In the First World War, the main stories we hear about are from the soldier’s point of view, or of the naval battles, or perhaps the emerging air force. We know of the terrifying battles set in the trenches and the pointless regaining of land. It’s a horrific war that lead to shell-shocked combatants coming home, whole generations wiped out. But there are other stories from the great war, tales that come from the support units. One of those was the medical support on the front line.
In War Hospital, you get to experience what it might have been like running a hospital during war times, as you are left to make life and death decisions while trying to keep the medical supplies coming in. It’s a grim and worthy sim game.
The wealth of sim games on offer on the Xbox can feel overwhelming at times, but it’s still very exciting to see the PC-dominated genre making its mark on console. However, there can be problems with the transition in some of these games, with control systems being put onto the console and issues with text size in the menus. War Hospital, while good, does suffer from both of these problems, albeit in small doses.
The story puts you in the shoes of Major Henry Wells who, in the last year of the war in 1918, is put in charge of a field officer right in the middle of the front line. There is a narrative to be had throughout the game, and characters that you will meet and talk to. But the war and tragedy surrounding it is the real story, as is the difficulty of your task as the ever-increasing soldiers arrive needing treatment.
The gameplay is absorbing and requires your constant attention. A few hours will go by and you will see that you’ve been chewing your fingernails with the anxiety of trying to balance an impossible situation. You will have a list of patients that arrive in your hospital, from there, assigning doctors to help the patients, hopefully ensuring they will get better. But the more patients arrive, the fewer resources you have in terms of staff and medicine to treat them all. In War Hospital you will need to make some hard choices and that’s what the game boils down to. Choices, and how none of them are good.
Medicine is something that needs constantly checking on. You can order it, requesting delivery, but that supply comes via train and this takes time. You can choose to build a pharmacy to make your own, but this requires staff, taking them away from making food. So do you risk running out of meds or food? Like I said, War Hospital is all about choices and balance. If morale is lowered the game is over, and that’s not helped by the fact you also need to deal with burying the dead, sending people back to the front line so you have enough of an army to fight the enemy. It’s very much a case of spinning the most horrid of plates.
Visually, War Hospital is good with some very poignant cutscenes playing out at the start of the game. The characters that pop up have nicely drawn thumbnails as well, which is the standard trope of games in this genre. I did find the presentation of the menus to be too small though, affecting the ability to read all the details. I think it’s a problem that is regularly highlighted with conversions of sim games and whilst I got used to it, there’s no doubt it was a bit of a slog reading it. However, I very much enjoyed the soundtrack that played out to fit the action, whilst the voice work does a good job of bringing the characters to life.
War Hospital intends to tell an unknown story from the First World War, honouring the people who helped keep the soldiers alive; those who had to balance so many difficult choices. However, the choice-making is a bit too harrowing and hardcore, and that means it’s hard to ‘enjoy’ what is on offer.
There’s no doubt that War Hospital will have you considering the heroic medical teams of the time, inspired to think more about the support units in war time. But as a game, it’s hard to want to play through that experience.