War Hospital Review
Have you ever bought a game that you thought you would love, and then played it and realised that you hated it? For better or worse, I never have until I booted up War Hospital. Although technically I didn’t purchase it (three cheers for review copies!), it looked like the type of title that I would enjoy and probably put on Jump Dash Roll’s game of the year awards come next January. On paper, it’s essentially Frostpunk set in World War One, with some elements that wouldn’t be out of place in All Quiet on the Western Front or the old television show MASH. So, again on paper, it should be a prolifically anti-war game with engaging gameplay and a unique story, which means that as a man who has written something like half a dozen articles on the role of conflict in interactive entertainment, I should’ve adored it. But the issue is that War Hospital’s gameplay isn’t engaging, its story isn’t unique, and while it does showcase the harsh realities of the war to end all wars, it doesn’t do so in a way that makes it worth playing.
Like I said previously, War Hospital is, at its core, very similar to 11 bit studios’ more notable games. You play as an administrator of a field hospital on the Western Front of World War One who is tasked with keeping the place running, improving its buildings, ensuring all of your staff are well-fed and in a decent mood, managing its assorted resources, and, most importantly, deciding the order in which patients are treated or if they’re treated at all. This is all to say that the title is, outside of its unique setting, a relatively standard basebuilder with some light survival elements thrown in for good measure. You have a finite amount of supplies, and so you’ll need to carefully choose which buildings you want to upgrade, what soldiers are worth operating on, when you need to cut food rations, and where your limited number of doctors, nurses and troops should be assigned.
All of these things should in theory work together to make for an interesting if not especially fun title, but the issue with War Hospital is that there just isn’t a lot of complexity to any of its core gameplay systems, and there are far too many ways to softlock yourself out of progressing further into its bland main story. The former is the substantially bigger problem, because once you figure out how its mechanics work, there’s little reason to deviate from whatever playstyle you settle on. It’s not especially difficult to deduce how to minimise the number of patients who die in surgery or what improvements are a waste of your assets, and as soon as you do, the title’s unique setting and concept of forcing you to decide which soldiers are worth saving becomes little more than set dressing for an experience that isn’t all that special.
However, even when you become proficient at managing your clinic, it’s still extraordinarily easy to screw yourself over and get a game over screen. If, for example, the base’s morale drops below a certain threshold or you don’t devote enough of the troops you saved to protecting your outpost, the powers that be will find someone else in-game to take over control of the hospital, and you’ll be forced to reload a previous save if you want to keep playing. When that happens, and if you decide you want to experience more of the title, you’ll be forced to spend hours playing through the aforementioned banal gameplay, and you can’t even accelerate time to any notable degree. The minute-to-minute gameplay of War Hospital simply isn’t very appealing after the first third of its 20-odd-hour runtime, and so replaying anything after that part of it is more-or-less akin to being in purgatory. It doesn’t help matters that the title doesn’t have much in the way of an entertaining narrative, because although there are some storylines and cutscenes, the characters in them aren’t unique and are almost entirely one-dimensional.
For all of its faults, though, War Hospital’s main redeeming quality is that it manages to convey the same anti-war sentiment as the likes of All Quiet on the Western Front, because it turns the conflict into what is essentially a numbers game. Whenever you finish treating a patient, you need to choose whether to send them to shore up your base’s defences, send them back to headquarters or release them from active service, with each option providing a specific resource that you need. The higher a soldier’s rank, though, the more resources you get from them, and so it quickly becomes important for you to devote all of your energy to ensuring that those troops are properly managed while not worrying about anyone who is a Private or Corporal. This isn’t at all interesting from a gameplay perspective, but it is from an introspective one, as the more you play, the more apathetic you become towards virtual death and your virtual surroundings.
So, all told, then, War Hospital is wonderful when played as piece of peacenik media, but just isn’t a good video game. Its repetitive and uninspired gameplay loop and lack of a strong main story isn’t terrible, but given the overabundance of titles with similar loops and much more engaging elements makes this one a tough sell. If you’re looking for a title that will make you depressed and very grateful you were born after the age of large-scale conventional conflicts, it’s worth picking up, but otherwise, This War of Mine, Torn Away, and even Wargame: Red Dragon all scratch the same proverbial itch and are exponentially more enjoyable.
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