Two Point Campus is a happy-go-lucky management sim with an art style straight out of a Dreamworks animation. It’s a light-hearted strategy game that charges you with developing a thriving university full to the brim with colorful characters, tongue-in-cheek classes, and wide-eyed students.
But for me, it’s an exercise in miserly ambition. After spending a couple of hours with Two Point Campus’s introductory level and first main mission, my lust for exploitative working practices knows no bounds. My addiction to unscrupulous business management is uncaged. I’m ready to unleash all my parsimonious guile on the poor students and staff that have the misfortune of populating this digital university.
Two Point Campus might look like a management sim as cheery as the grins of the characters on its cover art, but there’s a black hole at the center of this market simulator. And it does terrible things to a person.
A familiar face
If you’ve played Two Point Hospital – or dipped your toe into classics like Theme Park World, Theme Hospital, or Roller Coaster Tycoon – this sequel will be familiar. In Two Point Campus, you’re handed the grounds of a burgeoning university to grow into an academic powerhouse.
That mainly involves designing the architectural interiors of buildings by constructing classrooms, lecture halls, and accommodation for incoming students. You need to kit out each room with the necessary teaching equipment, all while hiring staff and rolling out additional courses to entice potential enrollees. You have to build more than just classrooms for your students to thrive (by which I mean continue to pay their extortionate fees): they need libraries to exercise their aspiring minds, and places to socialize, too, such as a lounge where they can practice their pick-up game.
You can’t just go creating whatever university you want; there are rules to follow and expectations to manage. In the missions I played, the main objective throughout was to raise and maintain the grades of my enrolled students. Upgrading the academic facilities of your university is the most direct means of achieving that, whether by hiring more competent staff or doling out a bit more cash to the library for some fancy new computer desks.
But students aren’t customers, and their academic achievements are tied to their social surroundings. It's no good creating an illustrious lecture hall kitted out with trailblazing tech if the students who use it are sleeping in cramped rooms with nothing but a single potted plant for comfort. You’ll need to provide them with all the bells and whistles of a Hollywood uni experience if they’re to stay happy. If you don’t, they might leave, taking their precious tuition fees with them.
That serves as an elegant way of tying Two Point Campus’s simulation mechanics to its more artistic design elements. Whereas a lot of management sims include visual customization options that amount to little more than aesthetic options, Two Point Campus bakes them into its win conditions, which often include raising the academic scores of a cohort.
For a smooth-running campus, you’ll need to dot food outlets around the place, make room for student societies to hang out, and fill the student’s union with enough arcade machines to keep everyone happy. Students also love a flower bed, which is a convenient excuse to play architectural dress-up
That may sound utopian to you, but to me it sounds pricey. Call me Scrooge, but I am the type of university administrator to pack twenty students to a room and give them a single potted plant for comfort. I like nothing more than seeing just how far I can push my students and staff before they reach their breaking point, carefully selling off (supposedly) essential university assets and providing meager teaching facilities to inflate my coffers
I sold off all the university’s food outlets to save on hiring costs, replacing every coffee shop and burger van with a vending machine. I fired swathes of my already underpaid janitorial staff to replace them with rubbish bins, hoping the good nature of my students would keep the campus clean (it didn’t but they can live in their own mess.) I downsized personal tutor rooms to one-meter-square tuition boxes, how much space can one-on-one teaching need?
My cost-cutting didn’t exactly pay off. The immediate savings didn’t translate into sustained profit, as my ailing campus struggled to attract new students. It’s not easy to run a functioning school while gutting it from the inside. But that just makes things more enjoyable. There’s a challenge in trying to be as miserly as possible and still have a successful university. Like setting a trap, but not wanting to waste too much money on the bait.
My quest for unfettered profit did highlight some weaknesses in Two Point Campus. There are some hacky methods to bump student happiness, like throwing a big end-of-term party. Events provide enough of a happiness buff to carry students through the rest of the year no matter how dire the campus is. Plus, you can keep professors from quitting by stuffing staff lounges with an unrealistic number of cheap plant pots. Those might actually be realistic measures, but they did feel like I was cheating the game rather than playing how the devs would want me to.
But these are minor quibbles. Designing your campus with exciting new decorations and features is so quick and easy, my desire for inflated profits had me engaging with Two Point Campus’s systems and inhabiting the role of a penny-pinching administrator.
Two Point Campus does a fantastic job of letting you flit between micro-managing your university – carefully picking every poster plastered in the student union – to tinkering with the macro financial side – weighing up if that extra library assistant really is pulling their weight. With the whole game structured around the annual academic cycle, you’re given a breather in the summer months to take a step back from dealing with spontaneous student problems and staff disagreements to focus on the wider side of the business.
Two Point Campus might look like a cheerful management sim that captures the best days of uni life, but I enjoyed it most when roleplaying the greediest parts of higher education. I can’t wait for more students to enrol later in the year, with their bulging bank accounts ready to be plundered