War Hospital Review
There’s an argument that World War I is one of the harder conflicts to put into media due to several factors. The first is that the conflict was primarily focused on trench warfare, at least until they started developing tanks, and that’s…not a fun game. An accurate battle simulator for WWI would involve sitting in the mud for weeks at a time while waiting to be sent over the top and dying in a matter of seconds. The other issue is that, unlike the clear good vs evil narrative of the Second World War, there’s no easy good or bad narrative on the First World War. Usually, the better idea is to look at other parts of that conflict if you want to make a game, and that is just what the new game from developer Brave Lamb Studio S.A. wants to do.
The game in question is War Hospital, a new simulator based during the First World War. You take the role of the new director of a field hospital near the front lines and will need to build up your staff and facilities to save as many people as possible. Then there is also the threat of incoming German soldiers that you will need to hold off. There’s not so much of a plot besides this; instead, there's just the general, suffocating air of the war all around you. You can learn more about the soldiers you have saved, as well as a few small side missions that introduce you to some of the characters. It all comes together well enough, but after a certain point, the soldiers all start to merge into one, and there are a few repeats of their pasts.
The gameplay follows a pretty similar loop each time you move to a new area. You will need to build facilities and hire employees while keeping an eye on their exhaustion, manage which wounded soldiers will be seen by the doctors, who can wait for a time, and who you will have to abandon to death. Some upgrades will allow you to better save the ones you meet, as well as manage the production of medicine, the recovery of those who have been saved, and the burying of those who have not.
The gameplay is initially interesting, but it starts to become stale quite quickly when you realise that you’re not really doing all that much. The other issue, on the console at least, is that there’s no cursor that I could find. This complicates selecting things on the map as it feels more like guesswork than anything else. War Hospital also has another mechanic, the defence of the camp. Now, it would be nice to say that this strategy game limits you to the soldiers you have saved, except it doesn’t; it’s more of a meter that measures how successful you’ve been.
Basically, it works like this: you get five soldiers who have been wounded, and you send them to the surgeon. Let’s say that in this instance, only three survive, and they are sent to the rehabilitation centre. You can send them to the HQ, which awards you with Requisition Orders that you can use to construct new buildings; you can also send them home, which boosts morale; or, alternatively, you can send them to the front line to repel enemy attacks. The game is over if your morale hits zero or you do not have enough men to guard the front lines. There is some decision-making in figuring out which soldiers have the best chance of living and which is better suited for where, but a lot of that feels like window dressing.
This feels like a missed opportunity where saving the right soldiers and sending them to the front could give you access to certain squads and lead to a harder choice of where to send them. As it is, it just feels… odd. There’s no real reason not to just send the person with a family home, the skilled marksman to the front, and the guy who is good at the paperwork to the office, and, weirdly, there’s no way to automate this. I will say it does get more complex as time goes on, but it still feels like less than it should be.
Finally, there’s managing your staff and materials as well as making the odd choice during operations. These work out exactly as you would think: your staff gets tired, and you need to swap them out when you can to keep everyone happy. Circulating most of the staff is pretty easy, but the doctors are a bigger problem. If all your doctors are tired, this will lead to more deaths. You do have patients that may not need instant attention, and some you might have to let die. You will also need to occasionally make choices for their treatment that might influence the safety of the operation or how long it will take.
Managing these aspects is one of the most crucial points of the game, and it can be frustrating and engaging at the same time. The resources, however, are more tedious. It starts simple enough but then gets more complicated as the game progresses, which would be fine, but for one issue. The text in this game is tiny, and the menus could be a lot better. This is the biggest issue I had with the game, and it is a killer for me. The upgrade menu is this weird line thing with branching paths that I found quite hard to see on my TV, and the radial menu on the console was a nightmare. Add this problem to the lack of a cursor, and it means that navigating the world and the menus is a pain in the neck. For instance, I still can’t find a way to undo moving a patient to Dismiss File, where they are left to die by accident.
Visually, War Hospital is a gritty and generically World-War-destroyed town where a hospital has been set up. Honestly, there isn’t much to see, and the character animations, when they do turn up, are bad. It’s a shame, but there wasn’t anything that really stood out for me. It was the same with the music; the tunes I did hear were just kind of generic. Sadly, this is one of the more boring games visually in my book, but some of the artistic screenshots when you need to make a choice are quite nice, and the character portraits are fitting, at the least.
Now, I do need to approach one thing before I wrap up. According to the Steam reviews, there are a fair number of bugs, and some of them are game-breaking in nature. I did not encounter any of these on my Xbox, but that isn’t to say that they do not exist. As such, it's hard to really push people to buy the game in its current state.
War Hospital is a game I wanted to love, and for the right person, I think there is something here — however, the issues I had made the game feel like a misstep, and it needs some work. If future patches can add some needed quality-of-life improvements, then I think it could be an interesting slice of historical gameplay. If you like management or subtle strategy games, you will get some fun out of this, but the game-breaking bugs make it hard to recommend.
War Hospital (Reviewed on Xbox X|S)
The game is average, with an even mix of positives and negatives.
War Hospital has some interesting ideas, but the game has some issues and bugs that ruin the experience currently.