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The first time I played Pandemic I was probably using the Windows XP operating system on an old Athlon, an early version of Firefox and – what was then – Macromedia Flash. The aim of the game is simple: you must infiltrate the human race, spread your disease and try to wipe-out humanity. It’s a game of strategy and vengeance!
I was immediately hooked, and over the last decade or so have played as many variations on the pandemic game simulation as possible. I’ve collected the best of the best, from old browser games to cross-platform mobile versions. If your interests include nausea, vomiting and the complete eradication of humanity, keep reading!
Kill ’em All
You have indirect control over a disease which has started infecting people. Some versions allow you to choose your target, others randomise the outbreak location. The more people you infect, the more you can evolve the virus using a points-based level tree.
Most versions offer different types of diseases like bacteria and viruses, and each evolves differently. Some are harder to detect but difficult to spread, others far easier to spread but hugely symptomatic. This makes each game a little different, though tactics-wise you will probably find yourself going back to the same old strategies.
Traditionally these games are best beaten by remaining undetected while silently infecting whole continents. If you start to infect people and the symptoms are obvious, it will alert authorities, speed up research toward vaccines or cures and cause governments to panic and close borders. Closed borders mean no more infections, so staying hidden and as non-lethal as possible is the best way to succeed. Of course this was the case with the original Pandemic series, but much has changed since then particularly in newer versions and spin-offs.
The original… but no longer the best. This is the pandemic game that started it all for many, and I’ve chosen to link to the Newgrounds version because that’s where I remember playing it the most. Developed by Dark Realm Studios and released in January 2007, this original title still looks pretty good on the whole thanks to tidy vector artwork and a clean UI.
You’ll have to manually advance time in this original version by clicking the big inviting Go button. Next door to it is the evolution button, click it to see what nasties you can unleash upon your infected as well as how you can increase the disease’s resistance. Notice how it costs you points to remove symptoms, something you’ll probably want to do in order to remain undetected.
If anything this version now strikes me as being a little bit easy. This is in comparison to the more advanced and difficult versions which have since emerged. Whether you remember playing this or are wondering what the original game was like, the original Pandemic game is still worth a go.
A slightly tweaked version of the original Pandemic, albeit with a new interface, blurry map and new ways to interact with your disease. This was most definitely an important stop-gap between the original Pandemic and the true sequel, and a few ideas were trialled here which I feel don’t really work as well as they should.
Each country has its own set of commands which cost evolution points, with options like Spread Virus and Infect New Country. The evolution tree has been scaled down and you can no longer choose horrible symptoms to inflict upon the global population as you could in the original. Even the music is disappointing and the blurry map is one of the strangest stylistic choices I’ve ever seen. Next!
Now we’re talking – a proper sequel! Better in just about every imaginable way, Pandemic II ignores many of the mistakes made in 1.5 and refines much of what made the original so much fun. Users can now choose from three types of plague – a bacteria, a parasite or a virus. No longer is the game turn-based, but instead uses three modifiable game speeds. The map has more detail, is larger and territories are better separated too.
The game is a lot harder than the original, especially when it comes to infecting some of the islands. Anyone who has spent any length of time playing Pandemic II will attest to how hard it can be to get Madagascar or Greenland to fall victim to your plague (it is possible through strategy and luck). A new stats screen under the World button provides info at a glance and the music is far more fitting than the previous outing.
Your disease won’t kill people from the outset any more either, provided you keep the lethality low. Evolution trees have been beefed accordingly, with unlockable tiers which require some serious point saving in order to reach. This is worth it though for some truly awful symptoms including encephalitis, liver failure and insanity.
Just like Pandemic I and II, this is another game from Dark Realm Studios. Unlike the other titles however, this is more of a scaled-down political version of the game where you’re controlling an outbreak of swine flu in the United States. It’s an entirely different game, but one that many fans of the series might have missed and it still largely ticks the right boxes. The screenshot below sums up pretty much all you need to know, and there are tutorials to guide you through the subtleties.
You play the part of the US government trying to contain an outbreak, maintain income through tourism and keep public panic levels as low as possible. You’ll be fighting random disease breakouts, a very tight budget and the media’s inability to keep a lid on things.
Victory is achieved by researching and vaccinating 70% of the total population or by eradicating all traces of the disease. You will lose the game if the panic rate reaches 100% or more than 50% of the US population dies. Simple, but really quite hard – and a refreshing perspective on the game from the original developers.
Pandemic 2.5 ($0.99, iOS-only)
The only dedicated mobile version of Pandemic, and the only version you can play on your iOS device. Pandemic 2.5 looks to be very similar to Pandemic II albeit with improved graphics, a refined UI and touch-friendly interface. The game was last updated in 2012, and has unfortunately not received an iPhone 5 update (yet) but could sorely do with one.
Really this is just a mobile update with little in the way of new features, but it’s must-have stuff for those of you who love Dark Realm Studios’ approach to the genre. It’s not the best of its kind on the platform, but it’ll scratch the Pandemic itch on a mobile device, something you can’t do with the regular Flash versions. It’s a real shame that this is the extent of Pandemic’s penetration on mobile platforms as Dark Realm could have been making a mint off these games by now. As it stands other enterprising companies have sucked up the demand with their own apps, like Plague Inc. below.
Plague Inc. ($0.99, iOS & Android)
Plague Inc. is the MiniClip version of Pandemic, created by Ndemic Creations and available on both major mobile platforms. The title closely follows the expectations laid out by Dark Realm Studios, but also injects some novel originality into the mix as well as pacing the game for mobile audiences to keep players entertained. It uses the same ideas for evolution using points, infection via transport and open borders though there’s a lot more going on under the hood.
As well as being regularly updated with new unlocks and features, Plague Inc. features an unlock tree including different types of disease as well as gene mutations which can affect how the virus develops and spreads. The player probably has less control over the virus compared to Pandemic, with random symptoms and traits appearing as the disease emerges.
One major difference is the ability to choose a country in which to start. This will dictate the disease’s optimal conditions for spreading, so a disease that starts in a dry arid country will need some serious moisture and cold resistance to spread beyond its bounds. The formula has generally been refined for mobile, and it works very well providing hours of infective, addictive gameplay. For $0.99, this is a steal!
Bonus Mention: Pandemic Board Game
So it’s not quite an interactive title and nor is it much of a disease simulation but Pandemic the board game does share a few similarities with its web-based namesake. The board game employs a bit of role reversal – instead of destroying the world, you’re meant to be saving it. Up to four players take on disease-fighting roles (dispatcher, medic, scientist, researcher and operations expert) in a bid to save the world from four simultaneous outbreaks.
Using a combination of board and card play, Pandemic looks like a fun multiplayer game. This is reinforced by the many rave reviews and awards it has received. The original is getting a reprint for 2013, and there’s even an expansion available called On The Brink.
Image Credit: Blood Splatter Transparent (Sagacious)