Hospital Tycoon Impressions
Hospital Tycoon mixes the gameplay of Theme Hospital with the drama of <i>Grey's Anatomy</i>. We made an appointment with Codemasters to see how it's all turning out.
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It's been a long time since Theme Hospital created the hospital management genre, but this year Codemasters is set to follow up Bullfrog's classic with its own take on the subject. As Bullfrog's Theme games did, Hospital Tycoon has its tongue firmly in its cheek, with a mix of various comedy ailments and storylines straight out of TV medical dramas. We've seen relatively little on the game so far, so we trundled off to Codemasters to have a first look ahead of the game's release this June on the PC. While you're the manager of each hospital in the game, you're also the star of a TV show that plays out like an interactive Grey's Anatomy. The story will be delivered across three "seasons," with four episodes per season, complete with all the highs and lows of a modern soap opera. As you'd expect from something with soap-opera sensibilities, much of the storyline revolves around romance, meaning that you will have to bring certain characters together and split others apart. You can make your little doctors and nurses chat each other up and even kiss, all with an eye to starting a relationship outside the hospital. No soap would work without cliff-hanger endings, though, so you should expect some tragedies to happen along the way, as well as a cast of recurring heroes and villains who'll pop up throughout the three seasons.
Of course, the business of treating illnesses is still an important part of the game, and patients will need to be diagnosed, treated, and then dismissed to run a successful hospital. Diseases range from simple headaches to life-threatening dilemmas as you progress through the game, but they always have some sort of comedy element to them. For example, "lightbulbia" is a condition afflicting people who've been electrified when changing a lightbulb, while "lycanthropy" is a contagious disease where people turn into werewolves. The contagious diseases are the worst, because they will infect people who are already ill, which will then drain your resources even further until you find a cure.
With so many random new diseases in the hospital, much of your job is researching cures to help you process patients and earn money. You need to not only invest a lot of money in equipment and drugs, but also make sure that your staff is trained well enough to handle such challenges. Specialist staff members such as engineers, janitors, pathologists, pharmacists, and physiotherapists perform specific tasks but may not be needed all the time, which looks like a major challenge on the human resources side. You also need to make sure you're pairing up teams with similar opinions and qualities, as they will bond quickly and enjoy working together. If you've taken the time to put like-minded people together and encourage that relationship, then they'll find cures quickly and rake in the money from patients. Each condition has a medical card that tells you what you need to invest in for a solution, and you need to acquire plenty of medical fridges and keep them stocked up. Some of the solutions we saw were nose blocks for use on patients with explosive sneezing and Breath 'o' Death spray, which was used to treat dragon's breath.
Another important part of the game is designing the layout of the hospital, but this looks like it will be simple enough to accomplish. Hospital Tycoon automatically figures out what room you're trying to create by analyzing what equipment you put down. If you drop sofas, pinball machines, and coffee dispensers into a room, it will automatically become your staff room, while placing banks of workstations and monitors together will create a research room. Once all these rooms are in place, your doctors will have a good enough mix of work and pleasure facilities to get them through their 80-hour weeks intact.
Guidance through all these stages is brought to you by the ex-manager of the hospital and your assistant, who will both sit in the corner of the screen and spout Sims-style gibberish. Luckily, their rants are translated into English and printed up in voice bubbles, and they talk you through the basics of the game. It also helps that basic information about anything you select in game is brought up in the top right of the screen, such as the ID card for each of your employees. It's a handy way of seeing how they're feeling that particular day, and it helps you to improve their mood by initiating bonding exercises such as talking, shaking hands, or hugging.
While Hospital Tycoon isn't doing anything especially new, it seems to have great charm and looks like it will be a lot of fun to play. The idea of using a soap-style storyline is likely to be a love-or-hate thing for players, but it suits the subject matter and hasn't really been tried in a game before. The only platform it's currently due for release on is the PC. It will be unleashed on the world this June.