Tested On: PC
Developer: Ndemic Creations
Publisher: Ndemic Creations
Why is attempting to wipe out every vestige of humanity using a brutal, savage, invisible killer so thrilling, so utterly addictive? In Plague. Inc: Evolved you direct and guide a plague, choosing its evolutionary path by assigning in various methods of transmission so that it can spread, before turning it deadly with a wide assortment of horrific symptoms such as skin lesions, sores and vomiting. Your goal is the death of all humanity, down to the very last person.
You will never see any of the carnage you wreak, though. You float high above the Earth, using a bird’s eye/God’s eye/Satellite’s eye view of the world, with infections and death being shown as nothing more than a growing tide of red dots. It’s both exciting, and incredibly sombre. For the first while of play you feel detached, your mind gliding through the many evolution options, working out the strategy that will work best for finally getting into Greenland or for holding off a cure being developed. But there’s a lot of downtime in the game as you simply wait for your plague to spread or for Evolution points to come rolling in, and during these moments it suddenly hits you. You’re killing everybody, one by one. You’re deciding how best to maximise infection before them choosing symptoms that will effectively murder everyone, usually in horrific ways. That’s pretty fucked up.
So why does it work? As humans we’re inherently violent, regardless of what we like to think of ourselves. Indeed, our capacity for insane violence is what brought us to the very top of the food-chain. Without we would have died out long ago. Today we have the mental capacity to push those violent urges down in everyday life, and thus most people barely even notice them anymore. But they are there, lurking. Every time you feel a flash of rage as somebody does something stupid, or even when lag ruins your perfect streak in Call of Duty, the violence is there. And of course as an entire species we’ve successfully expanded the simplistic concept of violence into something for larger, creating horrifying weapons and waging huge wars. So is the answer as simple as that as humans we take a strange, perverse pleasure in working out how to kill everyone else on Earth? Cthulhu knows we seem to delight in shooting a lot of virtual people. A plague is just a bigger step forward, the simple entertainment of killing done on a grander stage.The thing is, with shooters it’s all very personal, which is why we love it. With Plague Inc: Evolved, it’s all very clinical. So why does it work?
The truth is that I don’t know. It’s hard to place exactly why Plague Inc: Evolved keeps me coming back for more. It simply does.
As an actual game, Plague Inc. is straightforward stuff with minimal player interaction, unsurprising given its heritage as a mobile game. As I said before, much of your time is spent staring at the screen, waiting for Evolution points to role in that can be used to mutate your potential plague, making the inclusion of a fast forward button most welcome. Bonus points can be grabbed by popping special bubbles that appear, again a clear indication of the game’s past. Points are also awarded for infecting and killing people. Strategy comes from working out how to best spread the virus, and judging when you need to ramp up its lethality. Mutate too many symptoms early, and the population will become aware of the plague’s existence, and may begin work on a cure. The more seriously they view the virus, the more money and time will be poured into creating a cure, thus should a few pesky humans succumb to your infection too early there’s a strong chance you won’t be able to recover . Problematically, though, viruses can mutate new symptoms on their own, and indeed some of the plagues that you can choose when creating a new game have incredibly rapid evolutions that can leave you floundering. IN most cases you can choose to devolve a symptom, which nets you a few extra points, with the catch being that opting to bring back that symptom later will be more expensive. In some cases, however, devolution actually costs you points as well.
There’s three areas to drop your points into: symptoms, transmission and abilities, all of which have a pretty varied selection of things to purchase. Opting to make it so that your plague can transmit itself through dust particles, for example, makes it effective in hot, dry countries, especially if you also add transmission via insects into the mix. You could also choose to bump up your plague’s defense against hot and cold weather, or make it more effective at fending off antibiotics, a handy ability if you want to infect richer countries with good healthcare. As for symptoms, all the classics are here: vomiting, sweating, organ failure, open sores that increase transmission, and many more.
Progression through the game is simply a case of killing all the humans, at which point you’ll unlock the next plague type to play with, whereupon you repeat the aforementioned annihilation of humanity but with your strategy having to be altered slightly due to the unique properties of your chosen strain. Fungal infection, for example, is problematic because it struggles to travel even relatively short distances, thus you need to utilise a special ability which allows it to release spores that will infect a new country. The virus, meanwhile, tends to mutate rapidly, making it difficult to handle, although special abilities allow you to speed up the mutation process if you feel like embracing its unique property. Though they may require small adjustments in strategy, these are the more boring plague types within the game, each one requiring largely the same plan to achieve victory, all while sharing the same symptoms, abilities and transmission types.
Beat them, though, and the game gets more interesting. Take the deadly Necroa Virus, for example, which works by creating zombies. This virus has unique traits across the board, including the ability to infect bats that will then attack humans, making it far more fun to play. There’s even special abilities that let you direct zombie hordes in order to infect countries and resurrect corpses. The humans also get a special ability in the form of Z-com bases that send out military personal to battle the undead hordes, potentially halting your progress if you don’t buff up your zombie’s fighting abilities. Another plague involves mind-controlling parasites that can be evolved to force their human hosts into catching a flight to a different country. There’s even a Nano virus.
It’s not massively demanding or involving stuff, and yet somehow it’s often quite a hard game to beat, especially if you ramp up the difficulty. Mostly this is because you don’t have direct control, as such – your choices of evolution only vaguely nudge a plague in certain directions, a myriad of background calculation determining how it will spread, who it will infect, everything. Indeed, the internal workings, henceforth referred to as witchcraft, are supposed to be so accurate that it captured the attention of the CDC, who invited the developer to visit. Sadly I have absolutely no knowledge with which to judge how accurate the systems are, but it certainly feels realistic, mostly in that Greenland, with its freezing temperatures and single port, is almost always the last bastion of hope for humanity, remaining free of infection. Indeed, it was usually my desperate attempts to conquer the ice-covered country that led to my downfall, as I spent far too many points trying to break into it. Fuck you, Greenland. Mind you, if a plague ever does break out, I’m moving there.
Outside of the main game in which you simply need to eradicate humanity there’s also a selection of scenarios to undertake, both official and custom, if you want to delve into making your own. These present tough challenges, such as scenarios where ship or airplane travel has stopped, global warming has increased or even trying to win against humanity when it already knows about the virus and has developed powerful vaccinations. They also bring things like the Black Death and Smallpox into the mix. There’s also a speed run mode, but honestly this style of game doesn’t suit speed runs very well due to the slightly random nature of how plagues work.
The great mystery of Plague Inc. is why exactly the game remains in Early Access. At this point in its development it seems to have no significant issues, is very nicely polished and has a decent amount of content. The developers have said they are working on bringing the game out of Early Access, though, a claim supported by the announcement that they’ll be bringing Plague Inc: Evolved to Xbox One with new scenarios, improvements and viruses being added as free updates. Surely at this point Plague Inc: Evolved could be properly released and improved through free updates.
There is room for speculation, as cynical as it may sound, to suggest that the developers are keeping it in Early Access to avoid criticism, a theory reinforced by the fact that they seem unwilling to provide much of the press with download codes to preview the game. However, yruthfully there’s no a whole lot bad to be said about the game at this stage. Probably the biggest complaint at this point is that it can feel quite repetitive. Even the more complex plagues still involve staring at the same global overview for long periods of time and waiting for points to role in. Indeed, using the fast-forward became my default method of playing the game. And speaking of points, the second complaint is that there are times where you can be left without new points rolling in and no explanation of why this is occurring, when other times they come flooding in. The allocation of Evolution points can at times feel almost random, leading to many frustrating games where it became clear victory was never going to happen.
As for the future, multiplayer is being planned in both competitive and co-operative forms, which should be interesting. What else is being planned is something of a mystery, but there’s plenty of feedback being provided on the forum.
Also worth mentioning is that the game also has a special Simian Flu plague which ties in with the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes movie. With this plague you can attempt to wipe out humanity, while also triggering the rise of the apes. As you evolve the plague special abilities become available, letting you direct the apes to form colonies, attack countries and migrate.
Sadistic yet addictive, Plague Inc: Evolved is certainly promising. At full price there’s something in me that can’t quite recommend a purchase, but if you can grab it during a sale this is well worth playing, something I don’t often recommend with titles still in Early Access.