Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Plague Inc

There are two things that I know I’m afraid of. One is wasps – they don’t serve a purpose in the ecosystem, and exist only to annoy and terrorise picnics. The second is viruses. Ever since I read The Andromeda Strain, I’ve been afraid of world-destroying viruses – a fear further enhanced by films like ‘Outbreak’ and games about the end of the world. So the fact that Plague Inc tasks the gamer with wiping out humanity through a series of deadly infections made my skin crawl at first. But only at first.

Tasking the gamer with wiping out humanity, Plague Inc allows megalomaniacal geniuses and commuters alike to develop and spread a disease, starting from a ‘patient zero’ to all six billion humans. To do this, the gamer has to carefully evolve the pathogen, choosing certain infection vectors – such as air, water, rats and blood – and certain symptoms, ranging from coughing to insanity to total organ failure.

The real challenge is in trying to spread the disease to every country on the planet, before humanity wises up to your disease’s threat and starts to develop a cure. The amount of funding being spent on the cure depends on how deadly your pathogen is, so finding a balance between infectivity and deadliness is a real challenge – as is infecting islands such as Madagascar, which seal their airports and ports at the first sniff of a common cold.

Starting out with a baterial infection, the game offers seven other types of disease, from bioweapon to nanite plague, each of which requires a different – and difficult to master – strategy.

Graphically the game is mostly statistics, interface menus listing the effects of your virus in gory detail, and a persistent world map showing the spread of your disease as it’s carried through trade routes and on flights to sunny locales. The red and black of your disease spreading is almost gleeful to watch – and the pain of watching your carefully engineered bug being killed off by the cure just as palpable.

The music is pretty poor, however, and you can't play your own tunes while in the app, which is an oversight. That said, the sound effects of people coughing, sirens and 'ring around the roses' add to the creepiness with ease.

Of course, the fact that you can name your disease anything you want is an added treat. I, for example, took great delight in naming my fungus ‘D. Cameron’. This led to the hilarious victory screen of “D. Cameron has wiped out humanity”...

Reviewed on iOS