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Pandemic: It's The End of the World as we know it...

Oh, the choices are too much.

And I feel quite sick, actually. And blood is spurting uncontrollably from my anus. Man! I’m not sure how I missed Pandemic 2, considering there’s been a thread on Qt3 about it for over a month. I think I thought it was some tedious discussion about the future of the Battlezone-veterans after the EA buy-out, so treated it as if it was under quarantine. But it’s not. It’s actually the most apocalyptic game of sinister annihilatory numbers since Defcon .

In short: Design a plague. Let it loose. Destroy the human race. Hell yeah!
It’s a simple strategy game with an unfortunate amount of waiting – it’s a game where you really could do with a faster speed-up option – with a really novel subject which elevates it entirely. Starting in a random country, you spend points to evolve useful traits in your parasite. As you infect more people, you gain more points to spend. Repeat until everyone’s lying dying a heap of bodies. What you purchase in what order is the core strategy. If you go for – say – the heavy duty vomiting and diarrhea symptoms early on, you’re going to be great at infecting and may even start to weaken the population for eventual mass death, but governments are going to notice sharpish and start sealing the borders to avoid sick-and-slick-poo getting all over their nice streets. The art is managing to infect everywhere before the borders seal – the problem there being that being too obviously infectious, no matter how harmless, will cause similar paranoia. Oh, options, options. Sure, you can get five billion easy enough, but getting that last tricky billion is the tricky one.

And don’t start me on Madagascar. Bastards. I hope they all die of a horrible disea.. oh, never mind.

Red is infected. DIE! DIE HUMANS! VIRUS WITH SHOES? YOU HAVEN'T SEEN A VIRUS WITH SHOES.

Bar the thrill of novelty and unusual strategy, it’s also, in its number-based way, one of the most chilling games I’ve played all year. When I started, Sum0’s comment in this week’s Sunday Papers thread came to mind: “I was playing it again recently for a bit of nostalgia, smushing Russia into radioactive dust, and I was thinking: “Lucky this is only a video game, it wouldn’t happen in real-life.” And an instant later, I thought: “Hang on. This is exactly what the two most powerful countries on Earth were planning for throughout most of the last 60 years.” In that one moment, it suddenly seemed so ridiculous. Of course I know global nuclear war would be unpleasant – I’ve learned that from TV and Dr Strangelove – but it was only through the unique medium of actually playing through nuclear war that I realised how insidiously dangerous the Cold War was.”

That’s a lot like Pandemic, except acting as fuel for the general sense of paranoia around Bird Flu or whatever. By watching the numbers of “alive” in a country start to plummet violently I found it easy – in fact, unavoidable – to lose myself in worryingly detailed images of what it’d be like living in the world implied by those digits. When you hit the terminal state and there’s four-thousand people – all infected – in an area as large as China, with the “Dead” total in the millions upon millions, vast panorama of dead and bloated corpses fill my mind, with the faces of those last, scared, desperate people all too easily imaginable. And then I’m off into a world of considering their fates, their desperate balancing of complete despair (think of how many are dead!) and futile hope (But we’re still alive – maybe we’re going to be the lucky ones). Except, no. You know the numbers, and there’s no arguing with them.

Yeah, I’m a bit morbid. You would be too. I’ve killed about twenty-five billion people today.

So yes: oddly emotive for just numbers, descending. Highly recommended. Just not in real life, yeah, you crazy genetic engineers out there.

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Kieron Gillen

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Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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