I missed the whole Theme Hospital craze back when it was released for PC and PlayStation back in 1997. I was over playing Nintendo 64 and other PC games like Doom and Quake before I really got into tycoon games other than Sim City. Now that I’m into management games, I decided with Origin’s free giveaway of this classic game that it was time to give it a try.
Theme Hospital is an isometric business management game where yes you operate a hospital. You have one building to start with and you click a type of room, then click and drag its dimensions. After that, simply put in the necessary objects and vuala you’ve made an office, a pharmacy, a ward and so on. You also hire four types of staff. Receptionists to work the front desk, janitors clean, water plants and repair machines. Nurses work in wards, pharmacies and other areas. Doctors have three specialties: surgery, psychology and research. They also have three levels of experience, junior, doctor and consultant.
The game has a lot of charm here from its music to its dark sense of humor and its own original diseases. Things like bloaty head need a room to pop their head and inflate it to normal size. Tongue slicers that fix slack tongue. You get the picture. The music and graphics evoke a certain 90s nostalgia for me and I never played the game in its hay day. The happy, silly midi music, that 640 x 480 resolution with cartoonish graphics. There is even a few computer generated graphics like your assistant that pops up every so often to explain what you’re doing right and wrong. He’s a helpful chap that has a sense of wit. If someone dies for the first time, he’ll ask you how it feels. If you kill enough at once, he’ll tell you that they come here to be saved.
The thing that really makes the game stand out are the ten scenarios in the single player campaign. Each scenario doesn’t just give you a a new hospital to work with, but it adds an extra layer of depth each time. With the first hospital its all about curing people. When a patient comes in, they see the receptionist who then sends them to one of the several different types of diagnosis rooms for testing. These consist of offices, general diagnosis, X-rays, scans and so on. Then once your doctors have pin pointed the cause, there are clinics and treatment rooms like psychiatry offices, pharmacies and surgeries. If the patients aren’t treated or cured fast enough, they grow inpatient and ditch your hospital.
To keep patients happy as they wait, you’ll need to fill your hallways and corridors with things like benches for them to sit, radiators to keep the sick warm and drink machines to quench that thirst. That reminds me. I’m so thirsty, time to spend $20 for a beverage from this machine…. wait $20 oh well its a game. There are plants to keep your patients entertained and happy. Your staff also needs heated rooms, windows, plants and big spaces to feel special and happy. Its not necessary, but it does have an impact on their happiness.
When you start a new campaign, you select from the three levels of difficulty, but they all seem pretty easy. Each scenario has requirements, things like cure X number of patients, have X amount of money and Y rating (I would have said X rating, but that’s another joke). Its everything that has been done in other classic management games and it fits in. There are competing hospitals, but I think that’s strictly for the LAN multiplayer and it doesn’t make much of a difference in single player. I never hear about how a patient left my hospital to get treated at another. At the end of the year, you get a report of how you’re doing against those other hospitals, but it didn’t seem to make a difference in the 8 hours that I’ve played the game so far.
As the scenarios progress, you’ll need a research lab for patients with new conditions. These labs will unlock new rooms to cure patients. Things like cures for baldness. The lab will also improve certain cures and enhance machines so they have a longer life span. At least I think that’s what happens. The game never explains it.
The hospitals will have VIP visitors that come to inspect your hospital. You have a choice whether or not to accept them. If it goes smoothly, you’re rewarded with a money grant. If you fail, then your rating goes down. If your hospital is nasty enough there will be rats running along the floor that you can click to kill before the VIP notices and you don’t get the bonus.
A few more scenarios in and emergencies will come to your hospitals. These blue light emergencies are a bunch of patients coming in with the same condition and you need to fix them all before time runs out. If you get lets say 90% of them fixed or cured, then you get a financial bonus, but if you fail the patients usually die and your rating falls. If enough of them die, a grim reaper comes and they all jump into a fiery pit. I’m not kidding. Each scenario has a maximum amount of deaths. Exceed the maximum and lose the scenario. So there is definitely a risk and reward. Eventually, you’ll need a few of each room to deal with the emergencies.
With epidemic, someone in your hospital is sick and it spreads person to person. You can either pay a fine or chose to cure everyone by a certain deadline. I think the game was generous with this one, I had an infected person leave the hospital and it still said the epidemic was contained. Both the emergencies and epidemics are nice touches to flesh out the game. Later scenarios have earthquakes, but outside of shaking your screen, I’m not sure what exactly they do. I never get a sudden rush of injuries.
When you click on the icon to hire staff, you’ll see a few to hire. So if there’s one to hire that’s it. You’ll need to wait a little while before someone extra will appear to chose from. Each staff has a skill level and a wage. You have some control over staff. When you click on them, you’ll see their happiness, tiredness and ability. When someone gets too tired they’ll need to retreat to the staff room where you can put in couches, pool tables and televisions to keep them happy. You have the ability to pick them up and drop them into rooms to go to work, but for the most part they’ll go where they’re needed. Picking them up is just quicker for those of you that need to micro manage. Like real people, they’ll eventually ask for a raise where you can give it to them or “sack” them. Your assistant will even tell you when you have too many doctors or nurses.
One scenario teaches you how to train your doctors, by giving you three consulting doctors to start with, but then to compensate every doctor is unskilled. So you need to build a classroom with a seat for each doctor you want to train and a lectern for your consulting doctor to teach them. Over time the students will improve their skills and even gain specialties. If a surgeon teaches a class, the students will eventually become surgeons. Doctors can specialize in all three to make themselves really valuable.
Expensive machines will wear down over time and they’ll need to be replaced after they get fixed a few times by your janitors. If you don’t fix them, they’ll explode! It doesn’t seem to kill anyone, but the room becomes useless. I haven’t found a way to clean up the mess and I can’t seem to remove the room like I can working rooms. Its just easier to spend the money and buy a replacement if you notice the machine smoking.
Since you can only add rooms into per-existing buildings, eventually you’re going to run out of space. That’s why the game lets you purchase surrounding buildings to expand. These buildings are all pre made, so you don’t get to design them, just add the rooms inside. In a way, its nice to work within the constraints you’re given, otherwise I’d end up with a warehouse and green grass.
At the end of the day, your hospital is a business. You need to make them profitable. Falling into debt prevents you from building anything or hiring anyone new, If you fall into debt the bank manager is always there to loan you money.
Now for the negatives…. you can’t rotate the view. You’re stuck facing let’s say northwest for the entire game. Its a problem because you can’t see through walls so south and east walls can obscure what’s directly behind them. Did I put a fire extinguisher there or a plant? I can’t remember. Does it matter? Probably not. The game also has drop down menus when you hover your mouse up at the top. While it does let more of the screen show, I’d prefer to see the icons right there.
When you start up Theme Hospital you enter your name. The save games are bound to that name, so you can have 8 saves per name. You just need to remember the name you typed in and not be like me and put daalsfdsj. It would have been nice to see a list of user names to select from.
The objects are a little cumbersome. You need to select to buy objects, then chose how many you want to buy and then place them in a room or corridor. Bought too many? Just click a button to back out. They could have had a menu with everything to buy, click on the item, then keep plopping them down until you select something else, run out of money or cancel out. If you want to put a second bed in a ward after the Ward is created, you need to use the edit tool that will send everyone out of the room, before it lets you then click the buy icon and chose how many of what you want to buy. Then you need to add everything in the room all over again. Its not a game breaker, but its an issue.
The Origin version of Theme Hospital comes with DOS Box to even play the game. I’ve had problems with the DOS Box freezing. When it gets unstuck, I then have no control over the mouse. Now is it Theme Hospital or is it DOS Box? It might even be Origin causing the problem.
I can easily see why this is still a loved classic to this day if not the inspiration for the Sims. Even if it was difficult with no guide to get into, I found myself really enjoying the relaxing game.