A lot of people’s first experience of business sim games was Sim City, closely followed by Theme Hospital. A wacky creation from Bullfrog Productions that challenged you with micro-managing a series of health centres to rake in cash by curing patients of their fictitious ills. Much loved, but largely forgotten as the action genre became more prominent, the game seemed consigned to the annuls of history until an announcement a couple of years back that Webley and Carr (two of the original Bullfrog founders, alongside Peter Molyneux) were looking to recreate the game under a different name – Two Point Hospital. It turns out that name isn’t massively different, and the presentation style, ideas and structure are pretty familiar too. Does this mean it ends up being a bit like MRSA being discovered in an intensive care unit? Or is it a nostalgic wonder drug that should be prescribed to everyone?
I want to say there’s a bit of a no-frills approach to Two Point Hospital – the menu is bare bones and targeted at getting you straight into things – but that hides what lies beyond… a deep and complex system that will provide challenge after challenge. As an administrator in Two Point County, you’re tasked with running a number of institutions and solving the particular issues that each has, whilst at the same time growing a medical services empire. Each initial hospital acts as a tutorial to help explain the mechanics and how to make money, and it pays to work through them fully as there’s nuance tucked away in the bright and colourful buttons and menus that will be needed later on. Learn the basics and aim for the highest rating possible so that your skills in juggling supply and demand are honed, then rinse and repeat in the next location so that you’re embedding the learning. It’s a great way of getting the more detailed elements across whilst letting you get stuck into the meat of the game, and it don’t feel like it’s dragging your hand along in a death grip.
Setting up a new clinic is pretty standard: build a reception, make sure there’s a GP surgery, pharmacy and ward as a bare minimum; then open the doors. This will get things moving at least, though very quickly there’ll be patient demands when they’re bored, thirsty and hungry, or there’s a particularly troublesome ailment that needs some more sophisticated machinery to diagnose it, or the floors will need sweeping. The aim is to manage pretty much every element in Two Point Hospital, from the chargeable rates to the upgrade of equipment to purchasing new land for expansion. With the way it builds the complexity in it feels very natural and doesn’t overwhelm too early. Once it’s got the plate juggling going in earnest then it becomes a test of multitasking and diagnosis that might come in handy as a skill for real life doctors. Why are people dropping dead in the corridors? How come there are massive queues outside surgeries when there are more clinicians than patients? How come the toilets are overflowing?
How Two Point Hospital remains engaging through the setup repetition is by drip-feeding new elements in. New diagnosis and treatment rooms only become available in specific regions, or by researching improvements, and that isn’t on hand for the first few scenarios either. Once they’re unlocked they are in the menus for use everywhere, including the sites that have been left behind. Not having to unlock each time means a lot less hassle in the construction side because specific ailments can be worked on straight away as long as there’s the tools and cash available. What does reset each time though is staffing. There’s a lot of time spent recruiting, training and managing the happiness of the workforce, more so than most other sims, and whilst it’s easy to access (typically through a couple of sensible button presses), it’s surprising how deep it goes, and how each individual can be targeted for working in specific rooms, or getting paid double the rest of the employees. It might not make them better performers, but at least they won’t run for the hills at the first sign of it getting busy.
Money makes the world go around as the song goes, and it’s no different in Two Point County. The overarching aim is to be the biggest healthcare provider so making as much dough as possible is priority number one. Aside from that, currency is needed to pretty much do anything with the hospital so keeping it in the black is a must. With a bit of mismanagement it’s quite easy to run into a spiral of just making a tiny loss each month, but never having the bank balance positive enough to affect proper change. This ends up with the feeling that the clinic is haemorrhaging cash. Changing prices, removing underutilised rooms, and firing staff can help, though expect to take a hit on the reputation and the number of patients that will refuse to pay for their treatment. There’s no recourse for that, so don’t take it personally and just move on… or rename the ungrateful so-and-so in order to spot them in the future and kick them out of the hospital (it’s quite satisfying).
Being able to customise the layout and decoration is part and parcel of this type of game, so it’s no surprise that Two Point Hospital has more options than you can wave a stethoscope at, including all the DLC elements that were released on PC. It looks slightly limited at the beginning, but achieving the goals in each stage will unlock extras. Soon you’re spoilt for choice on the type of sofa to put in the staff room, and which posters to put on the walls to improve the prestige. The continual reveal of conditions and diseases is great too with some really well defined made up conditions. It’s tough to beat the Mock Star syndrome where people think they’re Freddie Mercury, and the detail in watching the treatments happen in real time adds something quite special to the presentation. There’s not a huge amount to say about it graphically – it’s got a great style, it’s smooth and really clear on what you can and can’t do with the build phases. Audio is functional too, and performance is good on console, albeit with a little slowdown if it tries to do loads at once.
It’s easy to diagnose this as a wonderful strategy game that despite the premise being over 20 years old, delivers a nostalgic experience and a fresh feeling modern sim. With lots to have a go at, a crazy amount of depth, and the ability to replay and improve each level, it’s going to keep the most hardcore busy for a while. There’s also beauty in that it doesn’t alienate those less familiar with how the genre works, and the pace of the initial levels and generous win conditions mean it feels great to get a well oiled machine running, and at a profit. You can’t overlook the simplicity in the controls either. Sometimes this type of game on a pad can feel constrictive, but here the core functions are always at your fingertips. So if you’re feeling a little down in dumps with the current world viral events, then I prescribe a dose of Two Point Hospital to be taken at least once a day until things have run their course.
Two Point Hospital is available now on nearly all platforms for around £30 – £35, depending on your gaming preference.