PLAGUE INC. / Ndemic Creations / Android
So obviously zombies have been the apocalypse fantasy du jour for a good decade or so now. Even though the rationale for the zombie apocalypse is usually some sort of plague-based one, the idea of a plague itself is not equally sexy. Understandable, I guess. With the zombie fantasy, you get to run around with katanas lopping off the heads of your bosses and exes without any moral conflict. What are you going to do in the plague fantasy, hang out and play rummy with the four other jerks from your town that survived?

There may be some hope for the ol' global pandemic, however, as Plague Inc. is currently one of the best-selling mobile games on all the major app stores as I type this. The game has you attempting to craft the most effective possible infectious disease, with the goal of killing off as much of the world's population as possible before they develop a cure. You "win" by wiping out humanity, and you can score-attack this to try to do it in the fewest possible number of months/weeks.

As the "plague" name might indicate, though we're initially restricted to bacteria and viruses, other more exotic forms of disease are gradually unlocked including brain-eating worms and (naturally) zombification. You pick your base form, then add any bonus upgrades you've unlocked, then launch it into your starting location. You can pick from just about any country in the world, with the exception of some clusters of smaller ones lumped into a region such as "Central Africa", because sausage fingers wouldn't be able to click on the tiny ones with the map at this scale. Multiple difficulty selections alter how fast infections will spread and how fast scientists will respond with research.

Initially, your plague starts out not particularly infectious and almost wholly benign. Over time you'll gradually upgrade its stats, using points earned for reaching certain infection thresholds and for expanding into new countries. Though the game has about the most spartan presentation possible for a modern title, taking place entirely on one static map, the actual strategy is surprisingly layered and nuanced. You'll have to think about what upgrades will improve infectiousness most in your current territories (i.e. spreading by flies and blood-blood transmission if you start in Africa), and you also can't ramp up the lethality too quickly or the world's scientists will focus all their efforts on wiping you out. Upgrades that slow down cure research also have to be balanced with your lethality and transmission upgrades.

The strategy element is surprisingly well thought-out, though I still think this is only going to be good for maybe a few plays before it's retired for most people. Regardless of the base disease or any other factors, each game experience is extremely samey, and the presentation is definitely on the dry side. There are some amusing news blurbs that serve as periodic status updates, but otherwise you're simply watching numbers roll over and the map gradually turn more and more red. It's also pretty easy to follow certain repeatable strategies to victory every time, even on the higher difficulty settings.

Personally, to alleviate some of this repetitiousness, I would have gone with a dark sense of humor for the game. I mean, there's a little of that in the news bites, but I mean really go all out with it. Like conclude a successful game with your little pathogen holding a sword and shield standing on a pile of carcasses striking a triumphant pose or something. And have an inappropriate soundtrack in there too. I'm not taking any points off for the serious and dry tone, just spitballing here. If you're gonna make a game about exterminating humanity might as well go whole hog, ya know?

I get the sense that Plague Inc. is racking up the sales mostly due to the novelty of the concept, but there's also a pretty decent real-time strategy game in here too. Just don't expect it to infect your phone for too long.
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