I wake up in a cold sweat. My body aches. I’ve developed a strange wheeze, and it hurts to talk. I’m infected… with a desire to play Plague Inc Evolved.
Developed by Ndemic Creations, Plague Inc Evolved is a genre bending puzzle strategy/simulation game. Its core concept is quite simple; develop an affliction, infect the world, and wipe humanity from existence.
Players start by making a few choices regarding how they are going to spread their disease. While players initially only have a deadly bacteria at the disposal, more choices are unlocked as you successfully end the world. Options include bacteria, fungus, and parasites, just to name a few. Each virulent vehicle has its own properties, which actually have a massive effect on the rest of your game. A strategy that works well for spreading a virus, for instance, might be completely unusable when playing as a fungus.
After choosing a plague, the next step is to modify it. There are 5 genetic codes that will allow you to pick some custom perks (all of which are unlocked via gameplay). These range from gaining additional DNA points (the currency used to upgrade your plague during gameplay) to DNA genes (which modify how your plague mutates) as well as a multitude of other bonuses. These minor tweaks could have a big impact on your game, depending on what plague you have chosen and what strategy you choose to apply.
Once these items are taken care of, you’ll name your plague and begin your quest to bring about the End of Days. Gameplay is surprisingly simple, yet has a fair amount of depth once you complete a few games. Having created our implement of the apocalypse, we must now decide where we wish to start in the world.
The majority of Plague Inc Evolved’s gameplay involves looking at a world map. You decide on a location to begin infecting people. Your origin point is also quite strategic. Do you begin in a highly populated country and try to infect as many people as possible? Or do you begin in a region that is harder to get to, and get the difficult part out of the way early? Do you pick a country with air travel and shipping lanes? Or do you pick a landlocked country and rely mainly on overland transmission? Each choice will have boons and ramifications as your game progresses.
As you infect more people and countries, you will see red pop up icons showing you where your plague has spread. Clicking on these generates DNA points that are then spend to upgrade your microbial menace. Orange pop-ups also occur, giving you more DNA points to spend as well. Later in the game, you will also see blue pop-ups; these indicate concerted efforts to find a cure. Clicking them slows their progress.
DNA points are spent like currency to enhance your player-created pestilence. Points are spent between 3 upgrade trees; Transmission, Symptoms, and Abilities. Upgrades will change the three statistics that all plagues have: Infectivity, Severity, and Lethality.
Infectivity is pretty self explanatory. The higher your infectivity, the faster your plague spreads. This statistic is most heavily impacted by upgrades in the Transmission upgrade tree. These upgrades include making your plague infections to other species (birds, rats, livestock), as well as allowing your pathogen to be air or water borne (increasing the likelihood of transmission via airlines or shipping routes). The Ability tree also affects infectivity in a different way; it can make your diabolic disease hardier, allowing it to survive in hot or cold climes, resist drug treatment, or mutate so quickly that research is slowed trying to keep apace of you malignant mutagen.
Severity is basically a “stealth” statistic in concept and practice. The higher the severity, the more likely that your ailment is to be identified and treated by the world’s medical community. Most infections start out not being known to the world at large. This is an important item from a strategy standpoint; the longer you remain hidden, the more time you have to spread unimpeded by the WHO and governments, thus allowing you to travel further and gain more DNA points. Severity is mostly changed by putting points into the Symptoms upgrade tree. This tree is unique for most of the different plague types, although some share certain upgrades. Symptoms range from sore throats and fevers, to immuno-suppresants, tumors, and even comas. There are also specific symptoms that, when combined, offer greater bonuses than normal. These secret combos often have an achievement tied to them, with clues as to what symptoms are needed to achieve them.
Lethality is what is just what it sounds like; it characterizes your plague’s ability to kill humans. It is most often affected by symptoms. Lethality is something you need, but most often, you will want to keep it (and severity) low key until you have had time to infect a larger number of countries.
Brought all together, this becomes a time and resource management game, combined with some puzzle elements. You’ll spend a good portion of time watching you plague spread (as indicated by Red pop-ups as they enter new countries). As a country becomes infected, its borders will fill with little pulsing red dots. The more dots, the more infected the country is. If a country becomes overly infected with a deadly plague, they will fall into anarchy, stopping any research they might have been doing.
Plague Inc Evolved forces players to balance a number of needs to complete each scenario. Making a highly-infectious disease will not in and of itself guarantee a win for the player. If you fail to balance each of these statistics, you may create a disease that kills its host too quickly, slowing or even stopping your growth. Alternatively, if your disease has too much severity, you may find researches putting together an antidote far earlier than you would like.
The player is not the only one choosing upgrades, either. Most of the plagues have the ability to self-mutate new symptoms as they spread. Sometimes this results in free upgrades (Huzzah!). Other times, it might get you caught during a routine health exam, resulting in a tougher game. Players are able to reverse these mutations; doing so will likely give the player more control, as well as getting a few DNA points back in most cases.
Random events also occur throughout each playthrough. Many of these events are tongue in cheek, and do little more than poke sarcastic fun at the world around us. Others have a game impact (such as the Olympics being a springboard to infect new countries, or WHO breakthroughs that aid in developing a cure). Correctly managing and exploiting these events adds another layer of strategy. There is also a news ticker that details events as well as Easter Eggs, such as a statement about Gamers beginning to worship a Helix fossil, a direct reference to Twitch Plays Pokemon.
Balancing all of these mechanics is a large undertaking. Many games will look just great until you realize that you have made grave errors earlier in gameplay. There is nothing like crafting a highly deadly and infectious plague, just to find out that you had no foothold in an outlying country. Greenland is a terrible and usual culprit in this sort of failure. Being accessible only via boat, and having a very cold climate, it makes for a metaphorical nut that is pretty hard to crack. As countries will begin restricting air and sea travel as your disease makes headlines, it is imperative that you spread to these countries prior to “going overt.” Once the world becomes aware of your plague, they will begin researching a cure. If they finish it before you finish them, you fail to wipe out humanity.
Plague Inc Evolved sports multiplayer, as well as scenarios crafted by Ndemic Creations. Custom scenarios and plagues are also available via Steam Workshop as well (check it out, you know you want a vampirism plague). The game also has some pretty neat unlockable plagues as well, including the Neurax Worm (a mind controlling pest), Necroa Virus (read as: zombies!), Nano-virus (out of control miniature robots), and even Simian Flu, straight from Planet of the Apes. I was surprised in particular by the inclusion of the Simian flu; unlike many movie tie-ins regarding video games, this added plague is very functional and unique. Not only do you manage the spread of the Flu, you also manage the movement of intelligent apes, allowing you more control to spread the virus, or allowing you to attack research centers and impede the quest for a cure.
Truth be told, I really enjoy Plague Inc Evolved. I’m a sucker for simulation games with resource management and little fiddly bits to play with. Having said that, if you do not enjoy playing games that primarily have you looking at 1 screen and managing numbers, this game is not for you. For anyone who enjoys that sort of thing, Plague Inc Evolved is easily worth the price of admission. Plague Inc Evolved is available on PC (via Steam) and most mobile devices. While technically still in Early Access, this game has more polish already applied to it than many full release games. So, what are you waiting for? Wash your hands, get your face mask, and give Plague Inc Evolved a whirl.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m feeling a bit ill. Its time for a lie down.