Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
I Can't Stop Playing Plague, Inc.

Susan Arendt | 7 Mar 2013 21:30
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The real goal of Plague, Inc. is to kill everyone in the world by carefully mutating a contagion until it achieves that perfect balance of infectivity and lethality, becoming a swift killer that knows no bounds. Leave just one person standing amongst billions of corpses and you lose the game. Seems a bit unfair, really, to kill so many and still be told you failed, but I don't mind because I'm not really all that interested in winning. I enjoy it when I do, of course, but I don't mind if a few lone survivors dodge my deadly bullet just so long as I take out goddamn Greenland.

You start off Plague, Inc. with a particular type of disease carrier, like bacteria, fungus, or virus, then manipulate its genetic code to give it the best chance of laying waste to the world. You pick a country in which to start, then collect DNA points as people become sick or die, using those DNA points to tweak your plague so that it can spread across different climates and socioeconomic zones. You also use them to add symptoms to your disease, which not only help with transmission but also increase the likelihood of fatalities. Sneezing is great for spreading sickness, but for straight up lethality, it's hard to go wrong with Total Organ Failure. Eventually, doctors will notice your disease and start working towards a cure, presumably so they can get their names in medical journals and feel like bigshots. It's tempting to go for maximum lethality right out of the gate, but the more severe your disease, the more resources they throw at curing it, and if they pull it off before you've infected the world, you lose. And then there's Greenland.

See, the only way into Greenland is via its one port, which drastically limits the transmission methods available to my little disease, which I named Tootor. Even if the port stays open, Greenland is really cold, very rural, and sparsely populated, so infecting everyone who lives there before some overachieving brainiac finds a cure for the plague I've whipped up is a tall order. But the port closes if a squirrel so much as farts in France, making it a virtual guarantee that whatever else happens in the world, the Greenlanders will survive.

I hate the Greenlanders.

You never actually see any of the people that you kill in Plague, Inc., just their countries on the world map. Numbers at the bottom let you know how many are infected and how many are dead while red dots pepper the screen as more and more people fall ill. You can highlight a specific country to learn a little more about it, like its climate or relative wealth (which affects the kinds of medicine at its disposal), but that's the limit your interaction. There are no memos from doctors, no characters, nothing that personalizes any particular location. But I know Greenland is mocking me. Oh, I know. Safe behind its closed port, with its infected count a big red "0", I can just see them all in their reindeer sweaters and toques, condescendingly shaking their heads at my attempt to slip past their border by mutating my bacteria to the point that it can pass between species. "Such a shame," they say, not meaning it. "If only you'd tried harder."
It doesn't really matter where I start my disease, or what form it takes, or what genes I splice in, because my main thought is always the same: "How can I get this into Greenland?" Oh, sure, I could just start in Greenland, but that wouldn't be victory. They'd die, sure, but they'd die with that same condescending shake of the head, that same look of faux disappointment on their blood-smeared faces (I tend to go with the skin lesions symptom - great for infectivity). No, if I'm going to take out Greenland, I have to do it the right way. A way that lets them know they tried to stop my sickness and failed. Faiiiiiiiiiiiiled.

Yeah, ok, so I take Greenland's imperviousness to disease a little personally when I play Plague, Inc..

It's not just about wiping out the smug Greenlanders, though. I can't stop playing Plague, Inc. because there are just so many potential strategies, so many ways to keep the game feeling fresh. Fungus-based contagions, for example, are really hard to transmit, while viruses can mutate out of control, drawing unwanted medical attention to your disease before it's world-ready. A strategy that works wonders for a bacteria in Saudi Arabia will achieve jack-all when applied to a nanovirus in Canada; the core gameplay is based on real-world information from the Center for Disease Control, so common sense and your own experience with the flu that ripped through your office last year will actually help you design your disease. There are a couple of expansions (the brain worm is particularly tempting) and plenty of special symptom combos to discover, like "The Walking Dead" and "Oops!" No, I won't tell you what they are or how to get them. Scientific discovery, even the digital kind, is a joy unto itself. It's also gross, but mostly a joy.

Plague, Inc. is available for either on iOS or Android and is as addictive as it is challenging. Crafting the perfect pathogen requires a surprising amount of strategy, especially when you decide to up the difficulty by starting in a wealthy country or just selecting Brutal Mode, in which the infected get locked up in prison and the doctors are all hypercaffeinated overachievers who'd rather run lab tests than sleep. It's a buck on iOS and free on Android, so get cracking on your own supergerms.

But seriously. Fuck Greenland.

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