Plague Inc: Evolved Early Access Review

Destroy all humans!

GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.

More often than we probably think, the course of human history has been guided by the effects of disease. Oddly enough, that's not a factor considered in most strategy games. You almost never, for example, have a disaster involving some super lethal strain of the flu. Plague Inc: Evolved., on the other hand, explores the effects of sickness on the human population. It gives you one microorganism and asks you to exterminate every person on the planet. To do so effectively, however, requires a fair bit of forethought. The game nails many of the basics that make it fun to poison billions across the globe, but it doesn't quite live up to its potential--yet.

Despite its grim subject matter, Plague Inc. is not without a sense of humor.

At the start of each game, you have your choice of disease, ranging from bacterium (cause of the Black Death) to prion (mad cow disease) to some more wacky, video game-y plagues like a viral bioweapon (as in Deus Ex) and worms that take control of people's brains (as in Resident Evils 4-6). From there, you pick a starting country and begin infecting everyone you can. As your disease spreads, you get DNA points through clickable bubbles that let you add new symptoms or traits to your fledgling microorganism. Each of these decisions carries with it certain costs and benefits. Some choices increase virulence or "infectivity," making it easier to spread your disease throughout the world in certain conditions, whereas others tack on symptoms to help weaken hosts and destabilize civilization a bit faster.

These upgrades also draw attention from humans, ultimately leading to your discovery. From that point on, the populace tends to respond appropriately to your choices. For example, picking up tissue necrosis and hemorrhagic fever as symptoms causes people to die en masse in some of the most horrible ways imaginable. The game incentivizes this by rewarding you with even more DNA points to spend on further upgrades. However, that pairing of symptoms is so horrific that the general population mobilizes every available scientist and doctor to work out a cure. People are remarkably fragile, but they are not without defenses, and unlike in the real world, once they've figured out how to eradicate your disease, you will be extinct in a matter of days. It's one of the stranger design choices, but it also serves as an appropriate hard boundary.

Plague Inc. does a great job of nailing home how largely irrelevant some of the wealthier countries are in terms of sheer population. If you take Asia, Africa, and South America, you have a huge majority of the people on Earth.

All of the decisions you can make in Plague amount to some kind of tactical trade-off. Picking a wealthy country as your first target, while making it difficult to spread disease quickly, allows you to farm some of the continuous and randomly spawning DNA points, helping you get some valuable upgrades before people begin to take notice. It's also a lot easier to spread sickness around the globe from a country like the United States, which has a lot of land and sea trade routes to other locations, versus a country like Algeria, which can only spread your disease to neighboring countries. Islands are also really tough to break into (Greenland and Iceland gave me the most trouble), but that can also be a boon. Infecting an island in the beginning can guarantee everyone has it before you spread outward, effectively guaranteeing that any ships or planes departing your newly conquered nation will help your cause.

Plague Inc. almost necessitates reflection during gameplay. Much of your time is spent waiting for people to move around the globe and working really hard to guarantee their destruction. Our modern era, with all of its comforts and affordances, does very little to prepare us for a globe-spanning, death-dealing disease of this sort. Where, when, and how people would really react to something like this is, even now, a topic of intense discussion.

One of the many additions to this version is a more detailed breakdown of critical statistics.

As the people of Earth inch closer to extinction, the countries that remain begin acting increasingly irrational. More than once, I saw humanity make its last stand against me by bombing or executing any of the infected citizens. That kind of homicidal desperation isn't something we're generally faced with, and offers a much more complex and realistic moral quandary than the classic "There's a bomb somewhere in the city. Do you use torture--yes or no?" that games have been doing forever. And yet, I'm not the one making those choices; my targets are. It's a surreal experience, and one that's unique within gaming. Even so, there are a number of features I'd like to see in the final product. Everything on display so far is about infection, control, and then extermination. Surviving in this world would be remarkable, particularly if you could form a kind of seasonally recurring pathogen. Killing everyone is plenty of fun and certainly a challenge on the higher difficulty levels, but it also means there's nothing left to do. When all the people are dead, you have no place to go, no vessel or host to abuse.

I was able to breeze through most of the content that's available so far in just a few hours. Most of the unlocks come from completing the game on increasing difficulty with different kinds of diseases, but that doesn't last too long. There are plans to add quite a bit of content in the form of the obligatory zombification virus, some competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes, and a mode that promises to help you make your own scenarios and plagues to share with others.

Even in its beta state, Plague Inc: Evolved is a worthy expansion of its predecessor, but it's also one that makes me want more. I want to compete with other players for kills. I want to be capable of destabilizing society in more nuanced ways. While I was frustrated with the ease at which I was able to finish Plague, it's also the best kind of incomplete. It's a game that shows off just enough potential that I want to stick around and see how it all turns out.

What's There?

A relatively short epidemic simulator that highlights both how fragile life is and how determined a species faced with extinction can be.

What's to Come?

Multiplayer, scenario editors, graphical upgrades, and new plague types are all expected to be in the final package.

What Does it Cost?

Plague Inc. Evolved currently runs $15, but it's not yet in a state that justifies the price difference between the smartphone version and this one.

When Will it be Finished?

It's not yet known when the game will be released in full, but there's a soft target for later this year.

What's the Verdict?

Plague Inc. flips everything we know about strategy games, and in so doing provides fertile soil for future expansion.

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Discussion

17 comments
Algearond
Algearond

Pass on this one, good review though.

Phoenix0nFire
Phoenix0nFire

Looking for a Star Citizen Clan? awolgaming.enjin.com/home

vadagar1
vadagar1

wow role play as a single cell organism :P now that's something

Hurvl
Hurvl

"Plague Inc. is not without a sense of humor" Yeah and that doesn't even include the malicious glee of Killing The Entire World. This game really makes me think of Total Annihilation, in a literal sense.

MJ-X
MJ-X

FYI this game was originally on smartphones only and was made by a single person. It's highly addictive and time consuming in a good way, glad to see him hiring more and get a total remake with higher quality for PC.

naryanrobinson
naryanrobinson

"VALVE TIME SLOWER THAN THOUGHT

Researchers have calculated that it takes longer than expected for radioactive fluids with a half-life of 3 years to pass through valves.  Reason unknown."

...

Ok that made me laugh.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

This is the evolution of the "Life" basic game which aspiring game creators first learn to program. :D

bbq_R0ADK1LL
bbq_R0ADK1LL

The mobile game was really good - literally the only game I've actually paid money to upgrade to the full version. Is does get a bit too easy once you figure out a strategy that works with basically every plague though.


I'm a bit sceptical of what they could add by porting it to PC. I'll wait for a finished product before I cast any judgement.

neowarrior121
neowarrior121

i really loved the game and its challangingness at the start when i first played but its so easy to play once you just infect everyone without a single symptom. then all you need are a few mental problems so nobody went to the doctors and the illness that spreads by dead body and finally a really dangerous symptom, i finished the game is like a day once you get that formula. 

pongley
pongley

All you have to do is increase the transmission by a few points (not so much that it's noticeable) and let it run until every country has at least 1 infection (f*ck you Madagascar, you stubborn bastards you) and then crank up the symptoms.

Oh yeah, make sure your first country has both an airport and a seaport or you'll be waiting 5 minutes for 1 damn ship or plane to leave with someone who's infected.

HowlPendragon
HowlPendragon

@kitmeep  Canada and Greenland are always my main problems

Damn Canadian health care is too good!

Hurvl
Hurvl

@neowarrior121 Yeah, some games have a "super strategy problem". It's like fighting games where you can win by spamming the same move again and again. Why bother trying something different if you know that this one trick will always work.

toast_burner
toast_burner

@kitmeep @MJ-X  

Yes it's true that it was inspired by the flash game. But you'd have to be an idiot to not to tell the difference. Plague Inc is a much more polished experience with much more content.