It’s not often we review two-year old mobile games based on a stock photo of planet Earth, but when they receive retouched PC releases that suck up dozens of hours in a week, they can be worth paying attention to. Plague Inc. is one such game.
The point is simple, and therein lies its appeal. Before the player lies a world as it is today (in a nice touch, the starting date is always the current system date) and the goal is to kill everyone with one of a range of diseases plopped onto the map and left to do its work with occasional upgrades.
Plague Inc. manages to hit all the right buttons for creating an addictive experience without actually containing much in the way of gameplay. As a plague simulator, much of the game is passive and the player’s only real moment of control is in selecting the country in which their Patient Zero is located. While some of the plagues (specifically the mind-controlling Neurax Worm and the zombifying Necroa Virus) do allow for transferral across borders, it’s really just more of the same.
The starting nation determines some factors, such as how easy it is for a plague to spread in a particular environment, and while it can often be useful to infect a lot of people earlier by starting in China or India, it can be just as worthwhile starting in a remote area hard to infect naturally later on, like Greenland.
The upgrades the player chooses can have some effect on the plague’s progression, whether that’s allowing the pathogen to be carried by birds, rats or livestock, protecting it against future cure research or giving all sorts of painful or unpleasant symptoms to its poor victims. Combinations of upgrades can have unexpected consequences (the “Oops” symptom that comes from having both sneezing and diarrhoea is a particular favourite) so it lends a sense of a grand strategy to proceedings and there’s a curious satisfaction to watching little red dots start to swarm across the planet.
Humans do not passively wait to die, though. Their doctors and scientists will keep an eye out for spreading new diseases and once a plague is discovered will start working on a cure at a pretty alarming rate. It’s this opposition that introduces a note of tension, as the need to start killing off the scientists conflicts with the need to spread the disease to countries not yet touched – and that requires living sufferers.
The presentation is nothing at all special and particularly underwhelming when considering the magnitude of a global extinction event is being reduced to the slow darkening of spots on a map. Still, it provides a decent overview of the situation, and for a visual representation of “dead” nothing works better than a country being blacked out.
There’s not a lot to Plague Inc. and after unlocking all the plague types and experimenting it swiftly becomes rather dull. A story mode building up from infecting towns, to cities, to regions, to countries would be worth playing, as would some kind of multiplayer with one player taking the human vaccine-development side.
As it is though, it’s a good dozen hours’ fun at a reasonable price, and well worth playing merely to support quite an inventive gameplay style. 70%