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Theme Hospital is a cute simulation game which challenges the player to design and run a hospital. It may not seem the most obvious choice for something to base a game on, but the corny sense of humour and addictive game-play make it surprisingly fun. Developed by Bullfrog it is part of the series which featured the more popular game, Theme Park, and conceptually it is quite similar. Players design the hospital layout, hire staff and try to balance the various resources in order to complete specific goals.
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Players have an angled view looking down on their 3D hospital environment and begin by placing various rooms in the map. As with all simulation games there are a number of rooms which are required for your hospital to function and a host of optional rooms you can use to attract new patients. They are divided into four categories so there’s diagnosis, treatment, clinics and facilities. Finding the best layout in terms of maximising space and efficiency is one of the major challenges of the game. Patients queue outside the facility they need to use and so related rooms should be close together, and you need to provide plenty of seating. You can improve the atmosphere by adding things like vending machines and plants.
For the hospital to operate you have to hire a range of staff from doctors and nurses to handymen and janitors. Naturally your budget is the main obstacle and while cost will determine whether patients visit your hospital a fine balance is needed to ensure you can run things at a profit. The AI routines provide some frustration and, as is often the case with simulation games, you’ll frequently find them huddling together in one corner of the map or constantly wandering past that puddle of vomit you want them to clean up. It can also be annoyingly tough to keep your surly staff happy, but doctors with bad bedside manner will harm your reputation so you have to try.
The patients who wander your halls cannot be interacted with directly but you can see various pieces of information which tell you how they are finding your establishment and what affliction they are suffering from. The developers have gone for fictional ailments which provide a few laughs and steer the game away from being depressing or overly realistic which could obviously be a bit off-putting. There are quite a few maladies that can afflict your sims from bloaty head to slack tongue and the particularly unpleasant sounding heaped piles.
Micromanagement is the name of the game as you battle to improve your hospital’s reputation and attract more patients. The difficulty in the single player challenge ramps up nicely and later in the game you’ll face tougher challenges like hospital inspectors, epidemic outbreaks and even earthquakes.
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Graphically speaking this is dated as it was first released in 1997. The environments and characters are fairly basic and brightly coloured and they feature simple 2D animations. There are no visual effects to speak of but the user interface is well designed and while the graphics may be simplistic they are fairly pleasing to the eye. The art style is cute and cartoony and it compliments the humour perfectly.
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The publishers EA did actually release a patch for the game which provided a network option so you could compete against another player to build the best hospital but this is chiefly a single player experience. Multiplayer is strictly an afterthought and to be honest it adds little to the game.
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As this is an old title it will run on anything and minimum requirements are a 75MHz processor, 8MB of RAM, a 1MB graphics card and just 55MB of hard drive space. To run it on Windows XP you’ll need 16MB of RAM but obviously most modern systems will find this game a breeze to run. You may find with newer operating systems that you have to use the old Windows 95 compatiblity mode.
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The sick sense of humour may not be to everyone’s tastes but simulation fans will find a lot to like about this title. There is no doubt the AI is flawed; but looking beyond that issue, this is a well balanced and original sim title with a surprising level of depth and it provides a decent challenge for all you would be hospital managers out there. With few new titles in the simulation genre this is worth checking out for people who missed it first time round. You'll be able to pick up a copy for next to nothing. If you love tycoon games then this will definitely appeal.
If you fancy trying it out then why not download the demo version and see if you enjoy it?