Originally released for iOS back in 2012, Plague Inc. has finally spread to the console market with Plague Inc: Evolved on Xbox One. Going from mobile to more traditional gaming hasn’t always been a slam dunk, so while the game was popular and well regarded on phones, let’s see how well it adapts to its new surroundings.
Moving from touch screens to the Xbox controller is a fairly painless transition. You’ll scroll around the world via the right analog stick and pull the right trigger to select a country, pop bubbles to collect additional points to grow your disease and destroy research icons to slow progress on the development of a cure. You can also zoom in and out using the bumpers.
Beyond that, everything in Plague Inc. is built around interacting with a number of menus, which is done with the face buttons and d-pad. Outside of maybe cancelling an action instead of selecting it initially it’s hard to mess things up. No real complaints here.
Most of your time here is spent staring at a map of the world, watching little red dots pop up and tiny representation of mass transit moving around. It’s perfectly serviceable for the game, but it’s also the kind of thing that practically could’ve been achieved on an NES.
Plague Inc: Evolved flexes a little more graphical muscle in the sub-menus, including showing the growth of your pathogen. Still, it has a budget feel; something that isn’t helped by the default Arcade menu options/fonts seen at the start.
There’s very little happening on the audio side of things. A basic, repetitive sort-of foreboding melody plays on a loop. It does its job, blending into the background as you monitor information, but that’s all you can say about it.
Conceptually, Plague Inc: Evolved is simple: create a strain so infectious and deadly that it wipes out all life on the planet. Do that, you win. Humanity won’t go meekly into the pages of history, however, and they’ll attempt to cure the disease before extinction. If that happens, you lose.
As straightforward as that sounds, there’s actually a surprising amount of complexity involved. It begins with where you choose to be the genesis of your disease and continues with numerous decisions along the way — do you focus on making the most lethal version you can as quickly as possible or do you create something extremely contagious but initially more benign? Or maybe you pour resources into making it resilient to treatment?
There are pros and cons to each approach, and the game is frequently tossing hints your way as to what factors might prove important in that particularly scenario. For instance, a note might pop up about a massive bird migration; if so, it’s probably time to spend some plague points on making your virus spreadable via avian carriers. Global warming dropping temperatures worldwide? Invest in resilience to cold.
Evolving your strain is done through plague points, earned by spreading your disease into new areas and infecting more people. Each time you gain traction in a new country a bubble will appear, and you’ll pop it to accumulate more points. Occasionally orange bubbles will appear with bonus points to collect.
There are a finite number of points to be had, however, so you’ll need to focus your efforts. You do have the option to devolve a characteristic, but it returns a pittance of what you spent to unlock it so it’s not really viable to adjust your approach midstream.
While you’re infecting the world, humans will begin to fight back by researching a cure. Wealthier countries contribute more to the cause, which makes infecting them paramount to success, though it’s harder to get a foot hold there than in underdeveloped nations. Planes will make their way around the map, creating blue cure bubbles, which you must pop to stem the information gains being made.
It all comes down to this: there’s a countermove to every counter. It creates a fluid dance where each side tries to stay a step ahead of the other.
Unfortunately, the game’s lack of transparency can lead to frustration. Many times I concocted what I thought to be a lethal biohazard only to watch it fizzle out for no discernable reason — we’re talking landlocked countries surrounded by infection not succumbing despite every conceivable means of spreading the disease being in play.
Games take around 10-15 minutes on average, so it’s not a trivial investment of time when your once-promising extinction event gets stopped cold with a 97 percent fatality rate. Adjusting through the four difficulty settings varies the challenge level, but even on normal the A.I. routinely outlasts you. There’s also over a dozen pre-set scenarios to test your plague-spreading prowess.
There’s a lot to like about Plague Inc: Evolved. It’s an interesting tactical sim with enough depth to provide plenty of replay value, even if some of the outcomes seem arbitrary.