I don't know why healthcare is such a hot political issue, because it turns out running hospitals is super fun. Sure, there's a bit of pressure when you don't have enough doctors and you've forgotten to build toilets, but then you realise you've cured enough people to afford a Sega arcade machine for your perfectly arranged reception area and all those minor problems - like ghosts of dead patients - hardly seem to matter. This is the wonderful, crazy, utterly charming world of Two Point Hospital.
The idea of little people running around a hospital sparking something in your memory? That's because this game is by the same people who built cult classic Theme Hospital 20 years ago. It'll be released for PC later this year, and will have you running 15 hospitals across five regions of Two Point County. Each will come with their own challenges, not least of all finding a janitor that will actually water the plants instead of napping in the staff break room.
The gameplay is that easy to learn, tricky to master type, and will be very familiar to anyone who has played any sort of simulation from Sims to city building in the last couple of years. You start with empty buildings are it's up to you to fill them will rooms - doctor offices, wards, toilets, treatment rooms - and staff - nurses, receptionists, janitors, doctors - and then manage the ensuing madness as best you can. There are menu screens where you can fire or train staff, overlays that will help you visualize issues in one glance, and extra items you can add to help tart the whole place up a bit. Just because your head is a lightbulb doesn't mean you won't appreciate a nice pot plant.
Rib-tickling and side-splitting
Before you start ordering medical textbooks off eBay, this (very deliberately) isn't a world of cancer and AIDs, but of having patients with light bulbs for heads. When and if those patients die you don't have to face a tribunal and a grieving family, instead you watch them get turned into a cute little glowing ghost and then - if you have a janitor with the right skills - suck then up into a vacuum cleaner. Success comes from balancing an ever expanding range of variables, staff numbers, climate, research and development, arcade machine placement, and patient care with running a profitable business. Don't be fooled by the surface layer of dad jokes and tomfoolery, there's a finely tuned simulation lurking underneath that's ready to hook you as soon as you've placed your first trash can.
The part I played, basically a tutorial, was from very early on in the game, but later new regions will bring more and more factors into play. Some regions are poor and so don't attract the top doctors, meaning you'll need to focus on training and retaining people instead of firing them everytime they want a pay rise. Some are hot, and a lack of air conditioning will lead to diseases festering and ultimately, epidemics, some are alpine hospitals in snowy regions, and will come with their own challenges. Of course, there'll be plenty of comedy illnesses too, and you'll need specialist equipment and staff to deal with them too.
The hardest part of any reboot is knowing what made the original special, but the Two Point Studios guys have had two decades to figure that part out. They've had years to see what it was about the game that kept people coming back, and what could be improved. "When we've gone back and played Theme Hospital, it was really hard," says studio co-founder Mark Webley, "so making lots of mistakes over the last 20 years, and being influenced as well by great games like Prison Architect and City Skylines, there's a lot of stuff that we can see is a good idea and hopefully evolve."
After spending an hour creating my own little healthcare heaven, I had to be almost forcibly removed from the computer, so it feels like the evolution has been a success. One thing that has survived is the humor, which feels silly and British and gentle in the best possible way, which is good news because co-founder Gary Carr admits that was one of scary parts of the development process. "We've tried really hard not to try too hard," he says, which is probably why it all feels so effortless on the screen.
The game will be released later this year on PC, and if you sign up for the newsletter now you'll get a golden toilet, which is possibly one of the most alluring in-game bonuses I've ever been offered.
Need something to help pass the time until Two Point Hospital is released? Check out our list of 30 best PC games to play right now.