War Hospital Review
There’s a burgeoning genre I like to call ‘strategy games that make you feel bad.’ Instead of simply getting you involved on the character level, these games usually zoom out to show you the larger conflict. This creates a paradox. How can you balance the deeper questions of morality with having fun? If a game isn’t fun, will people still want to play it? War Hospital arrives to the scene, confident in its approach. Is this the game that sets the new standard?
The Doctor Will See You Now
On paper, War Hospital has got everything figured out. It is the year 1918. You play as Henry Wells, a British medic in World War I. You’ve been put in charge of a hospital near the front lines, and you will have to keep things running smoothly. The conflict is, you do not have the resources to save everyone, so you will have to make impossible choices. The objective is clear. This experience will help you feel for the real decision makers of history.
The specifics are what make War Hospital creak to life. This is not a generic war, this is The War To End All Wars. You are an Englishman in Continental Europe. But the medical specifics are sadly lacking. Part of the excitement of the medical genre is how gross it can be. And diagnosis can something lead to an exciting mystery. Your patients arrive with an existing status effect that can (hopefully) be fixed with some combination of doctors, medicine, and time. Your lack of these resources means you are constantly choosing the best of some bad choices.
I’m not sure what the exact fix is. I don’t think the game would have benefited from say, an amputation minigame. But because relevant information is presented clearly, you never get a chance to make a meaningful escape. A game like Papers Please also asks you to make life-or-death choices, but that’s layered into a challenging puzzle. The challenge of War Hospital is whether or not you have enough time to make your patient better with the resources on hand. When I make a mistake, it seems predetermined.
Guilt is an emotion that a lot of games try to traffic in; often to mixed results. You will lose villagers in a game of Banished, but they are more anonymous than your citizens in Frostpunk. Lots of military shooters throw you into dramatic situations, but The Last of Us 2 is full of little touches that make you feel bad for playing the game. There’s something to be said for a piece of art that can reliably provoke a certain feeling. But a lot of criticism on those two games questions what those feelings are even for.
War Hospital does not quite achieve those levels of guilt. The randomly generated medical decisions are repetitive. You will start seeing the same animations repeat very fast. The scripted crises are definitely more interesting, but the writing doesn’t have the punch it needs to really make you feel it. As such, I often found myself interested while playing War Hospital, and I often found myself bored, but I never found myself emotionally shattered. I never felt myself getting deeply invested.
We Must Not Exhaust Our Supplies
Sometimes I like to play strategy games by just looking at the numbers. It’s easy to forget that one number is for people, and another number is for food, and another represents bandages. When you really look at the nuts and bolts of a strategy game, you can see if it has worthwhile ideas beneath the genre trappings. War Hospital is very functional, and intentionally balanced, but it doesn’t give you room for improvisation. You are not rewarded for creative problem solving.
There’s another way to look at War Hospital which is as some sort of RPG/visual novel. I think this change would actually benefit the themes of the story. There are already existing characters in the story. They are where the game comes closest to realizing its vision. The randomly generated patients by comparison, all feel like unimportant NPCs. War Hospital is all about taking on a role, but you express yourself through tactical decisions. If I spent less time choosing the mortal fates of random named guys, maybe I could have spent more time learning to be Major Henry Wells.
***PC code provided by the publisher for review***
- Well realized World War I setting
- Good story and characters
- Medical procedures lack specificity
- Everywhere looks like mud
- Gameplay loop grows old