I've been wanting to write about Plague Inc: Evolved for a few weeks now. I've never felt more inspired to do so than now. I'm ill. For realsies. As gastroenteritis squirms its way through my guts and tears me asunder from the inside, I click around a world map, bleary-eyed. As the norovirus thrashes at my intestinal wall, I evolve my created virus to obtain two new symptoms: dysentery and vomiting. Before I need to rush to the bathroom for another agonising bout of fluid loss, I watch my fictional virus spread through a region in northern Spain, where I first contracted my own illness.
Yeah, see how you like it.
Plague Inc: Evolved isn't a very nice game. To succeed, you have to be a not very nice person. The aim of the 'Main Game' is to not only infect every single person on the planet, but to kill them all. Leave any survivors, or are eradicated by a vaccine, then it's mission failed. The game plays out like a game of Civilization of sorts, where you start in a location of your choice and spread out from there. To keep the comparison going, rather than a long A-to-B campaign, the game is played in replayable sessions, the variety created by choosing a different plague at the start - the 'civilisations' of the game.
Starting out with the lowly bacteria, wiping the world out successfully allows you to unlock viruses. Continued success unlocks fungi, parasites and everything in-between those and bio-weapons. Choosing different plagues changes the gameplay and the strategy required to cause armageddon. As you progress, points are earned and can be spent on your evolution. Do you want to infect people via water, air or blood? What symptoms do you want people to display? If you are a virus, you probably want to be infectious as quickly as possible, as you mutate so fast and become deadly so quickly, that there is risk you will kill all of your hosts before you spread globally. If your nasty bug survives well in the heat, how are you going to infect the population of Greenland?
Discovering creative ways to effectively destroy all life on the planet is infectious (sorry), and finding the right balance between contagiousness and deadliness is very satisfying when you have it sussed out. Combining the symptoms to your advantage is a fun metagame of its own. Driving carriers to insanity, leading them to believe that being infected has benefits and that the healthy are missing out is a giggle. As is making people run blindly into the streets, tongues waggling, shitting and vomiting everywhere. These events are told in humorous news clippings from around the world, simultaneously giving you hints as to what is working and what isn't. They also clue you into upcoming global events such as the Olympic Games; a rich opportunity for mass infection.
The game also offers 'Scenarios' based on real illnesses, such as The Black Death, smallpox, or swine flu, which are particularly interesting, considering that one of the game's creators spoke at the CDC, presenting the game as a tool to educate players on how diseases are spread. It also offers enjoyable distractions such as spreading Christmas cheer, xenophobia, financial debt, or dealing with worlds where teleportation and bionic implants exist. The entire game appears to be heavily customisable and the tools are included to create and share your own scenarios through Steamworks, which is a sign of a bright future for the game.
Speaking of future, I've neglected to mention so far that the game is still in Early Access. Easily forgotten considering how complete and enjoyable the game is in its current state. All of the add-ons from the original, mobile version of the game (which I admittedly haven't played) are to be included, as is online competitive and cooperative multiplayer, which sounds particularly intriguing.
There is enough here for me to already give a recommendation for Plague Inc: Evolved. Strategists and fans of games such as DEFCON shouldn't hesitate to give it a look. Those that want to wait for the full release first won't regret the wait, as the finished product is on track to be a great package. That's nothing to sneeze at.
Plague Inc: Evolved is on PC and Mac.