Theme Hospital is a hospital simulation/strategy game released in 1997 by Bullfrog Productions. Though realistic in the sense that you are charged with becoming a successful hospital by way of profits and reputation first, curing patients second, the hospital you construct treats made-up illnesses, employs caricatures and features all kinds of comical tidbits (“Patients are reminded not to die in the corridors.”) Bullfrog, responsible for a long string of “Theme” games, liked to load their games with zany humor and Britishisms, so Theme Hospital is more of a light-hearted romp through the world of health care. The gameplay is actually fairly challenging at its default pace, but can be scaled up or down to suit the player. Overall, this game is a fun diversion that withstands the test of time.
You start out in a small, single-building hospital equipped with nothing. In order to maintain a good reputation, compete with other hospitals and manage to make a tidy sum off of the ailing locals, you will have to build diagnosis rooms, treatment centers and facilities to meet the needs of guests and staff alike. I advise slowing the game down during the preparatory segments of each stage so you can be ready for the first patients that will arrive, though building as you go can be just as fun.
In order for your hospital to run, you will obviously need to hire staff. All staff range in skill and salary and doctors sometimes come with “psychiatrist”, “surgeon” or “researcher” specializations. Effectively hiring a capable staff will ensure that you will be able to tackle and strange disease that might turn its ugly, bloated head.
Your doctors will have to research new diseases as they come through the door. You can manage the direction of the hospital through various menus to decide how certain your doctors need to be before providing treatment, how tired staff needs to be to go to the break room, and more. Many of these features, while involved and interesting, actually are not necessary to completing the challenge of each level. Furthermore, reviewing menus and messages does not pause gameplay, so problems can arise while you are digging through the settings. Some such problems include machines breaking down (potentially killing a patient), staff members simultaneously taking breaks, outbreaks that can overwhelm your facility, and timed challenges that may crop up.
Each stage introduces a new set of illnesses and diagnostic tools for you to toy around with, as well as one or two gimmicks. One town’s hospital has to put up with earthquakes that severely damage your equipment. Another is prone to outbreaks. Countering these problems can be frustrating, but never in a way that makes you want to quit the game in a huff (okay, the earthquake one comes close…)
Theme Hospital is an older game and definitely suffers from pacing problems, but none of its faults prevent the game from being fun. Though finding a disc of the game would prove difficult, you can purchase it on Origin, perhaps even catch it while it’s “on the house”. The only downside is that you won’t have any manual to help you with the hotkeys and might be a little lost when you first start playing, but you should be able to figure them out before long. (Tip: You can change the game speed with the 1 through 5 keys, 1 being slow.) Now that you’ve done a little research, go ahead and guess at a cure for your boredom with Theme Hospital.