Developer(s) – Bullfrog Studios & Krisalis Software
Publisher(s) – EA
Theme Hospital is a simulator game, whereby the player must manage various hospitals by researching breakthrough medical advances, employing competent and committed staff and of course, successfully treating as many patients as possible. The game is notable for it’s immersing gameplay, and twisted sense of humour. If history has gone a different way, that humour may be seen as even darker by others, as the fictional and comedic diseases used in the game, such as Discrete Itching and Chronic Nosehair were put in to replace the originally planned inclusion of real-life illnesses into the game. While that does add some controversy, it was thankfully nevertheless tailored to be much more light-hearted and comedic, and most importantly, gameplay came first.
Graphics – 5/10
While comic relief is added in the game’s graphics through some of the comedic looks of some of the patients with ridiculous diseases, such as Bloaty Head, there was never going to be much else in terms of concept in a hospital simulator game. There are a few full-motion videos adding a bit more to the game’s comedic value as well as the darker aspect of its humour, but other than these small elements, there’s not much else to look at, unfortunately.
Gameplay – 8/10
Theme Hospital was one of the most addictive games I ever played growing up, and that level of addiction still hold up to this day the way I see it. I remember it was one of the first games that made me understand how something that could be seen as being mundane and repetitive in real life can be made to seem extremely entertaining. There have been many other games come and gone that have tried to replicate that feeling with the same level of success; indeed most recently, I’ve been playing the game Papers Please, which could easily fall under this category, but very few have succeeded on the same level as this game.
Controls – 10/10
The simulation and real-time strategy gaming genre had been long since perfected prior to the release of Theme Hospital, and so it was unlikely to begin with that there would be any problems with the game’s control scheme; and so there isn’t. Theme Hospital, though relatively difficult to master, is simple to get to grips with.
Lifespan – 3/10
The biggest issue I have with this game, however, is that there is a fixed lifespan, making the game very short-lived for one in it’s genre. The game’s main mode can be complete in less than six hours, and for a game that can be made to last an infinite amount if time, that’s almost unforgivable. Unlike Rollercoaster Tycoon, there doesn’t exist any kind of endless mode, whereby players can just build and maintain a hospital, and stick to it; they simply have to meet all the hospital’s requirements, and then move onto the next until the game is complete. That, in turn, also affects the gameplay, as this makes it a lot less satisfying to play than it easily could have been.
Storyline – N/A (10/10)
Theme Hospital doesn’t have any kind of established story, or even much in the way of a basic premise; but nor did it need anything like that to be any more enjoyable. The only elements of story is in the game’s humour, which can make the ambience of the game both funny and taboo at the same time, but otherwise, there isn’t much else to talk about in terms of story. There’s no need for the game to lose marks for not having something that it didn’t necessarily have to have.
Originality – 8/10
Simulator games had been around for some time prior to this, but this game was in a class of it’s own. It garnished a great level of popularity among players, and is still unlike anything I’ve ever played since. It was instrumental in shaping a lot of my own personal viewpoints about gaming, and it’s my hope that more titles like this come along in the near future, with the same, or an even greater level of originality attached to it.
Overall, whilst it hasn’t stood the test of time as well as other games of the 90s have, Theme Hospital is still fairly addictive and fun to play, and it’s dark and twisted humour and great level of uniqueness has made it a cult classic, and I would still recommend it to anyone reading who hasn’t tried it yet.