With the current COVID-19 pandemic occurring at the time of this writing, it seemed appropriate to take a look at some games that prominently feature the end of the world as we know it, or at least the post-apocalyptic landscape of the time after. In this installment we will be looking at Plague Inc. released by Ndemic Creations in February of 2016.
The apocalypse in this game is that of a deadly disease, hitting fairly close to home with modern events. In a particularly unheroic twist, you play the role of the disease with the goal of the game being to wipe out humanity. This plays out through a fairly simple strategy game, that mostly revolves around picking upgrades.
When first starting out, you get to pick the nature of the disease and give it a name. There are also “genetic modifications” that you can unlock to further modify your disease, though they are all initially locked. You also get to pick a starting country for this new plague.
The way the game plays is fairly passive. You accumulate DNA points over time or by clicking on bubbles that appear on the map over infected countries. You then spend these points to upgrade, or evolve, your disease. There is also a chance your disease will randomly mutate, gaining an upgrade without costing DNA points.
There are three areas that you can choose to improve: Transmission, Symptoms, or Abilities. Transmission causes your infection to spread more rapidly in certain countries. As an example, the Livestock upgrade increases infection rates in rural regions.
Symptoms are partly how deadly your disease is to humanity, but there are also some that increase infection rate, such as Sneezing. Abilities are specific to your type of disease, and in the case of Bacteria either increase infection in certain climates or increase your resistance to being cured.
At a certain point, your disease is discovered by humanity, which will then begin working on a cure. This puts a clock on the game, as once the cure is discovered you lose. The more severity a disease has, usually increased by new Symptoms, the more likely it is to be discovered, making the game a balancing act between evolving the disease to be more infectious or deadly.
Early in the game you want the disease to spread unnoticed. But, once it has spread around the world you need to evolve it to become deadly enough to wipe out humanity before it is cured. Once humanity starts working on a cure, blue bubbles will occasionally appear on the map that reduce the progress of research when they are clicked.
There are controls to pause the game or accelerate time, so you’re not forced to sit too long waiting for your disease to spread and humanity to go extinct. You can also view detailed information about countries, how the disease is spreading there, and their efforts at researching a cure.
That pretty much covers the basics of the mechanics for Plague Inc. Aside from the main game, there are a large number of scenarios, which the developers still seem to actively be adding. They include some campaigns where the goal isn’t to kill humanity, but to do other things like sell everyone in the world a copy of the Plague Inc. board game.
The art for the game is well done for an independent title. The game does have several tracks, all of which seem fairly similar. There are also sound cues of people coughing, monitors beeping, or children singing a snippet of Ring a Ring o’ Roses, which is thought to have originated during the 1665 Great Plague in England. The music and effects combine to give a little suspense and atmosphere to mostly watching a map.
The gameplay can be a bit repetitive, though they do add some additional features in some of the content added since release. There’s a vampire campaign with additional abilities and its own thematically appropriate soundtrack. With the large amount of things to unlock, it certainly feels like there’s progress in replaying the game multiple times over.
I’m personally not a big fan of games where you play the villain, and that is certainly the case in the core game. The sillier scenarios help with that somewhat. There is also a scenario builder included, which is a nice touch for any creative fans of the game.
Overall, I would give Plague Inc.: Evolution a “B-“, or a 6.75/10 stars. If you are a fan of strategy games, then it might be worth picking up – especially if it’s on sale. I appreciate that the developers are still adding content after several years and that it is an independent title.
If you want to check it out, you can find it on Steam here. Mobile versions, which I have not played, but are presumably nearly the same, are available from the Apple App Store here and Google Play here. Unless you live in China, where they decided to ban this game after the COVID-19 outbreak, which really just made me want to pick it up more.