Chemistry sets these days are pretty lame. Good luck trying to extract DNA from mosquitoes imprisoned in amber with something that has difficulty producing a decent baking soda volcano. If you've been longing for something to fill the petri-dish-shaped hole in your heart left by a childhood of an unfulfilled desire for dangerous genetic experimentation, Phage Wars 2 is here to crash through a window with a rose in its teeth and woo you with the promise of creating the deadliest virus known to man. Just try not to swoon face-first into a table of samples seething with virulent disease.
From Armor Games and Joey Betz comes a game about breeding stronger, faster, more magenta-y viruses, and other wholesome pastimes. Unlike the original where you were only able to choose from a selection of premade viruses, the sequel has a much broader scope. You're put into the shoes of a new laboratory technician tasked with creating the ultimate virus, and you'll do so by pitting your creation against those that came before you.
The game is played entirely with the mouse, and from the virtual desktop the game presents you with, all you need to do is click on something to get started, exactly the way you would with your own computer. The bulk of the gameplay takes place when you click on the "Run Experiment" icon, which will present you with several tests to choose from. You'll need to work your way through all of them to advance and achieve your dream of becoming the nastiest, most plague-bearing-est virus on the planet. GO TEAM.
Once you begin an experiment, your virus will start out in a single cell and so will your opponent, each with your own colour to help you tell cells apart. The number in your cells, which can regenerate all the way up to 100, represents your virus's strength. Click on one of your cells, drag over to an enemy cell and release. Half of that cell's strength will split off and head on over to attack; if its value is greater than the enemy cell, you'll take it over. It sounds simple because it is. But the enemy is constantly on the attack too, and as the experiments progress, you'll find yourself harder pressed to both hold and gain ground. The experiment succeeds if you manage to take control over all the cells on the field.
Upon completing a test run, you're typically presented with the message that you've discovered a new gene. These are modifiers that can be spliced into your existing virus to affect everything from how fast it regenerates to how quickly it moves. As you evolve, so do the other species, and you'll need to keep moving to stay alive. The analysis program can be run after each test to show you how your virus is stacking up, and can be a good way to find out which areas you might be lacking in.
Analysis: Phage Wars 2 is an improvement over the original in a lot of ways. The AI is faster and more aggressive. The ability to customize your virus is a great touch. The interface is smart and engaging. And I get to pretend I'm an Umbrella lab technician!
Presented on a virtual desktop, Phage Wars 2 goes a long way to get in character and stay there. Everything is designed to make you feel as though you're working on an actual lab computer rather than playing a game. While the visuals aren't quite realistic, they're still extremely effective for their purpose. Windows pop up and minimize with the appropriate sounds. The documentation is accessed via a "Read Me" file that looks like an actual text document, complete with ASCII title. It's a lot of tiny touches that combine to make one very clever and absorbing experience and made my nerd-o-meter ping off the scale with delight.
Despite being billed as a strategy game, this isn't something where you can kick back with a cup of coffee and expect to mull over your every move while thoughtfully stroking your chin. The gameplay is actually very fast; enemy viruses begin swarming the instant the level starts up and rarely take a breather. As such, rather than carefully plotting out a plan of attack, most of your time will be sent trying to capture as much ground as possible as quickly as possible while the enemy batters at your defenses. The stronger you make your virus, the more easily later levels can be won by a blind, zergling rush in all directions. With the exception of regeneration, most of the other attributes don't appear to have a very big impact.
Still, from its quirky presentation to its fast-paced gameplay, Phage Wars 2 is a solid little package. What it lacks in variety, it makes up for in originality and style. It plays well, and the only bugs you'll encounter are the contagious, necrotic sort, which makes for a nice change of pace. For featuring the only weapons of mass destruction that could be undone by a spritz of Lysol, Phage Wars 2 is a winner in my book. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go disinfect. Everything.