Developed by Dark Realm Studios, Pandemic 2 is the sequel to the morbidly fun original Pandemic, a game in which your goal is to eradicate the human race with the perfect disease. While the original game didn't go on to become hugely popular, Pandemic 2 is more an improvement upon its predecessor than a sequel, with an improved interface and more features. Judging by the game's growing success, the developers offered gamers a better package this time around; a sort of real-time strategy/simulation game in which you get to play God (or the Devil?), concocting the ultimate virus, bacteria or parasite to kill every last person on the planet.
In Pandemic 2, you're given the choice to create one of the three aforementioned diseases, each having its own inherent strengths and weaknesses. For example, a virus can evolve the fastest, has a bonus to infectivity, but can be most negatively affected by its environment. A parasite, on the other hand, evolves the slowest, but is least affected by the environment and has the lowest visibility. These are the three main traits of your disease; lethality, infectivity and visibility. The higher the lethality, the easier and faster it will claim victims. Infectivity represents its contagiousness, dependent on factors like how it's transmitted (rodents, insects, airborne, waterborne) and also symptoms like sneezing, coughing and more. Lastly, your disease's visibility should be as low as possible to prevent people from taking notice (and then taking action to contain it). Ingeniously, many of the same symptoms that help spread your disease like sneezing and coughing will also increase its visibility, as will other symptoms like dementia, vomiting and depression. Too much visibility and you'll be met with closed borders, grounded airplanes and even vaccines being developed, all of which are the enemy of any respectable disease.
Your interface is simple and effective. A map of the world is laid out before you, with a mini-map in the upper-left corner for quick navigation. Below the mini-map is a news feed, keeping you up-to-date on breaking world news. The world map represents the two dozen or so major world countries and areas that Pandemic 2 recognizes, with various symbols within them representing hospitals, airports, shipyards and water plants. Below the map are menu functions to access the main menu, world info, disease info and adjustable game speed (which can also be paused). Controls rely solely on mouse clicks. Also below the map you'll see your "evolution points," the currency of the game used to upgrade your disease. Evolution points are earned by both infecting and killing people, a number which accurately corresponds to real-world global and national populations.
Gameplay is rather simple once you get acquainted with user interface and game system, although it can all be a bit overwhelming. In a nutshell though, gameplay boils down choosing your disease and molding that disease into a fast-spreading, killing machine. Speed really is the key, because the goal of the game is to wipe out every last person on earth. The problem is that once your disease jumps from resembling a common cold to something more sinister, nations of the world begin taking steps to avoid infection. They close down airports and shipyards, close their borders and eventually begin enforcing marshal law and burning infected corpses. Essentially, it's a race against humanity to sneak in under the radar, infect every nation on the planet, and then become lethal enough to wipe everyone out.
Analysis: Although there have been similar "doomsday" sim games over the years, Pandemic 2 stands out as one of the best. The solid algorithms beneath the hood, as well as the entertaining-yet-realistic steps humanity takes to survive makes for an intriguing game concept. For example, one of humanity's lines of defense will be trying to develop a vaccine after a certain point, in which the clock will start to count down. Depending on various factors (like how many hospitals are still functioning, or how many points you've spent in making your disease resistant to drugs), your disease might meet its demise after X amount of days. On the other hand, humanity's vaccine might be unsuccessful, buying you time to beef up your lethality while it searches for another cure. You'll enjoy being the bad guy, while at the same time, empathizing with humanity as they desperately try to avert Armageddon.
Without question, the most enjoyable aspect of Pandemic 2 happens to be the only thing you can control; the disease itself. The evolution points you earn allow you to give your disease resistances, infecting methods and symptoms, the latter of which offers a morbid array of everything from sneezing to kidney failure to internal hemorrhaging. You even have the ability to remove a symptom that's undesirable if it mutates on its own, such as removing the "sweating" symptom so that the "fever" symptom is more lethal, since sweating cools the body down. Other than that, you mainly sit back and watch what happens. It's an interesting concept in gaming, perhaps even a bold move on the developer's part, considering the current socio-political climate surrounding bio-chemical attacks and the world's collective fear of a pandemic virus. But for all of you who couldn't care less and just want to play a mad bio-chemist for a day, give it a try.
Cheers to Spector17, Yash, Eric, Kevin, Vault, Shawn and Patrick for suggesting this one! =)