You can name this disease and then it shows you a map, the screen most of the game is spent on. You get to pick the country patient zero will be from and then you mostly watch as numbers go up and the world gets sick. You can tap a part of the world and it will show how many people there are infected and how many people have died from your disease, if any, and it will give you statistics for the world overall if you click on an unoccupied part of the map. The number of sick will climb naturally, but your job is to aid the spread, using DNA points to mutate the bacteria. You earn these points by infecting people in new countries and reaching large levels of infection in those countries, spending them on news modes of transmission, symptoms, or other abilities. Transmission methods can be expensive, but if you want your disease to be able to transfer from animals to humans, through blood contact, or even through air and water, you’ll have to save up some DNA. Symptoms range from the lowly rash all the way to deadly organ failure, requiring you to work your way to the more severe stuff with more and more DNA points. Abilities vary, but most deal with the disease’s ability to withstand differences in climate and simple drugs. All of these things will be needed for your sickness to really spread.
All you ever see in the game are the map and a couple of menus, but the amount going on behind the scenes, the stuff happening independently of your input, is impressive. Plague Inc. takes statistics on everything from animal population to economic conditions into account, when running its simulation. If you develop your disease to spread through livestock, the number of infected will grow faster in rural areas, but areas with higher human population will not be affected by the change. When you’re trying to spread across a country with better access to health care, such as Australia, the growth of your plague will be inhibited unless you’ve mutated it to resist over-the-counter medicine.
Not only is a ton of data used, but a lot of it is surfaced to you as well. You can go into a stats screen that will show all kinds of graphs and charts depicting the number of sick people in any part of the world, how quickly the bacteria has spread, and how fast everyone is dying. To keep it from appearing to be purely a boring numbers game that plays out the same every time, Plague Inc. will throw in random natural disasters and other events, giving you news updates on a ticker at the top of the screen. While some of this is serious business, the game delivers a number of humorous headlines such as, “France Considers Banning Employment,” and the referential, “Creeper Executed for Destruction of Virtual Property,” to help lighten the mood a bit.
Though they don’t feel intrusive, there are ads running at the bottom of the screen constantly, unless you unlock the “full version” of the game for a dollar. This is a little misleading, though, as a lot of content is still locked behind other paywalls after that purchase. Sure, you can unlock the other types of diseases and genetic modifiers (basically, stat boosts) through play, but the time investment required would be enormous. That said, the other types of sickness I unlocked, such as the virus and fungus, were worth a go. While you can increase bacteria’s resistance to climate change, the virus mutates and gains random symptoms very rapidly and the fungus allows you to spend DNA points to spread to a new country automatically. The small amount flexibility in play style was fun, though none of the diseases really make much of a tactical difference.
The main problem is that you will always want to take a very similar path around the world with your plague. The country of origin may change, but you won’t stray from increasing a infectivity first and lethality later, if you want to win. You can’t kill of your hosts too quickly with the disgusting symptoms, or they will die before they can get enough people sick to keep the disease spreading. You also have to mutate the same resistances into your plague, if you want it to reach colder, hotter, and wealthier areas, which it always has to. On top of this, the pesky human race will always try to develop a cure as you try to pick them off, so you must mutate your disease to beat that defense in every game as well. That said, the game is still unpredictable in that you might lose at last second, even with your usual winning strategy.
There were several games in which I had a hold-out country or two (I’m looking at you, Greenland), no matter how much I did to try and spread there. For instance, if ship transport or planes are shut down, island countries cannot be reached. Even more predictable than that, though, I once wiped out everyone on the planet except a small piece of the population in Zimbabwe. Everyone else on the continent of Africa was gone. The bacteria I was spreading had resistance to hotter temperatures and was developed to spread especially well in poorer countries, but this certain group of people was inexplicably untouchable. Plague Inc. is taking a lot of data into account with its complex simulation, but sometimes its number-crunching isn’t realistic. The lack of explanation in these situations makes it that much worse.
Even if this is making your stomach turn a bit, you should still give Plague Inc. a try. My wife was appalled at my description of the game, but after watching me a bit, she got really into taking the world down with me. If you’ve got a tablet, this can be a fun co-op experience as long as one person doesn’t mind back-seat driving. A win is extremely satisfying and a loss is usually learning experience, so you’ll just have to look past a few frustrating flukes if you play this game very long. I would recommend paying to unlock the full version, but not spending enough time or money to go much further than that.