I've long enjoyed the Pandemic series, particularly Pandemic II. It's a classic game, despite its Madagascarian hangups, and worth trotting out every once and a while for another go. And, given its popularity online, I always wondered when a third installment might appear.
... turns out it already has. This time, though, it's focusing solely on the United States - and rather than being the disease, you're in charge of the cure. Consequently, I found this game to be much less interesting to play.
Unlike the previous Pandemic games, you're burdened with a very specific ailment in American Swine: swine flu. (Duh.) And, also unlike the other games, AMERICAN Swine focuses entirely on the United States. Probably a good thing, as well - keeping tracking of every area in every country around the world would prove hellish. (And wouldn't make sense. Countries don't band together THAT much under a crisis.)
American Swine more or less gives you control of the United States internal and external policy on all matters related to disease control. This includes, but is not limited to: vaccination research, deployment of the army, opening and closing borders to tourism, spin control for the media and, in severe cases, bombing infected cities into the ground to prevent the spread of the flu. It's a heavily-nuanced game, but the various facets are easy to understand with a bit of practice.
... but, again, I find it much less interesting than before.
Maybe I'm deranged in some fundamental way, but the Pandemic games are a lot more fun when you're playing as the disease. Once you become the center of a curative effort much of the fun is sucked out of the game, and it becomes little more than another resource-allocation effort. A solid one, at that, but... nothing terribly innovative or interesting.
Heeeeeeere mousy mousy mousy.
American Swine is visually similar to Pandemic II in that it's a giant map in various shades of green and orange, depending on the severity of the flu in the American states. This new game sports more advanced icons in each state to represent different services, however, and combining that with nicer-looking menus makes it an overall more attractive game than Pandemic II.
American Swine, like Pandemic II, relies on a single, repeating track to emphasize the threat of contamination, though in this case it's an operatic doom-and-gloom piece. It sounds nice, yes, but it seems a little out of place, given the setting of the game, and even if it was suitable it gets tiresome over time. Change it up depending on the severity of the pandemic, perhaps?
Like Pandemic II, most of the review meat for American Swine will come right here. How tough is this game?
Answer: it depends on your difficulty setting. Normal, though moderately troublesome, is fairly easy. Move up from there and you'll have a hell of a lot of trouble containing the flu. The gap between the difficulties is perhaps a little too huge for my tastes, but there you are.
The primary troublemaker in American Swine is the Panic indicator. As things get worse and press reports on your progress become more dire, the Panic indicator will rise. If absolutely every living soul in American Swine is panicked, it's game over. I found that Panic was the big separator between Normal and Hard: in Normal it seldom rises at all, whereas in Hard it jumps up at near-unfair intervals. Given the amount of money you're allocated each month, it seems damn near impossible to keep everyone happy.
Like Pandemic II, American Swine will eventually get to a point where you'll ignore the game and wait for the inevitable conclusion as sick people die off, leaving only the healthy, immunized population behind. Panic is no longer an issue. I have trouble ranking a game as good when ignoring it for long stretches is part of the required game play, but really, you won't have to watch American Swine at work all the time. There's little point.
(I'd also like to make note of the fact that MILLIONS OF PEOPLE DYING in some states doesn't seem to faze the population much, especially in Normal. I dropped a neutron bomb on Colorado Springs just for fun, and the Panic indicator didn't bat an eyelash. Maybe that was a glitch? Heartless, America, heartless.)
Pandemic: American Swine is a good enough game. It's largely glitch-free, it boasts an interesting, workable system of game mechanics, and it takes up more free time than your average browser game.
That said... it's just not as interesting as murdering the world with a customized parasite. Know what I mean?
PLAY PANDEMIC: AMERICAN SWINE