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SummaryStarts fun, then gets too hard to enjoy
The GoodThe first few levels are very fun. They're simple, relatively easy levels that don't ask too much of the player. The player gets to learn new things, try new equipment, and see new animations. It's not overwhelming, and the map isn't too large, so you don't have to divide your attention too much, while still having plenty to do. The money you make is the money you keep, and all in all you can see your hospital improving and getting better, which is very rewarding. It's also very humorous, reading about diseases, seeing the animations of doctors treating patients other things as the in-game characters walk around, and hearing the announcer.
The software also comes with one of the best manuals I've ever read. I ended up printing it off and reading it front to back. It's informative, humorous, and gives a lot of good information that helps you in the game.
The BadAround halfway through the game, something bad happens. It gets aggravating. Every level you get reintroduced to the same diseases, so you have to see the fax about Constipation at least half a dozen times. The announcements start repeating. The hospital gets too big for you to really manage, even though it has to be that big in order to get the money and reputation you need to finish the level. And worse, the creators added the stupidest function in the entire game: epidemics.
Basically you have to choose between whipping out all the money you've made in the past 20 minutes, or start a race to vaccinate and cure everyone with the epidemic, which will clean you out too if you don't get everyone. Worse, these happen about once every 15 minutes, and there's nothing you can do about it, so the only way to make money is the aggravating equivalent to tacking back and forth, trying to make more money between epidemics than they take away, and hoping for the rare times that the epidemics are small enough to be contained.
Meanwhile, since the hospitals are so big by this point, invariably one section or another will get covered ankle-deep in invalids' barf, more than any custodian will clean without a half dozen pay raises. And you know what? It says the difficulty is set on "medium" in the beginning of the game, but there's no way to adjust the difficulty, so banish all hope of putting the game on easy and maybe enjoying it until the end (or maybe just reaching it, without enjoying it).
Added to that is a list of nonsenses, errors, and forward compatibility troubles.
You'd expect a game like this to be nonsensical, but sometimes it went too far. I'd say the biggest nonsense was the title. "Theme Hospital"? What the heck? You'd expect a theme park, or a theme restaurant maybe, but who in their right mind would want to go to a "theme hospital"? Granted, some of the people with hilarious illnesses might go, but it seems others would rather take their chances with a regular hospital, especially those with Constipation or The Runs, two illnesses I'm sure other hospitals could take care of. But further, what perchance, is the theme? Space ship? Western? Under the Sea? Leaders of the World? No, nothing like that, it's just a regular hospital that's just wacky. There's really no theme there, and no way you can give it one.
Besides the name, there's also the time. Months pass in a few minutes, but some patients need to stay there for a half hour. Even the simple invisible woman who just needs a swig of drugs will spend a few minutes for diagnosis then treatment. Doesn't anyone ever eat? Don't their families wonder where their loved ones have been for months? But I guess I can't really single the game out, because after all many managerial games, from Roller Coaster Tycoon to Black and White, Sim City, and 1503 AD have inconsistent time spans. Also, there's a relative lack of diversity in the characters. All of the doctors are either Northwest European (English, Germanic, Lapland, etc) or African decent. There are no Spanish or Asian doctors; while all doctors are male and all nurses are female (I'll have them know that my brother-in-law is a male nurse). Patient variance is only a little better. I understand they probably had to make separate actions and character animations for each person, but they could certainly have made a few more. Still, it beats the heck out of the "everyone is a white, 12 year old boy exactly 1 meter tall" philosophy of Roller Coaster Tycoon.
Also, I never got the concept behind the whole "epidemic" thing. What's so shameful about saying that you've discovered some of the patients in your hospital carry infectious strains of illness? And for that matter, how do you have a transmittable case of the runs, invisibility, or kidney stones, for that matter?
The game was pretty low on bugs, but there were a few. The first I noticed was this one time, a very hairy man (many levels before this became a condition in the game) was standing in the hall, blinking quickly (I mean like blinking in and out of existence, not batting his lashes quickly). I clicked on him, he separated into two characters, and the game crashed. Second, people sometimes pass right through each other rather than going around. Third, the staff sometimes inexplicably doesn’t go to their staff rooms well beyond their recommended mark for going there, and reach their maximum fatigue and demand a pay increase. Maybe I'm just missing something, and maybe it was intentional, but it was never mentioned in the manual and I think it's a bug. Fourth, if you're carrying someone while a fax comes in, the game crashes. Fifth, sometimes you get a fax with very nasty news in it, but the fax marks it "hurrah!".
Finally, there are some things that just make this a bad game to play 10 years after it was made. I played it on a Windows XP, but I'm guessing Windows Vista would be even worse. First, the autorun doesn't work. It tells you to "Proceed", but nothing in the autorun will actually start the game. So, after you install it, if you put the CD back in the autorun is just an annoyance, because you'll just have to run it yourself anyway. Second, sometimes when you exit the game, Windows tells you that "an error has occurred and the program needs to close". Third, there's absolutely no music. For me at least, there was nothing I could do. Music was turned on in the game and its volume up. Songs were picked out. Heck, I even want to the install location and found the songs. But they were in an outdated "XMI File" format, so no program outside of Theme Hospital would play them either. So, no music for me while I was playing the game.
The Bottom LineYears ago, I played it, got to about the 4th level, then probably went away and played something else. More recently, I reinstalled it, and got to about the 7th level or so, but grew so aggravated at the excessively large hospitals, the epidemics, the vomit waves, the expensive equipment, and the fragile reputation that I just gave it up and uninstalled it. That's the way this game goes. It starts off pretty fun, but as you move up to higher levels, it becomes more and more complicated (much faster than anyone could ever get better at the game, so it doesn't even follow Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of "flow", meaning the learning curve is way too steep for the increase in difficulty [or the patience of the player]), up until the point you could get more enjoyment out of doing something else than the aggravation trying to continue would cause.
Added to that is a small list of things that stretch the game's suspension of disbelief too far and minor errors that add to aggravation. And added to that are signs that show the game hasn't aged well. If you find a copy of this game, you'll be lucky if it actually runs on your computer. And if it does run, you'll be lucky if it runs well, instead of getting errors in the game or not being able to hear the game's music.
Bottom line: it's kind of fun in the beginning, but gets worse as you progress through the game. Also, by now it might be too old to run or run well on newer computers.