The follow-up to Bullfrog's highly successful Theme Park, Theme Hospital allows players to create their own hospital. As the game progresses, more bizarre ailments are thrown into the mix, and the player must work to adapt their hospital so that it can treat each illness. Good hospitals include all of the latest diagnostic tools, pharmacies, operating theatres, wards, a decent amount of reliable staff, and plenty of seating space for all those sickly patients.
The real challenge comes in the frantic pace of Theme Hospital. As more and more patients file into your hospital, it becomes harder to treat them all efficiently. Slip up, and you can find yourself confronted with a grimy hospital filled with piles of sick (lovely), overflowing bins and filthy toilets, broken down equipment, striking staff, and-if you have not treated your patients quick enough, a visit from Death himself.
The game progresses after you have healed enough patients, earned enough money and gained a satisfactory visit from a VIP visitor. Once the player has earned their praise, they'll be invited to take over a brand new hospital which will face tougher challenges than the previous one. The bizarre illnesses are for me, one of the stand-out moments in Theme Hospital. It is something of a joy discovering new ailments, such as "Bloaty Head", "Slack Tongue", and "Invisible Man Syndrome." Do not expect a serious game of Casualty here, you will not find it. Theme Hospital is light hearted, amusing and addictive fun.
The game definitely gets trickier as the player increases up the career ladder, but the overall concept is rather simple. Simplicity successfully works here though, as it helps to create a very addictive formula. For the most part, problems can be tackled quickly, such as simply raising your staffs salary if they threaten to strike (you tend to earn money quickly in this game, so it is not too much of an issue), and build more rooms if patients have nowhere to go.
However, there are some negative points in Theme Hospital that can make the whole gaming experience a little frustrating at times. The AI system is not always entirely successful. Place your staff down, and a lot of the time they will not walk to the area where problems are taking place. I find a lot of the time the handymen in particular do not tackle the mountains of waste that is forming in one wing of the hospital, but instead will walk aimlessly amongst a spotless part watering plants. In order to actually get staff tackling the problems before stress arises, sadly you cannot always rely on the AI doing it themselves-move the staff member to the problem and they will then work on it.
Overall, Theme Hospital carries great graphics (for it's time), some crisp voice acting, and plenty of humour. The voice acting and music start to get irritating after a while, but the overall experience is not soiled by this. The AI is not always reliable which can make Theme Hospital somewhat frustrating, but once directed to the problem, the game eases up again. Theme Hospital is simple to understand, with an underlying challenge in the higher levels, but it never stops being so damn addictive. If you are looking for a light-hearted, retro PC game to waste a few hours on, then I strongly recommend at least trying Theme Hospital out for a little while.
If you want to get a copy of Theme Hospital, the best place to look is on eBay. Be warned though...it doesn't run particularly well on newer systems!