Following on from the massive hit of last year, Theme Hospital is the next in line in Bullfrog's Designer Series, and just like Theme Park, the game is full of options and heavy on the humour. Players can choose the location, period in time, structure, appearance and specialisation of their hospital - in fact, just about anything they like. There's'just one condition: it's got to make money.
Before you start to make rather droll comparisons with current Tory policy on the NHS, let me add that it's all in the same cartoony-graphic style (except this time it's in hi-res), and players must turn their miniclinic into the biggest, most sophisticated and profitable hospital ever. Theme Hospital is due for release in spring 1996. Waiting lists permitting.
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NOBODY likes hospitals - except for the kind of weird people addicted to Casualty and ER. The sort that not only slow down when passing a car crash, but also get out, prod the wounds with a stick and take tourist snaps of protruding bones. The genius of Bullfrog's 1997 follow-up to Theme Park (back when all the talent had yet to leave to start off their own companies) was to turn all the pain and misery of hospitals on its head and combine pathologically addictive gameplay with funny ideas and a colourful presentation that never feels too childish.
The premise follows the basic blueprint that dozens of Theme and Tycoon style games have so unsuccessfully tried to copy over the last few years: start out with an empty building and buy medical equipment, furniture, vending machines and so on, while at the same time hiring doctors, nurses and receptionists and investing money in new research. Just like in the cut-throat world of the NHS, you have plenty of targets to meet, and each level offers new challenges, as well as new wacky diseases and ways of treating them. For example, Slack Tongue requires a sort of guillotine, while Elvis impersonators will need qualified shrinks and a comfy couch. This is a classic that deserves to be revisited.
One Of The Strangest Moments of my entire life occurred one summer's evening in 1994.I was being thrown out of a flat at the time. Not my fault, I hasten to add - the entire household was refusing to pay the rent, for reasons that were entirely justified, but far too dull to repeat here. Anyway, the landlord -a squat, stocky guy who had so much extraneous body hair he looked like he'd liberally smeared himself with glue and rolled around on a gorilla's carpet for a couple of days - was outside, hammering on the front door with his ugly little fists, hollering abuse in the inept way that only a particularly stupid proponent of pidgin English can (You are scum! I kill your face! etc), and selfishly demanding that we remove the ironing board we'd used to barricade the entrance with, so that he could come in and beat us to death - which, according to him, was something he was legally entitled to do.
I was scared, I don't mind telling you. Not because I was afraid of him (the only circumstances under which he'd be scary would be if you found him sitting on your lap, winking and wriggling around), but I was afraid of one of the more specific threats he kept making: namely, to return with a van-load of his 'friends', who were considerably larger, bolder, and far more likely to stove heads in with crowbars. So anyway, I was hiding upstairs, cowering, contemplating the scene that would doubtless unfold: me, having my legs broken with a hammer. Me, having my face cut open with a rusty bread-knife. Me, being tied into a pretzel and hurled bollocks-first from the top floor window by his knuckleheaded cronies. I was utterly convinced that within the hour, I'd find myself being wheeled into the casualty department Hospital, fading in at of St. Mary's Hospital, fading in and out of consciousness, choking on my own blood and mumbling desperate prayers to a God I didn't even believe in, balancing precariously on the f brink of death's precipice. I And then noticed I what was going on i outside. At the back i of the building was a community centre, which habitually hosted wedding receptions, parties, school discos and the like. It wasn't unusual to hear the muffled thump ofloud dance music and the babble of the party crowd throbbing out well into the early hours. But that night, there was something unusual... their choice of music was bizarre to say the least. I could tell the crowd were lapping it up - by the sound of their enthusiastic hoofing, they were dancing in formation - but under the circumstances, I found it unnerving. Deeply unnerving.
Because for some reason they were dancing to the theme tune from Casualty.
Bear with me, I'm making a point...
So, Theme Hospital. Theme Hospital is a sequel, of sorts, to Theme Park. It's a Cgod game' in which you must build, manage and maintain a successful city hospital. Now, everybody I've mentioned Theme Hospital to seems to say the same thing: Eh? Theme Hospital? Can't see how that's going to work... There seems to be a consensus of doubt about the game's appeal: after all, its chosen territory conjures up images of endless white corridors, impassive administrators, emaciated patients eking out their last days with only a drip for company, bedpans, blankets and starched white bedsheets. Not exactly a barrel of laughs. Did you ever play Theme Park? That had such an air of fun about it. Where's the fun in a bloody hospital simulation, for crying out loud?
Well shut up. You don't know what you're on about. Not only is Theme Hospital far far Cwackier' than Theme Park, it also pisses over it from a great height in terms of gameplay. If you're harbouring any doubts as to whether hospital management can actually be enjoyable, you can dispel them now. Playfulness and tension go hand in hand in Theme Hospital. In this world, both the diseases you'll encounter and the equipment you'll cure them with are surreal and cartoon-like. The colours are bright and snappy, the scenery teems with life. Watching the on-screen hustle and bustle is peculiarly relaxing... except you can't relax for a moment, since you've got a hundred and one decisions to make, all at the same time. Never before have matters of life and death seemed so jolly, and yet simultaneously stressful. Which is why the most accurate description I can come up with is that the experience of playing it is actually rather similar to the experience of hearing a hall full of people cheerily jigging about to the strains of the Casualty theme tune, while nervously harbouring the suspicion that you're about to be thrashed senseless at the same time. Y'see?
Uh... put it there... ooh
Boot up the game and. following the slick intro sequence, you'll find yourself face to face with an empty shell of a hospital. Everything needs to be built from scratch and slotted into place - and I'm talking everything - from the most expensive piece of cutting-edge medical equipment to the lowliest pot-plant. You get to plan the layout of every single room yourself - and you wouldn't believe how neat the interface that allows you to do this is. As with Theme Park, it's not unlike using a simple paint package. Choose the facility you want to build from the pop-up menu and your cursor is replaced with a little trowel. Click on the floor and a kind ofCinstant blueprint' appears. You can drag this out to whatever size you want, place the door wherever you see fit, even pop windows into the walls if you think it needs them. The next stage is deciding which pieces of furniture to use and where to place them, in an orgy of interior decoration that would have the slobbiest, least house-proud philistines on the planet umming and ahhing over the positioning of each tiny chair as if it were a matter of global significance. Now, none of this may sound that interesting in print, yet in practice it's so intrinsically satisfying to muck around with that you'll find yourself creating new rooms and pissing around with the layout of existing ones (you can go back and re-edit everything if you want) just for the sake of it.
Of course, there's more to efficient room design than being able to decide which corner you'd like to place a pot plant in. As with everything in this game, there are about sixteen zillion other factors to consider. Is the room sufficiently large and well-lit enough to prevent the occupants from feeling claustrophobic and depressed? Is it small enough to leave space for new facilities to be built alongside, or will you need to buy a new plot of land? Have you put radiators and fire extinguishers in place? Is the room easy for patients to find? Do you want to purchase extra equipment and furniture for the room in order to increase efficiency? And so on, and so on, and so on. Once again, none of this may sound very enthralling in black and white, but when you're playing it yourself it's all peculiarly compelling.
Got me by detail
As you may have gathered by now, Theme Hospital is a game of details. Endless details. So far, I've only mentioned the room design, but that's really the most basic part of the game. There are just so many things to do, so many things to keep your brain occupied. Hiring and firing staff, researching drugs, making sure your caretakers are cleaning up all the piss and vomit, dealing with emergencies and epidemics... I can't even begin to explain how many different elements there are. And since it lets you tinker around with everything, you just can't help getting helplessly immersed within 20 minutes. I defy you not to end up playing it for far, far too long each time you boot it up.
If you're in the slightest bit nosey (and who isn't?), then welcome to heaven. Here's a game in which you can click on a complete stranger and discover their entire medical history. You can watch them getting undressed and being examined. You can tell what mood they're in and whether they need to go to the toilet or not. It makes you feel a bit like an interfering old lady -the sort you overhear at bus stops gossiping about the lady at number 26 who apparently likes 'doing it the greek way' - but it ain't half compelling.
A good hard play
Now, if sales figures are anything to go by, each and every one of you already owns three copies of Theme Park. Therefore, you'll be familiar with that game's main failing: it climaxes too soon. It starts off like an over-enthusiastic teenager, desperately trying to impress you with its looks and its user-friendliness, hammering away at your pleasure receptors as fast as it can until all of a sudden you realise that it's fired off all its surprises in one go, and there's nothing left to keep you occupied. It always gives you the option of going back for more (by starting a new park), but deep down you know it's just going to be more of the same. Interest wanes, you withdraw, and before long you've begun to salaciously eye up the other, perkier games on the market.
Theme Hospital, on the other hand, is a considerably more assured and sophisticated lover. It has far more interesting tricks up its sleeve, and is mature enough not to play them too early. In the early stages it soothes and arouses you with relaxing, involving gameplay and quirky little touches. As you grow in confidence together, it pulls off altogether bolder strokes, continually maintaining your interest with increasingly inventive moves. Then the pace begins to quicken and you lose yourself completely. Entirely at its mercy, the best you can do is try to keep up, as it plunges challenge after challenge after challenge deep into your brain, with relentless zeal, working towards a climax. Just as you've reached the peak, when all the demands of a particular level have been satisfied, and you're sitting back, serenely watching the Ccongratulations' screen with a slow-burning cigarette in your hand, it rolls over and starts doing it again, presenting you with another blank hospital, and a whole new range of tasks to complete. And you know that it's going to be just as much fun as it was last time, only even more intense. Frankly, by the time you reach the final levels, it's grabbing the back of your head with both hands, balancing on its elbows, and repeatedly ramming its fearsome girth into you like some kind of demented jackhammer, while you clutch the headboard and wail with pleasure.
Now, how can you say Cno' to an offer like that, eh?
World of interiors
If there's one Ctheme' that truly relates both Theme Park and Theme Hospital, then ipious amounts of vomiting is it. Get down on your knees and pray that you have sufficient cleaning staff to deal with a Cvomit virus', should such an outbreak occur. Otherwise, the consequences are dire: corridors full of retching, choking patients, emptying their guts all over the floor like E-Coli sufferers at a kebab-eating convention.
Well, Theme Hospital also introduces a new bodily function into the fray... urine, to be precise. If a patient can't get to the toilet in time, they'll eventually go on the floor. Doubly disgusting during an outbreak of vomiting.
If Bullfrog keep upping the Cbody fluid' stakes like this, the next CTheme' game should logically be filled with hundreds of little people endlessly vomiting, pissing, crapping, spitting, wanking, snotting, and picking the wax out of their ears and flicking it. Theme Reading Festival, in other words.
Theme Hospitals visuals are so crisp and neat, you could cut your finger on 'em. What's more, they're incredibly busy. Absolutely every action each character could conceivably perform seems to have been animated. You can watch people typing on keyboards or using vending machines. Surgeons wash their hands and adjust the lighting prior to an operation. Caretakers sit on their arses, watching the staff room telly while the rubbish piles up in the corridors. You can even see people straining as they try to pass a particularly unforgiving stool in the lavatory.
The sound effects are equally elaborate. You can hear everything. And I mean everything. You can tell if the people straining in the toilet are doing Cnumber ones' or Cnumber twos', thanks to the telltale Csplosh' sound of the occasional turd hitting the water. None of the patients seem to do the old Cbung a layer of sound-deadening bog roll onto the water surface' trick - they just don't care who hears their embarrassing noises. Perhaps they've noticed that the hospital doesn't actually have a roof, so it doesn't seem to matter.
Up yours, Florence!
In the same way that its predecessor revealed Theme Parks to be little more than cynical money-making engines, Theme Hospital tackles the medical profession with a barely-disguised air of gleeful subversion. Keeping patients alive is encouraged, but mainly because it harms your reputation - and therefore your income - if they start dropping dead in the corridors (which happens right before your eyes, by the way). There are times when it pays to have the clinical business acumen of a Bill Gates, and the human compassion of a Genghis Khan. For example, let's say you've just discovered a new contagious illness. You examine the patient and get the research department to work out
a remedy. Yours is now the only hospital in the area that can cure patients with this particular disease. So what do you do? If you're really smart, you'll deliberately refer some of the sufferers to rival hospitals in the area. Not only does this cause your computerised opponents a bit of a managerial headache, it has the added side-effect of creating a whole new posse of patients, as the infected party wanders around, innocently spilling germs this way and that. And more patients means more money. For you.
That's just an example. There's a myriad of different money-making schemes. You'll have to discover the best ones yourself.
Managing a hospital may not sound like a barrel of laughs, but this classic light hearted simulation from Bullfrog manages to make presiding over matters of life and death incredibly challenging. Curing the likes of Jellyitus, heaped piles and unexpected swelling (Who among us has not suffered from the latter?) can become a surprisingly cheerful business.
Much like SimCity, you start from humble beginnings and with a pile of cash, building up the size and quality of your hospital as you progress. As with all games of this type, there are plenty of problems for you to solve along the way, making your job far harder as you desperately try to keep your patients happy.
Unfortaunately, the fun proves to be somewhat short lived, as there simply isn't enough variation to keep you sat in front of your monitor for any real length of time. Fun for a week or so, but after that you'll soon realise Theme Hospital s a little on the shallow side.
High on humour, high on fun and low on the tedium normally associated with this sort of simulation, Theme Hospitalis a refreshing take on a genre that often takes itself too seriously. As the title suggests, the game puts you in charge of your own hospital. You won't be able to do much at first (there isn't really much you can do with an empty hospital), but once you've taken on some staff and kitted out your hospital with the basic necessities, you'll be ready to open your doors to the poorly folk in your area.
After your patients have been diagnosed by a GP, they're sent to the pharmacy, various clinics or operating theatre for treatment - if you've got the technology, that is, otherwise you'd better get on with some research. As you complete the levels you're rewarded with the discovery of new equipment and an interesting variety of new diseases - psychiatric patients believing they're Elvis (decked out in rhinestone-encrusted white suits, of course), and horrendous afflictions such as bloaty head, invisibility and hairyitis. You can even watch the cures being carried out, complete with sound effects (watching the 'sheer' lopping off a 'slack tongue' makes you wince).
But there's more to it than just curing patients. The overall aim is to be the most successful hospital in the area (there are three others competing), and naturally the more people you cure the more money you earn. But patients leave and go home if there's nowhere for them to sit, if they have to wait too long to see a GP or psychiatrist, if the corridors are rat-infested or no one's cleared up the mess of a vomiting epidemic. It also pays to hire the most competent staff and keep them happy with salary increases and a staff room. Then there's the maintenance of your equipment, decision making as to whether you can cope with emergencies, balancing your budget, and on and on.
Theme Hospitalis an essential purchase for anyone with a sense of humour and even a vague interest in resource management or strategy games. Our own Production Editor, Thea, has confessed to losing extremely large portions of her spare time to heavy-duty Theme Park sessions, and that in itself is quite enough reason for you to consider this a must-have for your collection.
All the Sim (City, Earth, etc.) and Theme games have one thing in common: You create something to watch it grow and prosper. Theme Hospital builds on the same idea, improving in some areas and lacking in others. Where the game works well is in the "cute and fun" department. Like Theme Park, Theme Hospital has a lot of character and personality. When you water the plants, they perk up. To cure a "bloaty head," a doctor pops, then reinflates it. The game is just too cute. But Theme Hospital does not capture the same magic that some of the other games in this genre have. The rigid nature of the game limits your creativity. In Theme Park you can build anything, anywhere--that's why the game was so much fun. In Theme Hospital, you only make a few design decisions: how big to make the rooms and where to put all the furniture and items. No matter how far you get in the game, most of your hospitals will end up looking similar. This makes the game feel more repetitive than it really needs to be. Too bad, because building the hospital is the best part (the business aspect is kinda boring). Theme Hospital may entertain you for the first day or two, but you may find the design limitations too...limiting Now if we can only take care of the "bloaty l heads" around the EGM offices...
If you want an example of how badly mouse-based gameplay transfers to the joypad-driven PlayStation then this is it. Everything from the PC original is here--the English humor, the cartoon look, the bizarre illnesses and the fact that it gets boring after a certain point. It's a reasonably tough game, but with the additional problems caused by the over-fiddly controls I guarantee that you will get frustrated.
It's hard not to like Theme Hospital's surreal mix of in-depth sim and goofball humor, just like Theme Park, the game forces you to experiment constantly with different hospital layouts, staff, types of research, etc. And the goal-based stages make for addictive game-play-for a while, at least. After a few levels, I got to the point where i had seen enough quirky diseases and wasn't all that excited about reaching the next stage.
I wasn't sure what to think of TH when I first booted it up. I've heard good things about the PC one, but I still thought it might be lame (since it takes place in a hospital). I was wrong. The game's a lot of fun to play and has a very unique feel, even though it presents challenges similar to other games in the genre. On top of this it's really funny, like all the gross things patients do while they're sitting around the waiting area.
The makers of the light-hearted simulation/strategy game Theme Park are bringing out a sequel. Theme Hospital lets you run and manage a bustling (or bumbling) house of medicine. You must lure patients in with promises of cures for strange diseases like Bloaty Head (which is fixed by popping the head, then reinflating it) or Slack Tongue (the tongue is rolled through a machine and quickly sliced off). Make enough money and you'll be able to afford better doctors and newer technology. Expect the same humorous attitude that made Theme Park such a memorable game.
Theme Hospital is the sequel to the sim game Theme Park. This time, the wackiness befalls the medical industry as you take full control of a hospital, doing everything from hiring, managing, and training staff to adjusting the room temperature and floor plan. Bland as it may sound, TH is a wildly addicting, funny game...and one of the most challenging sims you'll ever play.
Technically, TH isn't going to turn any heads. Since the game was developed for mouse control, the directional pad's response is a bit jerky. Fortunately, though, precision isn't all that important here. The game's options are also pretty complex, and you'll have to learn them before your hospital makes money. The graphics, which are small to allow for a large viewing area, aren't visually spectacular, so fans of visual thrillers, beware. The patients with bloated heads and illnesses like Hairyitis and King Complex (Elvis envy), though, are worth a squint.
Theme Hospital shines with its dry sense of humor, but gamers unfamiliar with sims should rent it first. TH's challenge is high, and your reward is a sense of accomplishment from constructing a successful working model--but its loony patients and loonier doctors will have you laughing along the way.
- Economic use of space Is a must, so build hallways between rooms. And be sure you have bathrooms near the enhance!
- Ah--the new hospital. Slow down the game to minimum speed and build the receptionist's desk first, then build the General Practitioner's offices.
- Block off unused areas of the hospital with benches or the handymen will wander away from their duties.
- To get off the Hall of Shame quickly, stay at each hospital as king as it's making money--they'll keep offering you higher salaries for your next job.