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A review on Cities:Skylines gets me thinking about Tropico. A review on Tropico gets me thinking about Theme Hospital. A review on Theme Hospital reminds me that the game came out 20 years ago last March, and I’m actually a lot older than I realised. It is probably the childhood nostalgia talking, but Theme Hospital is the best management game ever made.'
Few games are as bitterly cynical in its sense of humour as Theme Hospital. It came out during a glut of “Theme” and “Tycoon” related games, and yet it managed to stand out from the pack by being the meanest and funniest of the lot. This is a game in which you can kick patients out of your hospital if they look as though they are going to die before you can get them into a treatment room. This is a game where you can turn up the radiators, just to force stuffy patients to buy more over-priced drinks from your vending machines. This is a game where your method of pest control is to blast the rats with shotguns as they scuttle out across the hospital corridors. As a satire of privately run medical institutes, the 90s humour feels peculiarly familiar in this present political climate.
In terms of general design, the game is about filling the empty shell of a hospital building with clinics and treatment rooms, staffing them with doctors and nurses, and treating as many patients that come through the doors as is possible. It has a simple enough interface, though a few too many important menus (like research and budgets) are hidden by the UI. Outside of the building and staffing, much of the game comes in dealing with patients and their novelty medical conditions. Perhaps to keep the game from becoming unbearably miserable, the illnesses are all fictional and hilarious looking, such as “bloaty head disease” and “3rd Degree Sideburns”. Occasionally you encounter a difficult patient with a life threatening condition, and you are told the odds of survival if you authorise attempt treatment on them. You quickly learn that life is very cheap in this game, with patients literally dragged down to hell if they wait too long in reception. This also means that you treat someone’s medical ailments in purely mechanical terms: “well, the survival odds aren’t too good and if they die it might damage the hospital reputation. I say don’t treat them!”
Though I may have been too young at the time to have known, but Theme Hospital is a far more cold blooded game than any GTA title. It’s also funnier than any GTA title and more enjoyable too. What I’m basically saying is, if you want a good open world, third person shooter, get Theme Hospital instead.
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