Impressions – Plague Inc: Evolved

By Alec Meer on March 26th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

Plague Inc: Evolved, an unfinished but solid version of which is out on Steam Early Access now, is a strategy game about wiping out humanity.

At first I felt terrible, as the red dots denoting infection spread across the United Kingdom, into France, across the sea to Norway, and then the deaths began to roll in.

Then I grew annoyed at Iceland’s panicked closing of its airports. I frowned as my bacterial infection withered in the African heat.

Then I smiled as migrating birds carried the plague to the other side of the world, as the lights gradually went out in Canada, as Germany’s infrastructure collapsed in the wake of the mounting fatalities, and as China’s extinction dealt a savage blow to global research for a cure.

Then I roared in anger as I realised not a single microbe of my beautiful disease had found its way to Greenland, which had wisely shut down its only port some time ago. Now its frozen climes held the last, terrified remmants of humanity, for my terrible illness had claimed all other life on the globe. Unable to cross the chill seas to the world’s largest island, with no new hosts to spread to, my plague perished.

I snarled at the screen, then took some comfort from the fact that those 60,000 Greelanders would surely live short, brutish and ugly and nasty lives without any other humanity to support them.

Then I played again, and killed EVERYONE. That man who felt a sick guilt as he spread disease across Europe? I can barely remember him any more.

Plague Inc: Evolved is an adaptation of the mobile strategy hit for PC. I haven’t played the pocket-friendly version so can’t tell you what’s new and changed, but while its origins are evident to some degree this Early Access version doesn’t feel as though it’s simply a teeny game crudely inflated for a larger screen.

In any case, all it really is a world map filled with more or less red dots to denote the spread of infection, and a few screens wherein you choose new mutatations, symptoms and resistances for your disease, earned by infecting and killing and clicking on occasional pop-up bubbles (this latter, Farmvilley aspect, is the weakest part of the game, but then again Plague Inc’s nature means you’d spend a great deal of time just sitting and waiting for a number to rise otherwise). A few clicks to kill a world. Or to fail to kill it, which is more likely for at least the first half-dozen efforts.

Win or lose, Plague Inc really is the darkest possible game – I stare at a number which denotes those still left alive, actively willing it to decrease. Introversion’s Defcon is the closest analogue in that sense, and similarly Plague Inc raises big questions about abstraction – when all is mere numbers, the sense of human suffering decreases. I was far more appalled by, say, the torture scene in the most recent BioShock DLC than I was by the cold declaration ‘Kazakhstan uses mass graves’, ‘Italy burns corpses’ or realising that there was no-one left alive in Scandinavia. 10 million lives came to mean nothing, while a billion simply meant an irritating obstacle as it was still enough to potentially research a cure on time.

As you can see in the screenshots, I gave all my bacteria and viruses and funghi and mind worms funny names. Haha, isn’t it funny when it says ‘Justin Bieber has destroyed the world?’ But what if I’d typed ‘AIDS’ or ‘bird flu’ or ‘starvation’ or ‘poverty’ into that little box right at the start of the game? Wouldn’t it feel very different then? Would I really be willing the game to tell me that AIDS had wiped out Russia or starvation had killed Africa? Funny, how my brain tried to make it funny, to stave off the darkness of what Plague Inc is really about.

It’s fascinatingly horrible. Very clever too, even though it could be said to be more a Hollywood take on viral spread than a scientific one. I suspect I’ll wear out the singleplayer, with its unlockable variant plagues (each with their own, pleasingly themed and increasingly outlandish tech tree), fairly quickly, though there’ll be a multiplayer option in there later too, as well as a scenario creation.

Short-lived in its current release or not, there’s smart strategy to it – whether to shoot for maximum death as soon as possible and thus hamper cure research efforts that way, or lay low, spreading as far and wide as possible but with minimal symptoms in order to avoid medical detection, then suddenly escalating to seizures and organ failures once your disease has a foothold in most nations. Do you spread by air, by sea, by blood or by animal? Do you take out the poorer countries, with their more limited medicine and lower standing on the geopolitical stage first, or strive to handicap the rich nations with all their antibiotics and superior R&D?

Do you give your terrible plague with the potential to wipe out humankind a funny name or the name of a real one?

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82 Comments »

  1. RedViv says:

    I shall name it President Madagascar, and shut down every human.

    • kwyjibo says:

      Wait, it’s based on that flash game? You would create a contagion, spread it everywhere – and then there was a button to magically mutate it simultaneously all parts of the world into something deadly, and then everyone dies.

      What depth.

      • sinister agent says:

        Madagascar never dies. Unless you start there, in which case it’s first to go. But then Australia takes up its mantle.

        The game was Pandemic 2, I believe. c.2008.

        • jrodman says:

          Yep, sounds identical to pandemic.

          • iucounu says:

            It’s clearly a Pandemic clone, but it’s much better than Pandemic. The tech tree is far more interesting and varies depending on disease type. There are interesting scenarios like the Necroa virus, a zombie plague that adds a whole new angle to the gameplay. (You can send zombies around the place to infect countries that might have closed their ports – if Madagascar is a problem, a raft made of 1 million floating zombies all doggy-paddling hungrily in their direction should do the trick.)

            I’ve only played the iOS version – as it’s so cheap, give it a go on mobile first and see if you like it. I highly recommend it as a casual time-sink.

      • rikvanoostende says:

        Default strategy for bacteria or fungus, but how about a fast self evolving virus that gets noticed right away or kills everyone but Greenland? If you notice the weird Steam achievements that seem to have nothing to do with the game, you may find your challenges (nuclear retaliation and the like).

  2. J. Cosmo Cohen says:

    I hardly ever play mobile games, but I gave this one a shot many moons ago. I “won” my first time playing and never touched it again. It was fun, but I had no desire to keep playing.

  3. benjamin says:

    I picked this up on mobile last week. This games teaches you to hate Greenland and Iceland. Two remote, cold places which have ruined many a good plague of mine. There was one time when I used an ability to infect a random country and saw that Greenland was the one infected. I found myself delighting in the savage pleasure of dooming it’s 60,000 people to an early death.

  4. kwyjibo says:

    How do you suddenly escalate a disease?

  5. MrUnimport says:

    So, uh, is there anything really worth paying for here over the flash version?

    • theslap says:

      I’d be interested in knowing this as well. Just looks like a fancier global map to me.

    • ain says:

      This is what I’m wondering as well.

    • SAM-site says:

      This, sir and or madam, is the exact argument I make for Play for Free games.

      Yes, you can experience almost the exact same game playing the Flash version without ever parting money from yourself at which point I tend to use this litmus test – would I pay money for this? Chances are, if I’ve sunk a few hours into whatever free game I’m playing, I’ll buy something from said free to play game as a thank you for the fun I had playing it.

      The critical point here is deciding what to buy. I may not play the game again, but my purchase will be tracked and measured with all other purchases so in a small way I am helping to steer the company towards the kind of monetisation I’m happier with (usually personalisation or expansion items).

      In this case you could buy the full game on Steam, or buy some expansion bits on the free to download mobile version and in-so-doing you’ll be telling the developer “make more full games” or “release more expansion goodies on the mobile version”, and your voice will be heard even if only in a small way.

      Whether or not you see a game like this, which has been available for free elsewhere, as a worthy purchase is your choice entirely, but I use it as an opportunity to tell the developers “more of this kind of thing!” while giving them a few quid for their efforts.

      • theslap says:

        That’s fine and all, but what we are asking is what is added to the game experience. Plenty of games are free but lots of additional content is added when it goes to Steam or another purchasing platform.

        All I can see that has been added so far is updated graphics.

  6. Tei says:

    I think the mobile game had expansions for things like nanites and mindworms, and these where fun for maybe one minute. So enough time for a mobile game.

    I want one of this games but in space, and with religions. It will be like a prequel to Dune.

  7. melnificent says:

    Greenland has two boats that go to it, Norway and Iceland. Without evolving cold and Water by at least 1 you will struggle to get a foothold in the country.

    The mobile roots really show through when playing on a surface pro, but it’s got that one more go feel to it.

  8. BooleanBob says:

    Wait, I thought we disapproved people who monetised clones of other people’s games?

    Like, REALLY disapproved, and in fact hateposted against their dangerous wrongness on our glorified blogs with stern words aplenty?

    That said…

    This game is a monetised Pandemic clone, right?

    • RedViv says:

      It has more variety and a deeper simulation going for it, from what videos seem to tell. Not quite a straight clone then, but 15$/14€/12£ (price differences, ho) is a bit much for the additions from the mobile version of this.

    • Kefren says:

      In some ways an opposite – in Pandemic you’re meant to save the lives and eradicate the disease! (Rarely works out like that).

      Something I didn’t understand from the Impressions: do you play a human engineering the diseases, or do you play the disease itself, altering to take out humans?

  9. Noise says:

    “Men’s Rights Activism has been eradicated”

    For a fresh dose of double standards, imagine if it had said “Women’s Rights Activism has been eradicated”

    • MrUnimport says:

      Let’s not go down this road. No, really, let’s not. It was a joke, please let’s leave it at that for the sake of this comments section.

    • aliksy says:

      Not sure if stupid or bad troll. User name looks appropriate.

      • EveryoneIsWrong says:

        When someone posts something that idiotic those are the choices they are left with. I like giving stupid people the out of pretending they were trolling. It just works out for the best if they take that escape route.

    • GenBanks says:

      Didn’t know there was such a thing, this article caused me to look at its wikipedia page… Probably not a good sign if Alec was looking to reduce chance of infection.

    • Gap Gen says:

      And the White Power and Black Power movement are also identical!!oneoneone

    • DarkFarmer says:

      now that we have games simulating the spread of disease, its time to make a game simulating the posting of troll comments. wait it already exists, its called “comments”

    • pipman3000 says:

      or if it said white supremacy had been eradicated, really makes you think.

    • woppyce says:

      Someone please explain why men’s rights are being compared to white supremacy.

      • Aninhumer says:

        In theory MRA ought to be a complementary force of gender equality alongside feminism, drawing attention to the various ways in which the issues harm men as well as women. In practice, it’s a reactionary movement which argues that pushes for gender equality are themselves causing harm.

        • JamesTheNumberless says:

          You’re a white supremacists if you’re a white folk and don’t want folks doing the things that white folks do, whilst not being white folks. You’re a Man supremacists if you’re a man folk and don’t want folks doing the things that man folks do, whilst not being man folks.

        • PaceCol says:

          What utter rubbish. Whilst there are indeed some MRA’s who still live in the dark ages, believing that the raising of women above chattle was a massive mistep in the cultural evolution of society, there are also some feminists who believe that believe that all of humanities problems are caused by men, and if you only culled baby boys at birth, keeping a few as breeding stock, that a utopia would be the inevitable result.
          Fighting for “womens rights” or “mens rights” are both equally sexist, whereas a fight for “equality” would be self balancing.

    • kyynis says:

      ^_^ Delicious beardtears ^_^

  10. Porkolt says:

    Mercator projection, grumble. Unfortunately Greenland is not twice the size of the Arabian peninsula as seen on the world map, sooner the other way around. I wonder if the game takes note of this gross misrepresentation in estimating the size of either region in mechanical terms.

  11. aliksy says:

    This game made me uncomfortable when I saw the flash version. Ugh. No thank you.

  12. Koozer says:

    This game was great value on a phone for 70p. Going off the Steam listing nothing is really added to the mobile version bar multiplayer and more graphs, and they sure as hell aren’t worth £12.

  13. bills6693 says:

    I played this using Steam Family Sharing for a little bit and it was enjoyable enough, but I’ll probalby pick it up in a sale if I want to keep going and to support the devs.

    Its very much like the original flash game it was based on but with a bit more depth and variety. Its still a bit of a ‘waiting game’ though, and the clickable bubbles try to relieve this but really don’t add much.

    Overall, I’ll probably wait for it to develop a bit more and add more features, maybe just wait for it to be released, and buy it on sale.

  14. Gap Gen says:

    Someone at work was playing Pandemic 2 a while ago. When they went out for dinner we taped off their desk and put up signs warning of a virus outbreak.

  15. Phantom_Renegade says:

    Sounds and looks like 2.5-5 euro’s worth of fun. Not 14. Still, at least it’s not ‘f2p’ like the mobile game it’s ported from. Had this been 5, I’d have bought it already.

  16. Michael Fogg says:

    A very new-games-journalism-y article, no explanation of the game’s mechanics whatsoever.

    • Eddy9000 says:

      ” all it really is a world map filled with more or less red dots to denote the spread of infection, and a few screens wherein you choose new mutatations, symptoms and resistances for your disease, earned by infecting and killing and clicking on occasional pop-up bubbles”

      That’s the mechanic. Choose a country to infect and strategically choose your mutations to have it spread. If you feel that the article only gives you an ‘impression’ of the game then perhaps you should pay attention to the title.

    • Ndemic James says:

      Like the film contagion except you are the disease ;)

  17. AreWeHavingFunYet says:

    The game’s kinda shit. If you think it’s a 14 euro version of the flash game, you’re absolutely right.

    The gameplay is mostly identical, they only added more abilities for your plague to evolve. The entire plague development process is very annoying, because you have to switch back and forth between the main screen and the evolution menu.

    The main problem is, there’s very little room for strategy in this game. Regardless of whether you’re playing a virus, a bacteria or one of the other agents that you can unlock, there’s only one good strategy for winning the game: infect everyone with a mild, non-threatening disease and THEN start killing them en masse.

    If your disease gets too deadly too soon, you’re running a risk of killing all your hosts, before you can infect the entire world (game over) or you’re risking a “Madagascar scenario”, which they haven’t fixed. If your plague is not deadly enough, you will be eredicated by the cure.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      I’m not so sure. I was able to wipe out all human life on Earth starting with a bird borne disease that created horrible, suppurating buboes. Fun!

      Instead of making it weak at the beginning, you can just start it in a remote African country and let it get nasty before it starts spreading too widely. By then, it’s so virulent that it kills everyone before they can invent a cure. Although, I admit it was close. A lab in the US was 96% of the way to a cure when the last victim dropped.

  18. phuzz says:

    Defcon had that “oh shit, what have I become?” moment for me when I wiped Rome off the map once.

  19. PopeRatzo says:

    I’m opposed to “early access” games, but the mobile version gave me some joy, and was worth every bit of the $1 I paid for it.

  20. johnkillzyou says:

    I’m shocked. This “game” is naught but a simple clone of Pandemic, albeit with a nicer presentation. The few gimmicks, whilst interesting, are not worth £12 let alone £5. I got this game for £0.69 on the iOS store, and that was somewhat justifiable. This absurd price hike? Not at all.

  21. Shooop says:

    Oh Alec you snarky bastard. Those screen caps made me laugh more than they probably should have. Cheers.

  22. takfar says:

    I shall name my disease “Facebook”. If that doesn’t succeed in killing the human race, maybe “worf face” will do it.

  23. blurstoftimes says:

    I’m curious as to what will actually change during the Early Access period. The mobile version always struck me as a game that could use more provinces, variables, disease traits, etc… so hopefully they will use this as a means to expand the game dramatically, rather than use it as an excuse to release an unfinished game and charge for it.

  24. JamesTheNumberless says:

    The more realistic maps get, the more annoying it is when stuff is left out :(

  25. TheLoot says:

    Oh, that first image, what an intention troll of a choice. And I swear I saw a few “LOL LOL it’s just a joke guiyz!” or “LAWL male tearz” comments.

    I expect nothing more from RPS.

    At least it says “Defeat” instead of “Victory”.

  26. strangeloup says:

    Definitely worth 70p on my phone, not convinced I’d pay more than that.

    I was tempted by the brainworms (BRAINWORMS! Alpha Centauri flashbacks all the way) but not for £2.20 or whatever it was. And there’s an unlockable zombie mode, because of course there is.

  27. Retrofrank says:

    “One Death ist a tragedy ; one million is a statistic” Stalin

  28. HugobertingtonEsq says:

    Goddamn
    £15 for a polished up Pandemic 2?
    Hell no friend
    Though maybe if I buy it and name my disease “Game Journalism” or “Feminism” it’ll make my pee-pee tingle with happiness
    Nyeeeeeh

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