Ever wonder why health professionals get in such a flap when a new strain of influenza rocks up on the scene, even though they often turn out to be relatively minor? Well, it's because the spectre of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic - which killed 100 million people, or 5% of the world's population - still looms large, and although the most recent pandemic was in 2009, we're long overdue an outbreak of that seriousness again.
The fear it seems is catching. With Tom Clancy's The Division, those cheery funsters at Ubisoft Massive have hypothesised what would happen if the next cataclysmic breakout occurred in New York City - on Black Friday, the beginning of the holiday shopping season, no less. The result? Carnageeeeeee, with multiple e's.
The titular Division then is the name of a fictional response unit set up by the US government for just such a catastrophe. This sets the scene for the most refreshing and intriguing new Tom Clancy universe in years - an open world MMO RPG that plays out like a cross between Rainbow Six and survival-horror indie sensation DayZ.
As The Division, your task is to roam around a rapidly-crumbling New York City (either as part of an online team with friends, or on your todd), searching for survivors and attempting to bring order to the chaos. You search for objectives by calling up a map on your fancy-dan VR wristwatch, which displays an overlay of Manhattan on the floor ahead of you and steers you in the direction of nearby objectives and points of interest.
During the presentation our squad was beckoned towards a yellow dot on the map, which represents a 'critical' mission. It appears that such missions are opt-in, and time sensitive. In this instance, we had to bust into a police station and free a group of police officers from a band of ruffians who were keeping them prisoner in their own cells - our reward was a ton of loot and access to their armoury.
As it's an MMO, you will naturally encounter other squadrons on your travels, and this represents a very real danger to your hard-earned gains - so periodically you'll want to whip out the flare gun and call for an extraction - a process that takes around 90 seconds and alerts everyone in the near-vicinity to your location, and that you've got loot worthy of plundering. It's the game equivalent of leaving your purse on the car seat, but it's the only way to bank your goodies.
While the setting of an apocalyptic NYC is more than played out, there's no denying that The Division's creative art direction puts a new twist on a familiar theme. This isn't post-apocalyptic New York - this is an apocalypse-in-waiting, with glittering Christmas lights providing a stark contrast to the debris-strewn streets and roads choc full of abandoned yellow taxis. It's a world that changes around you, too.
Due to the Power Of The Cloud, your game world is persistent and continues to evolve even while you're offline eating a Pot Noodle or whatever - damage from bullets and explosions remain, allowing you to see the Big Apple erode to its core as the infrastructure continues to crumble as the pandemic rumbles on.
The Division is a tactical-based cover shooter and as such teamwork with clearly-defined roles is integeral to success - but despite this it's a classless game. By which we don't mean it gets drunk and chats up your mum, but rather that you have the ability to re-allocate skill points before battle to best meet the task ahead of you.
Oh, and there's the obligatory companion app too, where the player lumbered with the tablet gets to play as a drone, calling in airstrikes and gifting the ground soldiers XP boosts. Shame - it was doing so well until then. Hopefully, the final product will discover more novel and elaborate uses for cross-platform play.
Tom Clancy's The Division hits shelves in 2014.