Game Review: Plague Inc Evolved (Xbox One)

Disease and pandemics are a natural occurrences in the natural world, and depending on how effective the pathogen evolves determines how deadly it becomes and how hard it is to cure. If left undetected, could lead to human extinction.

This the core basis of the game Plague Inc: Evolved, a strategy and realistic simulation game for Windows, OSX, Linux and Xbox One. In the game, the player is in control of the placement of infected “Patient Zero” and is now tasked to bring the earth to human extinction through control of an ever evolving global plague while adapting to avoid any defenses humanity raises to prevent it.

Plague Inc: Evolved is a fully redeveloped and redesigned version of the popular mobile game Plague Inc, with a number of new features including:

  • Scenario creator and world builder
  • 3D world and disease models
  • “City cams” showing street level images of the world as the pathogen spreads
  • “Body” Scanner – shows how the evolution of the pathogen is impacting the human body
  • End game replays of the infection and stats/graphical
  • Enhanced graphics
  • All expansion packs from the original Plague Inc game

The player has the option to play in three different game styles:

  • World extinction (general game)
  • Scenarios (unique pre-simulated situations forcing the player to strategize. How would you handle a new strain of Swine Flu or the Black Plague?)
  • Hyper-Realistic World (advanced AI and use of real world data and events)

There are 9 main pathogen types to master and 3 unique pathogen types. Each will require different strategy in order to successfully spread and infect the whole world.

Pathogen Types:

  • Bacteria – most common cause of plague. Unlimited and various potential to evolve.
  • Virus – a rapidly mutating plague that is hard to control from quick evolving
  • Fungus – spores have difficulty to travel long distances without special effort, requires much more strategy to spread.
  • Parasite – parasitic makeup prevents DNA alteration from everyday infection
  • Prion – slow and extremely complex. Hides out inside brain
  • Nano Virus – out of control and microscopic, built with a kill switch
  • Bio Weapon – lethal plague that kills everything it touches
  • Neurax Worm – manipulative organism that burrows into brain
  • Necroa Virus – has extreme and aggressive regenerative abilities (aka: ZOMBIES!)
  • Immune Plague – impossible to find a cure
  • Hidden Plague – humans will never take action against the plague
  • Unlimited Plague – unlimited DNA points

To unlock a new plague type, the player must successfully eradicate the world with the previously unlocked pathogen.

Before a game is started, players can insert “Genetic Code” into their pathogen. These various genes allow personalization and provides “advantages” to the genetic makeup. Every time a player wins a game (regardless of difficulty), they will unlock one unique gene. Players can only have one of each type of gene applied to the pathogen per game.

Gene Types:

  • DNA Genes (helps player get more DNA to be used to evolve the pathogen)
  • Mutation Genes (helps the pathogen to be more unstable and manipulate chances of cure)
  • Travel Genes (affects efficiency of plague spread by various transmission methods)
  • Environment Genes (gives pathogen boosts when in different climates)
  • Evolution Genes (advantages to cost when developing pathogen evolution)

Players can simulate the game on 4 different difficulty levels:

  • Casual – the easiest difficulty. This is good for those who want a quick or easy game. Note: Completing a game with this difficulty will not unlock any new plague types, but can unlock a new gene. This is a good mode to help build up stock of genes for use in game.
    • No one washes hands (normal infection rates)
    • Research doctors don’t work (slow cure research)
    • Sick people given hugs (increased infectivity)
  • Normal – common difficulty. Note: This is the minimum playing level required to unlock the next plague type.
    • 67.3% of people wash hands (infectivity decreased)
    • Doctors work 3 days a week (average speed cure development)
    • Sick people ignored (infectivity decreased once noticed)
  • Brutal – second hardest difficulty. Note: Winning with the Neurax Worm on Brutal will unlock the Necroa Virus.
    • Compulsive hand washing (infection rates highly decreased)
    • Doctors never go home (cure research is faster)
    • Sick people locked in prison (once spotted, infection is lowered)
  • Mega Brutal – hardest difficulty.
    • Genetic drift (symptom costs fluctuate over time, becoming more expensive as more people are infected.)
    • Doctors invest in research (fastest cure research)
    • Random medical check-ups (plague will be found quicker through blood testing)

To start the game with Patient Zero, the player selects a specific country to start the infection. Choosing this starting country requires a lot of strategy as you want to take into account everything about the pathogen and how it can successfully spread. There are the factors of environment (hot/cold/humid), standards of living (poorer countries will spread the disease faster because people are unhealthier from the start), economic status of country (richer countries will detect the disease quicker) and location in world (lots of land borders or near large bodies of water.)

Regardless of where you start, the simulation will always be random and never the same twice. The rest of the simulation will play out over a time lapse and events that happen will be directly affected by the players’ choices and decisions.

The simulation interface is a world map where the player can see the real world interactions as they happen. Most countries have airports and harbors and so there will be a continuous flurry of boats and planes sipping across the map as people travel between countries. When a boat/plane is highly infected, it will be red and it will leave a red travel path behind it. As the plague spreads, red dots will start to fill the map screen, showing how much of each country is infected.

There is also a panning “world news headline” that will constantly inform the player of unique world events (like Olympics, funny/nonsense headlines or government changes).

Sometimes when the player needs to be directly informed of an event (like the infectivity of the plague being more contagious than TB) or change in the pathogen (self-mutation) or environment change (tsunami or earthquakes), a pop up screen will appear on the screen.

Above all of that, there are three different “bubble pop ups” that the player interfaces throughout the game:

  • Red (infection) will appear over countries whenever a new country has been infected with the pathogen. The player will receive random number of DNA points for infecting a country based on size.
  • Orange (DNA) will appear randomly as the infection spreads within a diseased country. These give DNA points.
  • Blue (cure) will appear as the cure research continues and is spread to other countries. Popping these will help slow down cure research.

DNA points that are earned can be used to “evolve” the plague and assist in its survival and infectivity. There are three different menus that list various abilities to evolve the pathogen: Transmission, Symptoms and Abilities. The types of evolution choices under each menu varies between pathogens as they all act differently from one another.

  • Transmission – can be things like air, water, blood, sheep, rats, birds, mosquitoes
  • Symptoms – varies through things like nausea, coma, cardiac arrest, tumors, seating, etc..
  • Abilities – variables of genetic makeup. This includes adaptability in hotter/colder climates, DNA structure and drug resilience.

There is a strategy to how a player chooses to evolve the pathogen. There is not enough DNA points given throughout the simulation to upgrade all things available under the evolution menus, so the player needs to think about how one choice will affect the simulation. The main goal of the game is to infect everyone in the world as quickly as possible before being detected and a cure being developed. Luckily changes in abilities allows the pathogen to manipulate itself and make it harder to find or slows down the cure research and changes in transmission helps the pathogen spread faster to countries that are further away. Symptom changes are the trickiest as they appear to be the root cause for the development of panic and sometimes can cause the pathogen to become very unstable.

A player can “de-evolve” any feature of the plague at any time to either gain DNA points to use on a different evolution feature or to gain control of a pathogen that is unstable. Some pathogens become so lethal that instead of having time to spread, they kill their hosts, which does nothing to help in the infectivity.

The game features a 3D modeling of how the pathogen looks and changes as it evolves and also what the effects of the evolution is having on the human body. It makes the plagues changes seem more realistic to the player,

Once the plague type has been found by doctors, various countries will begin to work on a cure. There is a cure meter on screen that will show the player a percentage of cure research completed. The player must continue to evolve and spread the pathogen before 100% research is complete, otherwise it will be eradicated and the world will be saved. This is game over. This can be helped by changing genetic features of the plague and by popping the blue research bubbles.

When the world is made aware of the plague existence, depending on how much panic there is and the infectivity of it, land/water/air borders will begin to close and so if the player has not successfully infected that country, there will be a little to no chance of infection development there. This too will lead to a cure being found and the plague being eradicated.

The player can constantly be checking on a world statistic interface to see what countries are healthy, infected or completely dead of population. This will help to know how well the plague is spreading and assist in making some decisions on how to evolve the plague.

Ultimately you want every single person in the world to be infected and then for the plague to eradicate the world population little by little. This how you win the game.

The game series has been praised by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, stating that the game “uses a non-traditional route to raise public awareness on epidemiology, dieses transmission and diseases/pandemic information.”

I absolutely love this game. I previously played Plague Inc for the iOS and had a great time with it.

Plague Inc: Evolved is highly addictive, not only for the large amounts of achievements available, but it is interesting to see how a plague would affect the world. Depending on difficulty chosen and the choice in evolution, the game can lead to a lengthy journey to human destruction. And the best part is that every time you play, the simulation will never be the same, as different world events will happen or the pathogen will react differently or maybe your plague will be found really quickly. The game always has you on your toes.

I would highly recommend playing some of the scenarios. I enjoyed one called “Santa’s Little Helper” where the task is to spread happiness around the world. It gives you a break from the mass murdering. The world is plagued with unhappiness, everyone is working and no one is celebrating. Using the Neurax Worm, you need to infect people with joy. As the joy spreads, people will no longer want to work and find cures for the joy, will go out and spend time with others and the airports/harbours will open. The evolution of the Neurax Worm will be things where infection will make people happier and assist in spreading. This scenario is not without its own difficulties as trying to spread a pathogen with no airports/harbors or land border open makes it slow to spread and with people working right away on a cure to the joy, requires quick strategy from being eradicated.

If you are a strategy gamer and enjoy the challenge, I highly recommend picking up this game. It is great for those who want to play a few quick rounds or several long simulations, but is definitely one that you can continue to come back to over tears and will always be entertaining and fulfilling. Plus its always provides a challenge.
Plague Inc: Evolved is available on the Xbox One for $14.99 and Steam for $16.99. Plague Inc: Evolved support English, French, Italian, German, Portuguese and Russian languages.

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