Two Point Hospital Review
It's been more than twenty years since Theme Hospital first hit PC, arriving in March of '97. It was well received for the most part and sold millions before hitting the Playstation a year later. With success like that it wasn't unreasonable to expect Theme Hospital 2 or at least another entry into the "Theme" series. As it turned out, that hope never came to fruition and, for a long time, it felt a lot like fun management games gave way to increasing realism and attempts to simulate businesses rather than make games of them. Years passed with only a couple of pretenders to the hospital management throne arriving, each failing to scratch the itch and being forgotten about with little fanfare.
Now though, after a precarious period of wonder over whether it would destroy a lot of dusty old nostalgia goggles or give fans a long awaited dose of hospital themed entertainment, victorious trumpets ought to be blaring because Two Point Hospital has arrived in fine fettle.
With career mode being the be all, end all of the game, the first job of any budding hospital manager is to build the place itself, of course. The campaign kicks off with a level designed to introduce the uninitiated to the basics - how to build a room, which staff will work there and hiring them. Build a GP's office and a pharmacy, staff them and start treating people. In no time things are heating up though as more room types unlock, patients with stranger diseases wander into your care and the act of juggling various demands and challenges truly begins.
That routine of escalating complexity is likely to be standard fare for those who play a variety of management games, and for the most part it is, but the tools on offer and the quality of the interface really elevate Two Point Hospital. The act of laying down a new staff room, for example, is strangely compelling in a way that distracts from potential familiarity. The room building tool has some lovely quality of life enhancements compared to a majority of building games, allowing you to edit a room once you've initially finished with it, adding or removing space, placing items or picking up the whole room and moving it elsewhere. It's an ideal solution to an old problem that many building games struggle with and it's a pleasure to be able to switch out a poorly placed room for something better without just destroying everything and starting over. The only thing I can think of to improve the building tool further would be copying and pasting so that building a second GP's office or pharmacy becomes as simple as cloning an already existing room, it'd save a lot of time otherwise spent placing decorative items.
As you progress through levels, the complexity creeps higher and higher. Stages are themed so that as new ideas are presented, you're tasked with demonstrating the ability to react to them and solve the specific problems of that location. Within the first five levels you'll be set about training fresh faced student doctors and nurses, researching new treatments and diagnosis tools via the research room and trying to cope with earthquakes in an area where the local population are seemingly as likely to break a bone as catch a cold. From there things escalate further, eventually making you manage with tiny budgets, limited space and endlessly pressing crises. This choice helps each level from turning into a rote routine of building the same rooms in the same order and waiting to win where they could easily have become little more than a series of high score challenges.
In terms of looks, Two Point Hospital isn't likely to wow, but it functions beautifully, even at very low settings. The cartoon style scales well with different systems and, while effects like shadows and anti-aliasing are nice, the game itself is just as much fun with or without smooth edges or flourishes of lighting effects.
The most problematic medical conditions you'll be dealing with have silly effects and amusing animations that really draw the eye. Clowns roam freely, men and women with light bulbs for heads queue alongside unfortunate sufferers of Pandemic, aka having a cooking pan stuck on your head. It's a great way to both add some much needed flavour to the crowds wandering between your various rooms and let players know which treatments are in high demand.
Musically, Two Point Hospital is both a nostalgic treat and, for some, may eventually become a torture. Taking very clear inspiration from it's forefather, the soundtrack is a mix of light ambiance and trumpy, slightly absurd sounding jingles that wouldn't be completely out of place in an elevator. Perhaps it's the result of long play sessions, but after hearing the tracks rotate a few times in one sitting, I found them starting to grate. A handful more tunes to mix things up a bit would have been nice, but ultimately the music does fit the game perfectly and it's always possible to turn it off when it becomes too much.
Oddly for a single player management game, there are multiplayer challenges available so you can see which of your peers can cure the most patients, train the most staff or earn the most research points, among other things. Over the course of the challenge, limited to 180 in game days, the game tracks your stats and actions so that once you've challenged a friend they'll be able to see exactly when and how you got your score. It's a nice way to extend the lifespan of the game, giving those with a case of Two Point addiction reason to go back to previous levels and maximize their hospital's output as well as share strategies.
Two Point Hospital has ultimately delivered on it's promise of being a modern update to the Theme Hospital formula and has hopefully served as a reminder to the industry that dour, serious management games aren't the be all, end all and that throwing in some humour can really elevate a game. Hints from the Two Point team of further games covering other industries, potentially even linking together in some meaningful way, have me anticipating more silly antics to come. I can't help but imagine how much fun Two Point Transportation or Two Point Prison might be and hope.