Two Point Hospital
In the 1990s Bullfrog, then headed by the legendary Peter Molyneux, released a string of highly successful and often imitated titles. Reeling them off is to reminisce on some classics from Syndicate and Dungeon Keeper to Theme Park and Theme Hospital. Some of them had some simple mechanics but could be devilishly difficult to master. I fondly remember playing Theme Hospital as a teenager but equally I remember being particularly awful at it. Once I got through the first few levels, the difficulty ramped up to the point where fourteen-year-old me just couldn’t keep up. Clearly my managerial capabilities weren’t up to snuff but I still enjoyed the inane humour and the wonderfully silly illnesses.
It’s been twenty-one years since Theme Hospital’s release in 1997 and now we have its spiritual successor in the shape of Two Point Hospital, developed by Two Point Studios who, among its founders, include Mark Webley and Gary Carr. Those names won’t mean much to most people but they were the producer and artist respectively on Theme Hospital. It’s no surprise then that, as soon as you start things off in your first hospital, memories of its forebear come flooding back. From the planting of that first receptionist desk to the hiring of that first employee everything just feels oh-so familiar. It wasn’t long before we were battling queues for our GPs office and trying our best to get those vermin scurrying around our hospital in our crosshairs.
That being said there have been plenty of changes, not least of all visually. Theme Hospital had a wonderfully cartoonish style and it’s great to see that carried on into Two Point Hospital. Built on the Unity engine the art style is fun and colourful. Animations are fluid and watching my virtual medical professionals carry out their duties is rather enjoyable. Unlike its predecessor, you can zoom right in on the action if you want to and watch the medical procedures take place. One of our favourites being for “light-headedness” where lightbulb heads are removed and their new ones are created and fitted. If only this was available with the bloaty head clinic back in the day.
First and foremost though, both games are management sims and make no mistake, Two Point Hospital can be relentless. It helps to think of each hospital as a business and it’s a mistake to try and cure everyone. In many of our hospitals we found ourselves overrun, scrambling to build more rooms to take the pressure off others. Hiring doctors, nurses, assistants and janitors like they were going out of fashion and all because we weren’t thinking as a business. If you’re canny and set prices at a reasonable level you’re then able to keep the number of walk-ins down which in turn means fewer queues and a better cure percentage.
These stats are important for two reasons. Firstly, the better your hospital and the higher its reputation, the more people want to go there to be cured. Secondly, despite lacking any actual multiplayer, you’re also competing against your friends’ hospitals. Every so often our helpful (but sometimes annoying) assistant would pop up and tell us that our hospital value was less than our friends’ and how we should be more like them. We were then dropped a challenge by another friend to see who could cure the most patients which, if we were successful would earn us kudosh.
Kudosh is the in-game currency and is used to unlock more items to use in your hospital. Their impact ranges from the merely decorative to those that raise the prestige of the room that they reside in. This is important as the staff who work in your hospital must be kept happy if you want them to be engaged and cure your patients. Other things, including the temperature of your hospital and the availability of snacks and water are other important cogs you must respect so as to increase the star level of the various hospitals you take charge of.
Much like the original, Two Point Hospital splits its single-player mode into levels, each presenting us with a specific set of goals. These are pretty straightforward in the beginning, like curing a set number of patients. Later hospitals introduce new mechanics like research that are then tied to the targets you must reach to hit a one-star rating. Once you obtain your first star you are then set new goals to get two and then finally the third star. If you make it all the way to three stars you are rewarded with things including upgrades to existing kit. Going back to thinking of your hospital as a business, the better kit you have, the quicker and more accurate your diagnosis is and therefore the more people you can cure and make money from.
However, deaths can and do happen. If so, you better hope one of your janitors has the ghost-catching skill as with each death there’s a chance they will haunt your hospital, scaring your customers and leaving ectoplasm all over the place. Alongside the ‘monobeasts’ that replace Theme Hospital’s rats, keeping your hospital clean and welcoming can get tricky, especially if all you have to brighten up the place (because you’ve spent your kudosh elsewhere) with the same plant everywhere you can fit it. What’s odd though, is that no matter how many drinking fountains, snack machines, magazine stands and other amenities you provide, patients will still leave angry that they couldn’t find anything. No matter how or where we placed these items we’d have a few patients leave in a huff. Hopefully it’s just a tweak needed somewhere, but that’s not the only AI problem.
Patients weeing in the halls aside, we’ve had more than one of them stuck outside a door with repeated messages from our advisor telling us their pathway is blocked. We tried everything from moving the room he was stuck leaving, to making it bigger so that he was inside, all in the hope it would help move him on. Nothing worked and even though the game said he’d been there for 319 days without a toilet break or something to eat, he wouldn’t die or move. Even stranger was the fact that other patrons were able to come and go as they pleased around the poor chap almost as if he wasn’t there.
Our doctors also seemed to have issues staying on task or even staying in the room we dropped them in. On more than one occasion our newly hired staff member would be placed in the room we just built only to wander off and make a beeline either for the staffroom or another location requiring their skills. Hopefully these little bugs will be ironed out over time and none of them are game breaking, more disappointing and frustrating more than anything else.
Thankfully though, during those frustrating times, you’re constantly supported, and hopefully amused by Two Point Radio, the fictional radio station of our setting. With more than one DJ present things are kept relatively fresh and the soundtrack isn’t half bad either. Each song played generally has an amusing title and each of the DJs have distinct personalities one of them being reminiscent of Steven Wright in Reservoir Dogs. Dry to the core but oh-so amusing.
As you progress through the levels things do start to get a bit repetitive but then that can’t be too much of a surprise. Every hospital will have the same components but some may find this to be a turn off, especially when you consider there’s no sandbox mode of any description. Others, however, may use each new hospital as a fresh start and a chance to try new layouts and strategies. The longevity here is in the hands of the player and if you’re anything like us you’ll be sucked in trying to get three stars for each hospital before moving on. For us, the investment in getting each hospital there kept us going and, upon success, looked forward to starting the next level using the lessons learned from our last one in the hope we’d get there quicker.
Two Point Hospital is Theme Hospital in all but name. It has some of the original team behind it, the same quirky humour and comic art style is all there but it’s been updated to make it more forgiving and easier to players. Placing rooms and ordering kit is much more straightforward and the variation of rooms and injuries far greater and still as funny. Two Point Hospital would, however, benefit from at least an extra game mode or two and if we could get the ability to copy rooms, that would be great. Negatives and niggles aside though, Two Point Hospital doesn’t just rely on its nostalgia factor. It’s a competent management sim that brings a much-loved classic into modern times all the while showing that the original formula was already pretty much perfect.
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