There’s an old saying my dad used to tell me: “You’ll wait years for a spiritual successor to a classic hospital building game to come along, then two turn up at once.” I never understood what he meant until now. This time last year, we got our first look at Project Hospital by Oxymoron Games. A short time later we would also get the first glimpse of Two Point Hospital by Two Point Studios.
It is very tempting to compare these two games, especially as they both feel like a spiritual successor to Theme Hospital, but that’s not actually accurate at all. While Two Point is a near note-for-note update of the Bullfrog classic, Project Hospital has taken a different path. In the past, other would-be hospital based management games would try and emulate the Theme Hospital style, Hospital Tycoon and Hysteria Hospital being two examples. But Project Hospital plays it straight.
There’s no Bloaty Head Syndrome or King Complex to be found here, instead you’ll encounter real diseases and injuries. One of the best things about Project Hospital is the patient diagnosis procedure. A patient comes in and visits reception, before taking a seat in the waiting room. They then attend an interview with a doctor, and discovers their symptoms. This, in turn, opens up further lines of enquiry, options for further tests and investigation into the illness. You can follow the progress of any patient and play doctor yourself, selecting tests, diagnosing and event deciding on a course of treatment.
This initial feature really entertained me, and building more rooms meant further ways to diagnose patients, but then came a problem. Building is a key feature of these sorts of games, but the building tools available in Project Hospital aren’t very good at all. First up, the game is 2D, which is fine, but this produces problems quickly. The game has a Sims-style ‘walls down’ viewpoint, which allows you view your rooms easier. But even with the walls down, objects such as bookcases, shelves and various other bits and bobs get in the way of rooms directly behind them, making object placement in rooms a bit sketchy.
The building process is a bit of a slog all-in-all. The building of a room is fairly easy, build your wall and draw the room shape on the floor. Click the floor in any room and you’ll see all the items that can be placed therein. Some items are critical to the room being able to function properly, and these are marked red until they are placed into the room. As this game is taking a look at the real side of hospital life, each room ends up looking rather similar, aside from any dedicated equipment, and it doesn’t make for an engaging building experience.
It seems that the developer may have preempted that the building aspect wasn’t all that interesting, as the game has a number of premade rooms and to be honest, after a while I just used those for ease. It doesn’t help that each hospital is separated into departments. While accurate, these are difficult to put together, as each department must have a set certain rooms to function.
I was confused when I tried to open my second department (x-ray) but the game wouldn’t allow me as I hadn’t build a toilet. But I actually had, right next to the x-ray room. The game asks you to build enough rooms but despite the toilet being right there it still read: Toilets 0/1. Turns out that Project Hospital has an annoying kink in its design: each department must have a full set of rooms. So even though I had two departments in the game area, the game still wanted me to build two toilets. It’s the same across the board; areas with two (or more) staff rooms, janitors closets and on-call rooms. There’s no way to build centralised areas.
The game doesn’t make this clear though, so I couldn’t work out for the life of me why my department wouldn’t open. It was missing a corridor, but it did have a long, thin piece of building with rooms coming off either side, but apparently that wasn’t a corridor, because it hadn’t categorized it as such. Another issue I had was a department being unable to process patients as there was no waiting room near to it, although there were three. The patients keep complaining and I haven’t been able to identify where the issue is. This, teamed with the occasional bug (the game sometimes wouldn’t recognise when rooms were built), can make the game a little frustrating.
The user interface feels as though it has been lifted from a budget tycoon game from the turn of the century. It’s big, clunky and difficult to navigate. While updates seem to have smoothed it out a bit, it was difficult to find exactly what I wanted. Even the bulldoze feature was hidden away in a menu, and finding this was a must as the viewing angle, paired with the lack of an undo button, made mistakes a pain to alter.
Aside from the building and diagnosis aspects of the game, there wasn’t much to do aside from hire staff, and the staff managing aspect is down to simply hiring them, then deciding if they are on a day or night shift. It’s not a major thing for me, but as the building aspect was such a let down I was hoping there’d be more to keep me engrossed. The staff hiring feature really needs work: for example, if you need to hire a cardiologist but they’re not available, you’ll have to perform another search which costs you 2.5k each time. From what I can tell, the searches are random, so you could end up spending about 10k trying to find one member of staff, which is just crazy.
I delayed my review slightly to try playing the game in Sandbox mode, with no financial pressure. I had attempted to build a couple of hospitals in Campaign mode and had struggled to even get them open. But in this pressure free environment, I rather enjoyed my time building a hospital. I had time to plan and build, figure out what was wrong and hire the correct staff without worry, and, to be honest, I had a blast.
It made me realise that Project Hospital isn’t as open as other tycoon style games. It has certain rules to its structure; as mentioned before you can’t simply have one standard, central toilet or staff room. But if you learn these rules and build your hospital to the game’s specifications, then you can really get some enjoyment out of this game. Just be aware that it has a steep learning curve. It isn’t hard because it’s a hard game as such, it’s hard because you need to spend time learning the game. For me, this was easier done in Sandbox mode.
Project Hospital isn’t a bad game, just a very imperfect one, weighed down by game design choices. I would go as far as to say deep down, there’s a good game in there, just struggling to get out. Those with a bit of patience will get something out of Project Hospital, I’m sure. Those who are looking for a more casual pick up and play style game will probably get more out of Two Point Hospital, though. If you’re a tycoon aficionado, and can overlook some bugs and some flawed design, you’ll certainly enjoy Project Hospital.
Project Hospital suffers from a few bugs and flawed design, but deep down there’s a good game struggling to get out.
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