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.

62 Comments

  1. Willem says:

    Shut.
    Down.
    EVERYTHING.

  2. Flubb says:

    Took out N and S America, North Africa and India on my first go, I quite like this :>

  3. cHeal says:

    That’ really good. Just had a quick game there because I’m about to go to bed.

    Actually when Spore was anounced my first thought was whether I’d be able evolve a virus type organism rather than anything remotely human. Just seems move interesting. We already have the Civ games for humanoid technology trees and that kind of game, somebody really should make a game where you evolve but don’t built civilisations or anything and the point of the game is to evolve as best you can to your surroundings.

    I’d try and become and Alien, acid for blood, the whole lot.

  4. Nameykins says:

    Oh you people will have fun trying to crack Madagasgar.

  5. Disco Fever says:

    I’ve said this once, and I’ll say it again: GODDAMNED MADAGASCAR.

  6. Tikey says:

    I’m looking for the Army of the Twelve Monkeys.

  7. Manu says:

    Damn it, I’m too late to be the first to say …

    YOU’LL NEVER GET MADAGASCAR !

    Other than that, a fun game, even if way too slow.

  8. Finn says:

    New Game – named my bacteria – window pops up warning I should watch the bloody tutorial – nothing more happens. What am I doing wrong?

  9. Ging says:

    I was aiming for the badges they have for this over on kongregate and two of them require killing the entire population…

    The sheer number of restarts it required to get madagascar actually drove me crazy – I have blackouts, I wake up and I can’t remember anything, but I know it’s because of this as I find that I’ve scribbled “madagascar sucks” on my walls…

    Finn: Nothing, the start progress is pretty slow, check where you’ve started (it’ll say “* has been infected” or something to that effect on the left hand news ticker) – take a look at the disease info, which’ll tell you what your starting symptoms are.

    Whack up the time multiplier and peek in the world section every so often to check on overall progress. Go back into the disease section to buy new traits and symptoms with your evolution points.

    Kill the world.

  10. Gloria says:

    First game I start: Disease originates IN Madagascar.

  11. Ploppy, son of Ploppy, the Jailer says:

    Finn, do you see the little x at the top right of the pop-up window? Yes, you do now don’t you. Enjoy your new PC.

  12. Satsuz says:

    Indiegames.com’s blog put up a post with some (poorly drawn) MSPaint-style comics about the odd and infuriating quirks in this game. The laughing made me feel better after the frustration, so I share this with you.

    link to indiegames.com

    Make sure you click the links in the post to see the last two.

  13. Sucram says:

    I start off an a subtle virus, slowly building my genetic strength, the odd cough not worrying anyone. Day by day my influence grows, but still the governments don’t suspect my plan. I start to spread across the world, small numbers in each nation, until the hospitals start to wonder what’s happening.

    Then I become ‘Super Ultra Infection Killer Virus’, from which there is no escape, the weak humans have no chance to stop me, no chance to survive. I kill them all and..

    Oh.

  14. bobby says:

    How do you recover from having the disease vaccinated?

  15. Ging says:

    You basically don’t – if the vaccination stops you from being able to infect anyone new, than the game is as good as over. Jack up your lethality and just live with the thought that the people you have infected all fell over spewing blood from every orifice in the space of about 3 hours.

  16. malkav11 says:

    Yeah. It’s a neat little game, but the quirks and balance issues mean that I played pretty much until my first total human extinction and then quit. Because a lot of it’s down to chance, and the sandboxy elements are really pretty much camouflage – there’re only a couple of very closely related strategies that are actually viable for killing *everyone*, and even they don’t work a lot of the time.

  17. phanteh says:

    It may be frustrating… But it’s saved my mind on this most boring of night shifts.

    Thanks!

  18. Acosta says:

    I remember being in Genove some weeks ago trying to explain this game to Tom Francis and some EA execs, and at that moment I felt quite wrong trying to explain why it was so fun creating a virus to wipe humankind at the most painful way possible. Maybe a trajectory of wiping out cities, empires, galaxies and what not makes you morbid like that.

    Yes, very nice little game. Too bad it doesn’t has a stronger set of rules (sometimes it looksrandom) and more options, I’m comfortable with the pace but I feel it lacks more activities and more weight on your decisions. I like to think there is bigger potential on this concept.

  19. Jae Armstrong says:

    Played this game a while back and was fairly unimpressed. There’s only the one viable strategy, and the amount of luck required to break into good ol’ Mada’ vastly overshadows whatever skill might be involved in the process.

    And the waiting. The tedium.

  20. nihohit says:

    Have you played Go Beryllium? It’s another game of pseudo-realistic proportions. And, it’s more fun than learning quantom physics!

  21. Rakysh says:

    Good game, but last time I played this, there was a “go faster” button. Which was, incidentally, MONTHS ago. Srsly. It’s been out for a while.

    I think actually, the strategy is balancing your visibility with your infectiveness/death rate. Either going for the quick kill, or slowly infecting everyone.

  22. Joinn says:

    Killed everone except for madagascar (and one ship?!?!?), strange how it seems immune to EVERY possible vector

  23. malkav11 says:

    There are two “go faster” settings. The game is tediously slow at the highest. A full game can take 20 minutes or more, most of them spent sitting and waiting for build points to roll in.

  24. Alex says:

    This game is awesome. On my first go, I managed to wipe out China, the US, Africa and most of Europe and Asia (bloody Indonesia…) with ‘teh ghey’.

  25. sinister agent says:

    That was fun. I infected the entire world except madagascar within about 100 days, with not a single death (bless New Zealand Australia for being shockingly lax in allowing three million people to become infected before doing anything at all, while India and Europe declared martial law almost instantly). I suppose strictly speaking not killing any hosts should mean the disease is more succesful, but that’s no fun. After a few months it becomes clear that Madagascar’s invincible once they close their port, so screw it. Evolve a couple of lethal traits and BAM – two hundred million deaths in a couple of hours. Chilling.

    I quite liked it when all the ports closed and a handful of infected ships were left to sail endlessly around the Indian ocean until they mysteriously disappeared, too.

  26. Steve says:

    Sweet….
    2000 days to develop the cure since there is only one functioning hospital left… and the entire population (including bloody Madagascar) is already infected with my insanity causing brain parasite “Kieron Gillen”….
    :-)

    oops…
    scratch that..
    last hospital has gone.

  27. rei says:

    Pretty fun, although I don’t seem to be able to get past 5,5 billion deaths.

    Also, considering how often the game spews out the words “marshal” and “law”, they should probably make sure they actually go together in some meaningful way.

  28. Ginger Yellow says:

    It’s really, really flawed, but strangely addictive nonetheless. Shades of Defcon in the tone and presentation. I’d love to see them develop the idea to make it a bit less random and a bit more responsive.

  29. Dreaded Walrus says:

    “insanity causing brain parasite “Kieron Gillen””

    Amazing.

  30. Alex says:

    I didn’t find it very chilling at all. Defcon affected me a lot more, but I am a child of the ’80s, I guess.. that said, watching Threads made an infinitely greater impression on me than playing Defcon.

  31. monkeymonster says:

    Hmm, started in Madagascar with a parasite and took me a year to remove all vestiges of the human race. Never has it been so weird to see “no sign of life in western europe” and think yay!

  32. Björn says:

    I can’t believe no one has mentioned Greenland’s zombie/robot run hospital (and airport, etc). You can kill everything there and the hospital will still go on running.

    By the way, I hate how something without any ill effects or symptoms can cause countries to completely shut down everything.

  33. Sum0 says:

    Dear Kieron, I remember reading you when you were the new guy at PC Gamer. And now you’re quoting me. I’m very strangely honoured.

    Having said that, I enjoyed the first game when I stumbled across it, so I’ll be giving this a go.

  34. brog says:

    Too much waiting; the fast speed is nowhere near fast enough when you’ve infected everyone in the world (except Madagascar, of course) and are waiting for those costly evolution points for symptoms that kill.

    It’s a bit strange how people know to close their borders when I have no symptoms. Anyone know what triggers this?

  35. Kieron Gillen says:

    It’s that you’re spreading *too* quickly, I believe. Even if you’ve got no symptoms, you may want to start relatively slow until you’ve managed to get into all countries before amping up.

    KG

  36. Goose says:

    A game that lets you be one of the bad guys from Regenesis?

    SOLD!

  37. Heliocentric says:

    The Headcrab parasite, oddly went un-noticed for a long time.

  38. brog says:

    Well, I infected Madagascar.
    Pity Peru and Argentina escaped.
    Stupid luck.

  39. Ian says:

    I enjoyed this a few months ago until somebody told me an easy way to break it and destroy the world in a way that took the fun out of it.

    Still a great game, mind.

  40. rei says:

    “your disease has managed to exterminate humans off the face of the earth”

    Phew, I can stop now. I find it disconcertingly compelling to try and wipe out humanity.

  41. ngc248 says:

    So… now we know .. in case of a pandemic .. get a one way ticket to madagascar

  42. sinister agent says:

    So… now we know .. in case of a pandemic .. get a one way ticket to madagascar

    If you want a merciful death as they shoot your plane out of the sky, yes.

  43. Fat Zombie says:

    Well, surely the ports will be closed?

    Anyway. I haven’t tried this yet, but it sounds strangely fun. Luckily for you folks, I’m going into Physics for my degree, not Biochemistry.

    *builds nuke*

  44. Locust says:

    All population wiped out in 322 days… maybe I should have been a geneticist.

  45. Fat Zombie says:

    Finished a game, unfortunately not killing off all human life. This is rather fun. (More so than Defcon, maybe even)

  46. brog says:

    I’m back at it, trying again to break Madagascar.

    And failing.. why doesn’t my horde of zombies (symptoms: Insanity, Necrosis) just walk there on the ocean floor?

  47. cyrenic says:

    I took great pleasure in watching the last few survivors in Madagascar tick away. Probably too much.

  48. Razerious says:

    Muahaha! I wiped out the human race

  49. Andrew says:

    On my first game, I killed the entire world apart from Madagascar and Australia with a deadly strain of bacteria.

    Second game I decided to play it cool and went around infecting as much of the globe as possible before going for deadly symptoms. This didn’t work as borders were closed with about 8 regions still clean, due to the preponderance of infected people in other regions (although they weren’t suffering much from said infection). Then the vaccine got developed. :(

  50. Thomas Lawrence says:

    It’s straightforward to get Madagascar, provided you don’t mind lots of waiting.

    Countries close borders and shut down airports etc. for (seemingly) three reasons:

    * lots of deaths
    * a close neighbour has a certain level of infections
    * the world in general has a certain level of infections

    Therefore, the trick is to have a symptomless disease with low visibility and (oddly) low infectivity. You want low infectivity because your objective is to get a small founder population in EVERY country, and to avoid having a lrage infected population in any one country. If your disease is too infectious, the first few countries will get large populations of infected, and even with an “invisible” and symptomless diseases, governments panic if too large a population has the disease (although god knows how they find out that they do).

    Then, just wait, until your disease has spread to every nation on the globe. I succeeded at getting to this stage merely by amping up drug resistance and level 2 resistance to everything else and nothing else, but I’m not sure even that was necessary (I was just afraid a vaccine would be developed before I got all the countries.)

    Once every country has a small founder population (I think even one guy would do, but maybe wait for about thirty people or so), then amp up the infectivity, adding airborne transmission, sneezing and so forth. Your disease will quickly infect everyone on the globe, choking and closing down hospitals in short order. Every single government will close everything, but it’ll only slow you down if you’re alreayd in every country. Then, finally, when everyone is infected, add lethal symptoms.

    Then, cackle maniacally.

    it’s not fast, but it works.