Tom Hooper aka Atomp
Plague Inc. started life as a mobile game, the developer who from what I’ve read created it in his free time attempted to use as accurate modelling as possible whilst making the game fun, it’s now coming to PC and is currently an Early Access title on Steam. The game itself is a little grim in its nature, the player controls the genetic makeup of a disease, altering the traits of the disease according to need. Progression occurs as the player unlocks new types of disease; bacteria, virus, fungus and so on. An interesting tid-bit of information is the fact that the US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) took an interest in the game when it was still on the mobile platform and hosted the developer at their headquarters where they talked with him about the game, how the spreading algorithms and such worked and even gave some feedback on improving the title. When a game focussed on disease spreading is picked up on by the CDC there’s certainly some interest to be shown, I’ll include a link to the blogpost about the visit.
The main screen of Plague Inc. is a world map which is broken down into the various nations on the planet, each of which have different properties which alter how they respond to infection. This information is all available in an info screen and it is wise to take note of the information provided. Wealth, climate, population, population density and level of development are all measured and will alter the uptake of your disease. These nations are interconnected via land routes but also by sea and airports, each of which can be shut down or limited, requiring different genetic adaptations. The disease itself can be modified initially with genetic boosters which are unlockable through completing elements of the game and will give an initial stat bonus to your disease. Then during the game the disease has modifiable transmission traits, symptoms and abilities. These are unlocked with the DNA resource and follow a tech-tree style unlock style. The three different trees are not mutually exclusive and changes in one will combine with changes in another, for example certain symptoms can make transmission far more likely especially when combined with certain transmission traits or abilities. Progression occurs through the unlockable differing disease types and this goes some way to breaking up some of the repetition involved as the disease types essentially create different game modes and require differing strategies. The bacteria for example is fairly easy to control and can be dispersed quietly before becoming lethal however other later unlocks have time sensitive natures or progress out of control and need differing strategies.
The modelling is really quite well done, what with the variables I mentioned above combined with symptomatic variables arising on an individual victim scale whilst having a significant effect. It is possible to include neurological effects in the disease which depending on how many points are sunk into it will produce anything from insomnia to paranoia to a complete degeneration of cognitive functions. These in turn alter how the those with the disease respond, whether they go to see a doctor or not etc. This leads neatly onto the opposition to your onslaught, the human anti-epidemic response and search for a cure. If you disease becomes seemingly threatening enough it will be noticed by disease researchers in one place or another, they will in turn begin funding research into finding a cure. As you become more threatening the funding and cure progress will likely increase, and if the cure is completed and distributed before humanity is eliminated you are eradicated and lose. This is one of the key factors that determine how you develop your disease, as maintaining a relatively low status until a reasonable spread has been attained is necessary. It is this factor that makes some of the later disease types more challenging as you are either forced to do things such as race an already in development cure or attempt to spread faster than your disease can become lethal. A variety of methods are available for slowing down cure development, the above neurological symptoms can go a long way especially with a high infection percentage, but there are also abilities that can make the disease more drug resistant or introduce various genetically different strains which will stretch research budgets. This is really where the strategy in the game comes in to play with a surprising depth as more challenging disease types are unlocked although I still find myself playing it windowed in addition to something else.
The interface retains much of its mobile heritage with chunky buttons and full screen menus that don’t quite feel space efficient on the PC. That is not to say that it is not attractive, it just feels like the information could be displayed more efficiently and reduce the clicks required to get to places. Some of the gameplay elements have also retained this mobile heritage as DNA points are earned by clicking on bubbles that appear on the map which always feels a little odd with a mouse and somewhat simplistic, much in the same manner as the Godus preview I looked at but nowhere near as bad (I still haven’t revisited Godus). Despite being oversized the interface elements are aesthetically pleasing and information is very clearly displayed as it is given a great deal of space to do so. The music is dramatic and appropriately Hollywood-disease-apocalypse-esque, although I personally turned it down low as I tended to play the game windowed with something else going on.
Evolved is a definite improvement over the mobile version, if only for eliminating the scourge of in-app purchases in a paid game. (Can we not just have a mobile market of full-priced complete games? Although Humble is helping with that.) Importantly I did find myself having quite a lot of fun playing Plague Inc: Evolved, the level of detail that has gone into simulating the world’s response to your disease is very satisfying and there are certainly lessons to be learned about the dangers of infectious diseases; getting children immunised, visiting doctors, washing hands and the like. The disease simulation whilst deep is still Hollywood and the player driven development of the disease makes about as much evolutionary sense as Spore did, however it is still fun. The Early Access development seems to coming along well, unsurprising considering they have the mobile version to develop on top of. I really would like to emphasise that even at this stage the game is enjoyable and quite challenging later on, and with the unlocks and multiple difficulties there’s at least the same play time available as in the mobile version.
The game is currently Windows only and I haven’t seen any indication of other platforms being supported, but maybe we can hope. Performance-wise this is a mobile port so i wouldn’t worry too much about not being able to run it, if something can run reasonably on a mid-range ARM chip then even a reasonably elderly PC should be able to run it, Intel iGPU users rejoice. Pricing is… difficult; at £11.99 (approx $20.00) it’s rather pricey even if it does do away with those nasty in-app microtransactions. Evolved has everything unlocked and that price will net you the entire game, so it already feels better than the mobile version. If the game sounds like your kind of thing then I’d say it was worthwhile picking up now for that price, however if not then I’d wait until it’s out of Early Access and maybe watch some videos of the final product. I personally have had fun with it and will continue playing at after this review.
Plague Inc: Evolved on Steam:
Reddit Ask-Me-Anything with the lead developer:
Plague Inc. Developer at the CDC Blog Entry:
Plague Inc: Evolved Homepage: