throw in some benches for people to sit on and vending machines crammed with snacks to keep them fed, and you've got lots of things to add to your medical facility and, honestly, we've only just scratched the surface. There seem to be lots of flexibility too, and you can tweak rooms by adding furnishings and so on.
Once you've built your various rooms you've got to staff them, putting the right people in the right facilities to keep your patients happy and, well, alive. There were a couple of deceased patients during our time with the demo, and we weren't always clear how to treat their respective conditions before they turned into ghosts, but we're hoping that with a bit more time in medical school, we'll be better equipped to understand what's happening. That's going to be particularly important as the hospitals get bigger in scale; with so much going on at the same time, players are going to pay careful attention if they want to keep (nearly) everyone alive.
Don't be fooled by Two Point Hospital's playful exterior, there's a deep and engaging simulation waiting to be explored. We've only experienced the start of the game and what it has to offer, and time will tell whether its charming style has enough to sustain itself over the long term. We're hopeful, though, and based on our time with the demo, the prognosis is good.
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