Something for the weekend: Pandemic 2

This week Iain Simons reviews one game that should appeal to those with a taste for the morbid...

For those who enjoy strategic simulation games but dislike the company of others, this week we present Pandemic 2 for your delight and amusement. The sequel to Pandemic (who would have thought global devastation could be developed into a franchise…?) this challenges you to create the ultimate disease, infecting and killing the population of Earth. It’s like SimCity for people that hate other people.

Whilst having a simple interface, I’d recommend a watch of the tutorial video to be introduced to the basic concepts. It’s a resource management/ strategy game, where the assets you are juggling are the qualities of your disease. Once you’ve made the decision of what class of infection you are going to create (virus, parasite or bacteria) the core game begins.

Your task is to guide the development of your disease into being the most infectious, lethal strain possible - whilst keeping its visibility to humans and resistance to their vaccines at a maximum. By carefully managing symptoms, transmission methods and resistances, one slowly spreads death throughout the planet. But as borders close and governments order the mass burning of corpses, your function becomes frustratingly spectatorial. It’s morbid fun, but doesn’t offer quite enough feedback in its interface for you to really feel in control of the action. This has no pretensions to being educational, and nor should it, but a little more detail would prove satisfying.

With just functional graphics and an irritating, looping soundtrack (although it can be muted) Pandemic 2 is a fairly lightweight strategy affair. A nice concept needing a rather more finesse, this won’t tax any simulation aficionados but rather provide a gentle diversion, allowing you to while away some time wreaking death upon your fellow man. And what else are Fridays for?

Iain Simons writes, talks and tweets about videogames and technology. His new book, Play Britannia, is to be published in 2009. He is the director of the GameCity festival at Nottingham Trent University.
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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.