Two Point Hospital is the debut title from Two Point Studios, a team built from ex-Bullfrog, Lionhead and Muckyfoot employees. Three names that will be known to anyone who has played Dungeon Keeper, Black and White, Startopia, and most relevant of all: Theme Hospital.
Theme Hospital (1997) is one of those games that was very popular in its day and remains popular today, if you post about it on Twitter, you’ll get likes and comments from other people revelling in the nostalgia of a well-built, humorous and wholly addictive romp in the strategy game scene. Two Point Hospital could easily be seen as an attempt at making a modern sequel to the classic PC game, and I would say they have certainly been successful.
Two Point Hospital captured the charm of Theme Hospital, distilled it, and mass produced it. The game feels like what Theme Hospital could have been with vastly more resources. It feels like the same game, but more. To put it laconically, in the game you build and run a hospital. To be honest though, nothing really prepares you for how involved that task will be. Here is a list of things you have to keep track of, and alter to your standards:
- The building of specific rooms, such as your GP’s offices, your pharmacies, your wards etc;
- The hiring and management of your staff, including their pay, their responsibilities, their training, their mood;
- The layout of your hospital, managing locations for diagnosis, treatment and the overlap (you have some rooms that can do both!);
- The management of your finances, monitoring how much you spend on heating, on wages, your income from treatments and snack machines and so on;
- Maintenance, your machines can break down, and you need to organise your maintenance staff (or janitors) to be their most efficient;
- Ghost busting. Yep.
Not only that, but optimal play will have you micromanaging room queues. Now I know that might scare some people off, but it makes the game extremely attractive to me. Say your GP’s office has a long queue. Next in line is Sandra, who has just arrived at the hospital. She is pretty healthy, she hasn’t had time to deteriorate. But after her is Mick. He’s been all over the hospital. He’s had his fluids analyses in the eastern wing and been assessed by a psychiatrist in the western wing and now he’s coming back to the GP to get a final diagnosis. He’s on his last legs. He’s been at the hospital for so long. You can bump him ahead of Sandra. Or, even better, you can send him to treatment yourself with the click of a button.
This application of strategy in what could have been a simple ‘build stuff and then wait for your assortment bars to tick up’ makes the game a gem and is what will separate Two Point Hospital from other business builder strategy titles, like Prison Architect. You have to be an active manager of your hospital at all times. If you’re not, you’ll end up with queues as long as the Mumbles Mile and a lot of dead people (and ghosts!) on your hands.
Let’s address the clown in the room. And the lightbulb. And the 8-bit monstrosity. This is not a serious game. The diseases will range from the standard, to the humorous, to the completely bizarre. Compare Misery Guts, a simple tummy ache, to Lightheadedness, in which the patient has a lightbulb for a head. The former is treated by a concoction made in the pharmacy, the latter involved a high specialised machine which twists the patient’s head off and then 3d prints them a new one. This is not a serious game. And it’s another reason it feels so familiar and warm when compared to Theme Hospital, a game that had patients with bloated heads and alien DNA.
Special mention goes to Denim Genes, in which the patient has a jean-textured body. Two Point Hospital’s pun game is strong.
Also humorous are the interjections that you’ll hear from time to time. The soundtrack in the game is diegetic. As you play the game, you’re also listening to Two Point Radio, a radio station that plays the songs on the game’s soundtrack, complete with hilarious in-universe advertising (CH- CH- CH- CHEESY GUBBINS) and hosts that you’ll get to know and love. There’s a pretty cool American guy who is alright, but pales in comparison to the legendary Nigel Bicklesworth, a Gyles Brandreth/Gil Chesterton from Frasier expy who is the perfect mix of extravagant pomposity and deadpan poshness. No matter how many times he tells me the difference between ‘who’ and ‘whom’ (the latter has an ‘m’ in it), I will not tire of his suave voice.
The music itself is pretty on point for the game’s genre. It’s catchy but not distracting, and has the same general feel as Theme Hospital’s funky soundtrack. I was caught off-guard by how fantastic it was, and it quickly made its way into my playlist of great videogame soundtracks. Similarly, the graphics are fantastic. The game is full of bright colours and round edges which make the gruesome things the patients go through hilarious. The characters remind me of Aardman characters, lifted right out of Wallace and Gromit or Chicken Run. It’s a visual feast, and easy on the eyes.
Difficulty-wise, the game may need some tweaking. Or maybe I’m too used to how Theme Hospital plays. Many players complain about long GP queues, and it seems to be egregious, not simply collective human error. Nonetheless, until there are mods to sort it out or official patches that alter the AI (like the one that dropped today) the game is still very playable. Unlike Theme Hospital where it was sometimes a bit out of the blue that your hospital would be shut down, Two Point Hospital gives you plenty of warning about the lose-condition, which is very lenient. Players of Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 will be familiar with the way levels are built – each hospital you take on has a few win conditions, and three levels to complete. For example, in one level you may need to cure 10 patients to get 1 Star, but then cure another 30 patients to get 2 Stars and so on. All in all there are 45 Stars to get, from 15 levels. And they’ll all take you a while.
The game is paced well, giving you plenty of time to play around with the things you unlock gradually, and provides you with plenty of tasks that will challenge your usual strategies and make you learn more about how to game the system and push your hospital to its limits. And it’s not like you don’t get a lot of tools with which to turn the levels to your advantage. You can utilise a far more involved training system in Two Point Hospital than Theme Hospital’s old system, you have marketing teams at your disposal now, loans are available to you in multiple instalments, you can even make your research-inclined doctors research up some money for you (which I’d assume is just a scientist-friendly way of depicting the tortuous process of grant applications). It’s a truly deep game.
It truly is a game with a huge amount of potential. I for one can’t wait for the modding community to get their grubby hands all over it. I can see a lot of good in the future of Two Point Studios. Two Point Dungeon Keeper next, please?