Plague Inc.: Evolved — Review (PC)

By John Back

In recent years, pop culture has become fixated on -or rather, obsessed with- the idea of any and every kind of apocalypse. Pull up Netflix and you can almost instantly find something pertaining to a post-apocalyptic setting of various kinds, whether it’s zombies, aliens, or even an ambiguous “war” of some kind that decimated humanity. Log onto Steam and look at the sales for the week and you can undoubtedly find a zombie game somewhere in the mix. People eat this stuff up.

One can also find this trend cropping up in tabletop games, a great example being a game called Pandemic, a cooperative game in which 2–4 players work together to stop 4 diseases from spreading across Earth and eradicating humanity. It is clear, based on all of this, that we as a culture love the idea of survival.

And then comes Plague Inc.: Evolved, a game which, as hinted at by the name, takes this concept of survival against all odds and flips it completely on its head. In this indie game by Ndemic Creations, the player takes on the role of a new, quickly evolving pathogen whose goal is to infect and wipe out the entirety of humanity. There’s no characters, no back story. Just you, your disease, and a whole lot of people, unaware that they are the living breeding ground for your deadly new disease.

Plague Inc., because of this unique premise, has no trouble pulling you in. After purchasing the game because of its widespread popularity on Steam, I was instantly sucked in and ended up dumping 3 or 4 hours into it just in the first session. In this review, we’ll be taking a closer look at just what makes this game so infectiously fun.

And just FYI, yes, there is a zombie virus.

What to Like

The gameplay for Plague Inc. is interesting and intriguing right from the get go. You start off as the most basic disease type, the bacteria, and work your way up to various other, more advanced disease types, such as the virus, the fungus, and even the necroa virus (zombies, hallelujah), each one behaving uniquely according to its type.

Each disease you play as has its own skill tree, of sorts, featuring the Transmission, Symptoms, and Abilities sections, all of which you must properly utilize and allocate your “DNA” points into to make your disease a deadly and efficient killer. Some diseases share the same types of skill trees, only differing slightly in their behavioral patterns. Nonetheless, you must experiment and determine the best course of action to take when using each different disease type, taking into consideration things like how quickly it will spread, what means of transmission are most effective, and how quickly your disease will get discovered and, as a result, get cured — the main way your disease can meet its demise.

This system of evolving your disease and infecting more and more people is fun and addictive. Seeing hundreds of tiny red dots (which represent infected people) cropping up across an entire country after you give your disease a new, infectious symptom is a grisly, satisfying experience, if not a bit macabre, which doesn’t detract from the satisfaction factor in any way.

The red dots represent infected people. Yay!

Eventually, should you play your cards right in the gene pool of your disease, the whole world will become infected, leaving not a single person healthy. At this point, you can unleash sick, disease-ridden hell on the population of the world and watch the entirety of mankind die off in a matter of minutes. Again, an incredibly macabre, yet undeniably fun and addictive experience. Every disease follows this same basic formula, varying slightly depending on personal preference and disease type.

What to Watch Out for

While repeating this process multiple times is great, and trying out the different disease types is interesting and exciting, it does eventually begin to feel like there isn’t enough difference between some of the diseases. At some points I found myself being unable to differentiate between diseases like the parasite and the prion, since they behave almost identically and allowed me to simply populate my skill tree with lots of nasty, infectious symptoms and get away with it without too much strategy or forethought. This isn’t to say that all of the diseases are the same; the necroa virus and the neurax worm are some of the highlights of this game, developing into the zombie apocalypse and global mind control, respectively. It’s just that, at times, some of the other diseases feel more like filler rather than substantive, unique disease types.

Additionally, while it is fun to evolve and increase the severity of your disease, it occasionally feels like you’re a bit detached from the action. I often found myself evolving multiple symptoms at one time, and instead of seeing my disease evolve and claim its own unique identity, I would have to vaguely imagine what that disease was like for its poor, suffering hosts, since you’re only able to see an overhead view of the globe, and no actual people. This is probably for the better, since many of the diseases you will create develop to become particularly nasty and sickening to even imagine. Nonetheless, I would have liked to have a more clear understanding of how my disease developed and the effects that it had on its hosts, rather than just a helter-skelter list of symptoms that suddenly appeared.

And speaking of the symptoms, a more logical disease development would have been nice. While it doesn’t detract from the fun of the gameplay, having the mixed symptoms of vomiting, pneumonia, and cysts doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense, since you don’t typically see those together in the real world. Now keep in mind I am no disease pathologist, and I am aware that this is a fictional game with fictional diseases. I would have just liked the skill tree to feel more focused, as opposed to the free-form development which offers lots of creativity, but no real logical order. More so just randomness and a “do what works in the moment” mentality.

Should You Get It?

With a disease development system that works well and gameplay that is consistently fun after hours of playing, the verdict is a definite yes. At first, I have to admit I was skeptical; I have a history of being squeamish, and the idea of playing a game which involved some of the nastiest ailments known to man didn’t resonate with me particularly well. However, I decided to take the plunge and give it a go, and I’m certainly glad I did.

I think the main appeal to Plague Inc.: Evolved its entirely unique premise. I can scarce think of another game that really lets you take the development of a disease into your own hands, allowing you to handcraft your very own biological death machine and see it through to the extermination of humanity. Plague Inc. accomplishes this, however, and leaves you with a sense of fun that is simply…

Infectious.

Score: 7.5/10