Plague Inc. for iPhone and iPad
Sometimes, you play games to build something, like being the architect of your own simulated city. Sometimes, though, it’s more fun to wreck stuff, like being the architect of your own sandcastle’s destruction. In Plague Inc. by Ndemic Creations, you get to have the appeal of strategic creation and the subversive glee of wanton destruction as you craft a pandemic to destroy all of humanity.
You play not as a bioterrorist, but as the germ itself, choosing where in the world to start, how to spread, and how to mutate along the way. Develop your germ to kill people too quickly, and you’ll soon find yourself without any hosts. Develop the germ to be carried by livestock, and you’ll have a head start in rural areas. Strike a careful balance between being low-profile, easily communicable, and just a few coughs away from developing into something catastrophic, and you may just wipe out the planet.
Plague Inc. is a clever and intricate game, and—much like your pet germ—pretty hard to shake once it infects you. However, you may require some time to get accustomed to some of the game’s quirks and issues.
Most notably, the game is pretty slow by default, especially if you unwittingly start in a rich nation. The slow pace can be a good thing if you set up push notifications and let it play while you’re gone, though you may well lose by the time you return to the app. There’s a fast-forward button tucked away in a drop-down menu if you want to play in one sitting, but even with that on, there can be long periods of downtime. This gets most tedious in the late stage of play, when your options for new moves grind to a halt, and you’re just waiting to find out whether your disease kills everybody before they can develop a cure. The game will even let you keep playing to no avail long after you’ve backed yourself into a no-win condition. (Good luck infecting the hardy people of Greenland after boat traffic ceases worldwide.)
The visuals and sound, meanwhile, feel useful and appropriate when they do work, but they certainly don’t work all the time. An ominous, unobtrusive soundtrack is punctuated by periodic effects like children singing “Ring Around the Rosie,” except when some sounds stop working. The world map, mutation menus, and graphs on the world’s progress are all packed with useful data, but inexplicably hide some of the best data from you until after you’ve invested resources blindly. There’s no telling what course your disease could take, for instance, until you’ve played enough to memorize the different paths of evolution.
All of that said, a few bugs and interface issues are hardly the end of the world. Plague Inc. is an extremely engaging game just the way it is—difficult enough to challenge you, approachable enough to be learned, and, with a variety of unlockable plague types, variable enough to keep you busy long after you’ve beaten it the first time. With an update or two, it might even mutate into something we’ll remember for a while yet.
[Jason Tocci is a writer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.]