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PlayStation Game and Hardware Reviews

Developer: Bullfrog OPTIONS: S.SHOT
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: Bullfrog 1 Player
Game Type: God Game Memory Card (2 Blocks)
Review Date: June 1998 Standard Joypad

Setting the Scene

Are you sick of playing games that are so gory they make you 
feel really ill?
Maybe you're in need of a doctor because you've been whiling away too 
much time operating your beloved Playstation.
Perhaps your patients is wearing thin with 1st person shooters and 
you require an urgent tonic from a rather attractive nurse. 

Well if you can ignore the abundance of puns in the previous statement 
this may just be your lucky day. Theme Hospital is the second 'God game' 
from Bullfrog (more famous for the 'Syndicate' series) after Theme Park.

In Theme Hospital you are offered the post as an administrator who is 
responsible for all the operational functions of a designated hospital. 
This includes everything from building the diagnosis and treatment facilities 
to hiring and firing staff.  Most important of all you must cure your 
patients of a selection of outrageous diseases while making sure they 
always remain safe and cheerful. As you progress through the game your 
success at each point is assessed by the amount of profit you make, while 
the number of patients you heal against any fatalities that befall you 
is also taken into consideration. Your reward for success is the offer 
of a position at bigger and better hospital with an increase in salary.


In the grand tradition of the Maxis 'Sim' games and the aforementioned 
Theme Park this title is a God/Simulation game. You take the role of an 
omnipotent manager who's role it is to take charge of all aspects of a 
particular scenario, be that a bustling City, ever expanding Amusement 
Park or, in this case, a flourishing Hospital.


Anyone familiar with Theme Park will feel right at home here.  The
isometric top-down view, 2D graphics, detailed sprites and icon based 
interface remain true to the original Theme design. Unfortunately, this 
means that the graphics in Theme Hospital don't do anything to stretch the 
boundaries of the PSX games console.  The visuals really should have 
advanced over years since the days of Theme Park, but in reality they 

The graphics run in low-res and are definitely not using the full
palette the Playstation has to offer.  One noticeable element is the 
fact that most of the colors you see on the screen are dithered and not
shaded. The other area that could have been improved is the very 16-bit
looking interface, the buttons and icons representing the actions you
can perform are mostly 2 color and dull looking.

The graphics aren't all bad, there are some nice transparency effects
and the sprites that represent your doctors, nurses, patients and
hospital equipment are reasonably detailed and varied.

Sounds and Effects

The most noticeable aspect of the sound in Theme Hospital is not so 
much what you do hear but what you don't hear. There is no in-game music 
at all, probably a good thing since if it kept with the theme of building 
a hospital it would likely be trite elevator music and better switched off.

The sounds you do hear are mostly appropriate and totally belong in a
living, breathing hospital. The constant chatter from the intercom
calling doctors and nurses from one room to another can get a little
annoying, but can be turned off or down if required. This 'Tannoy', as
the game terms it, is actually vital to the success of your hospital
since it informs you of areas of your building that need urgent
attention. For example "Doctor required in Inflator room" will prompt
you to grab a doctor and place them in the relevant room ready to 
burst some poor patients head, weird.

Other sounds serve as more of an amusement and do a good job of
lightening the stress of running a hospital. Highlights include
vomiting (which you will hear a lot if you're no good at building
hospitals), using and flushing the toilet and the sounds of your 
doctors playing pool in the recreation room.


Imagine having to take care of every administrating aspect of 
a hospital, hiring and training your doctors, laying out diagnosis and
treatment rooms, buying and maintaining equipment, attracting patients
and expanding your facilities as needed. You'd think that this type of
occupation would be about as exciting as... well, running a hospital and
ordinarily it would be. The developers knew this and have thus introduced 
comedy and humor into every aspect of the game.  This is where Theme 
Hospital wins in the playability category.  Not only is it extremely 
interesting to play, it's also pretty funny at the same time.

The game begins with a very handy tutorial that guides you through the
basic of building and running your hospital.

You start the game with an empty building.  Your first task when you 
take charge of your empty hospital is to build the basic rooms to be 
used for diagnosis and treatment of potential patients. Best construct
a GP's office and a reception desk - you can then hire your first
doctor and a receptionist. From this point you can expand on your basic
hospital, building more rooms and hiring extra staff in order to 
increase your profit and reputation in the community.

Initially there are only a few basic rooms you can build, which include 
Toilets, Staff Room, a couple of Clinics, General and Psychiatric Diagnosis 
and a Pharmacy to sell drugs. However, as more funds become available you 
can purchase adjoining land offering you the space to construct Operating 
Theatres, specialist Clinics, X-Ray and Scanner departments.  Specialist 
Clinics allow you to treat some of the more peculiar diseases such as 
bloated head and the amazing slack tongue. 

Placement of your rooms is very important and will ultimately effect how
successful you are.  Imagine that your patients are on a conveyor belt
when deciding the positioning of each room.  You want them to move 
smoothly through your hospital in an orderly manner not wander aimlessly 
through the corridors.  It should go something like this:- main entrance, 
reception, diagnosis, treatment, drugs, exit.  Research and Training 
facilities can be placed in a building far away from the organized chaos 
of your main hospital.  

Staff are the all important commodity and there are four basic classes 
you can hire:- Doctors, Nurses, Handymen and Receptionists. Each staff 
member has certain skills and attributes that will make them suitable for 
employment at your hospital and they all come with a description of their 
attitude and approach to work. These can range from "Careful and
dependable in an emergency" to "Deaf as a post and smells of cabbage".
If you hire all the best staff before your CPU competitors this will 
greatly enhance you reputation (since the other hospitals in town will 
obviously smell of cabbage). You must balance the salary each staff member 
demands against their potential skills and character before employing.
Once the basic rooms are suitably staffed you may open your hospital for
business. From the moment your first patient arrives your staff are
constantly in action.  Your building comes to life as they freely move 
around the hospital diagnosing and treating illnesses.  At any time you 
may select a member of staff and rearrange their positioning, schedule, 
salary and work-load. 

Soon you will be able to build a Research Centre where highly skilled 
doctors will work towards improving treatments and even discover 
a new range of drugs.

Doctors and nurses will encounter up to 40 crazy diseases of which 
some are particularly weird:

* Slack Tongue : Where the hapless patient walks around with their
tongue hanging out, the only cure is to send them to the Slack Tongue
Clinic where they get their tongue tightened.

* Bloated Head : The patient has an extremely big head and must be cured
in the Inflator Room where the doctor will pop the patients head and
re-inflate it.

* Invisibility and Transparency : Two similar diseases which leaves the
patients in a state that renders them extremely difficult to see.  
This can be cured with drugs or therapy.

* King Complex : The patient is under the delusion that they are the
King of Rock 'n Roll and will dress and act appropriately.  Send them to
psychiatry immediately where the shrink will take good care of them - for 
a fee of course.

The ultimate goal in most levels is to achieve a good reputation and
make a big pile of cash from your suckers..err..patients. Reputation 
is gained mostly from curing patients and keeping them happy during 
their stay.  Money is eventually made by maintaining a good reputation 
thus attracting many more patients. 

You are also competing at all times with three other computer opponents 
who's awful AI makes me hope that your rival administrators will never 
be allowed near a real hospital.  Not in my life time anyway.

As is the problem in real life, the best staff members are not always
available at the right time.  It may sometimes be necessary for your
highly trained surgeons to attend bed pans in a ward or your psychiatric
doctors to perform radical experimental surgery. You must keep a
constant watch on all your staff to make sure they remain upbeat and 
working hard or they will become disgruntled and threaten to resign.  
Even worse or worse they could give you hospital a bad reputation by 
bad mouthing your decisions.

Playing the game offers a reasonable amount of fun.  You do gain an
enormous amount of satisfaction from building your hospital and watching
it function. Once it is up and running you can just sit back and watch 
it all happen. Assuming you have the right balance of staff, rooms and 
equipment you hospital will run itself with very little input from you. 

The only real problems with playability revolve around the interface and
the control. The interface takes a little getting used to, buttons or
icons represent all the actions you can take in the game and there is
very little written text anywhere. While this makes the game ideal for
the international market it doesn't help playability much.  However, 
once you understand what each icon means (or thoroughly read the manual) it 
becomes much easier to navigate yourself around the menus and get your 
hospital running. 

My only other complaint is the control.  While the developers have done a
good job of adapting the control to the PSX controller, it would have
been a whole lot easier with the mouse and it is a real pity there is 
no support for this peripheral in the game. Moving around the screen 
using the joy pad is a little sluggish and it is quit often difficult 
to spot where the little cursor is on the screen.
The isometric view also makes it awkward to get a descent full view of 
your corridors and rooms which makes layout and maintenance a little 
difficult at times.  This could have easily been avoided by including
an option to rotate the screen.

Overall the game is a blast to play.  The humor makes light of the 
suffering and pain normally associated with hospitals while keeping the 
game playable.  Moving the control issues to one side, the game makes 
an ordinarily run-of-the-mill job, quite interesting.

Value for Money

The most successful games in the genre allow you to build and 
improve without the restraints imposed by a mission based game structure.

Unfortunately in Theme Hospital the entire game swings around a
series of levels or missions. Each level has certain success criteria
that you must satisfy to move on, there really isn't any scope to
explore or build beyond what is required to complete the mission, 
hence the replay value of this title is limited.

This doesn't necessarily mean that the game is not got good value 
for money. There are 12 levels to progress through and each one is
interesting and unique.  This essentially means that if the game 
holds your attention long enough to complete the first couple 
of missions then it is likely to suck you in to playing all of them.
GRAPHICS: 10/20 I'm a real sucker for 'Sim' and God type game, but this genre has a very limited appeal for the majority of Playstation gamers.
For players expecting fast action and non-stop excitement, this may not be the game for you, Theme Hospital is more suited to players who have plenty of patience and would enjoy spending time on trivial matters like keeping corridors clean or watering plants.
Once you have completed the design of your hospital it seems that you just have to sit and wait until you reach your target while making sure that the staff members are happy and your machinery is sufficiently maintained.
Theme Hospital kept me interested for a reasonable amount of time but there does seem to be a lot of waiting around for something to happen or simply for your level objectives to be completed so you can move on.
There's just one thing I'd really like clarified, how the heck do you X-Ray an invisible man? Hopefully the answer will come from many more hours of play, but then again, maybe not.
SOUND: 6/10
VALUE: 15/20


GRAPHICS: 14/20 I really enjoy these type of 'God games' but the simplicity of Theme Hospital could be it's failing. Knock up a few diagnosis and treatment rooms, then apart from the occasional earthquake (which damages your equipment) you can pop off and do something else while the money rolls in. Surely you should be visiting the bank manager for a loan and then crawling back to his office to beg for a reduction in interest rates rather than regularly dipping into a pile of cash for new hospital equipment without second thought.
If only Bullfrog had corrected the single angle viewing problem and expanded a little more on the gameplay they could have been sitting on a sure fire winner with Theme Hospital.
As it stands the game is packed with rib tickling humor which allows it to be more of a lighthearted experience for the young rather than a serious management sim for the budding tycoon.
SOUND: 6/10
VALUE: 15/20


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