Mobile gaming is quite the force these day, isn’t it? I mean, I certainly take notice when I see stats suggesting that the vast majority of phone and tablet owners use them to play games. The fact that Temple Run 2 secured 50 million downloads in 13 days is pretty astounding. More and more developers are pushing more and more money into mobile games, and that’s something considering that we’re on the verge of the next generation of consoles.
I’ll certainly admit that I’ve done my fair share of mobile gaming. I have an Android phone and a Kindle on which I’ve downloaded (and deleted) several games each. I been consumed in one particular game of late: Plague Inc. It was released last spring, and I first heard about it on one of those video game television programs that no longer exists. “Kill” the world’s entire population with a terrible superbug? It sounded really intriguing, and maybe a little scary, yet it was quickly forgotten…until just recently.
It happened while waiting for a dentist appointment. I was sitting in my dentist’s office waiting, waiting, and waaaaaiting. Damn. Not that I was looked forward to what awaited me, but DAMN people! I hate waiting. So there I sat in one of their standard, industry-issued, drab chairs, being bored by ancient issues of Ladies’ Home Journal when I suddenly decided to peruse the Android Market. I don’t check it out very often, but when I do, I usually find something to download. This time, I found Plague Inc. I flashbacked to that moment I saw the game on TV, the host’s positive review, and its high rating. It was free, so why not? If I hated it, I’d delete it — no commitment, no hassle. (Just the way life should always be but never is.)
I’d say spoilers here, but really, the game is what you make of it, and each player’s experience is unique.
The game downloaded in a matter of minutes, of which I had plenty. I waded my way through several pages of instructions and tutorial stuff and got to the start page. The game offered tons of unlockables, but none were open to me as a new player. I started a casual game, the easiest of the three settings and picked the only disease option available: the oft misunderstood bacteria. [insert tiny evil laugh] I was then given the opportunity to name my disease, but, oddly enough, I couldn’t think of anything creatively lurid as I listened to the incessant whirring of primeval dental tools. So I skipped it and ended up with the generic and not-at-all-lethal-sounding “PAX-12.” I then, finally, made my way to the world map. After yet a few more tutorials blurbs, it was time to choose where my disease was to start. And…oh crap. Crap! I had accidentally chosen a place upon touching the final tutorial bubble to make it disappear. I was stuck with Iran. Eh, I guess. Couldn’t do anything about it so on with the game I went.
The object of Plague Inc. is as simple as it is complex: you, playing as your disease, must wipe out humanity by changing your traits to become lethal and/or hard to cure. You do this through three means: deciding how to transmit the disease (by air, by bird, by mosquito, etc.), evolving its symptoms (everything from sneezing to organ failure), and making it resistant to different climates and drugs. The more people you infect, the more DNA points you gather, which you then spend on these different means. Most are inexpensive at first, but they require more and more DNA points to evolve as the game progresses. At first DNA point are easy to rack up, but they become scant the farther into the game you get, so you have to spend your points wisely. Slowly, your chosen country becomes infected, and then the disease spreads, and then more people get sick and die. Systems break down! Governments fall!! Anarchy abounds!!! WOOHOO!
Nope, it’s not that easy. You think the world is just going to let your superbug run rampant? Humanity intends to live, dammit, live! — and the world does everything in it’s power to stop you. When your disease becomes serious enough, the world will seek a cure. Countries will also take measures to stop the spread of the disease. Reactions to the situation are constantly run news-ticker style, and information bubbles pop up telling you just how bad (or good) things are. The scarier your disease becomes, the harder the world will try to stop you. If your disease isn’t lethal enough, the population may become infected but will still be able to fight back. If it’s too slow and benign, the infection won’t carry far. As I discovered, it’s very easy to make a really infectious disease, but much harder to make a lethal one, let alone lethal enough to kill people before they can begin working on a proper cure. As horrible as the game’s premise seems on the surface, the delicate balancing act of playing it is purely addictive and amazingly fun. And, there are almost 200 countries in the world, which translates into hundreds of starting points and hundreds of different outcomes, You simply can’t argue with that kind of replayability!
I managed to get in two games before it was finally my turn to see the dentist, and I didn’t do so well either time. Since then, I’ve manage to get in about a game a day, and I’ve only been victorious once. (I’m telling you, we are a tough lot to kill! And that’s a good thing, I suppose.) That one victory…well, I was elated when the screen popped up telling me I had won, but just before that, as news came through that humanity had been destroyed, I was a little sad. It was a weird, unexpected transition. My strategy had worked but at what cost…oh look, I unlocked a new trait! Yay! Um…
…what was I talking about?
Plague Inc. doesn’t have the widespread appeal of say, Angry Birds or Temple Run, but it’s a damn fine game, mobile or otherwise. And I, the super cheapskate, didn’t even mind playing 99 cents to download it onto my Kindle where it looks so much larger and prettier. In fact, I have it open here as I’m typing, which means I probably have a tons of proofreading ahead. And…aw man! Turkey, Mexico, Chile, and South Africa just started issuing blood tests, and the world cure is now 25% complete. Maybe I should start spreading the bug via water? Or air? Oh but look, India’s government is falling into disarray. Damn, France just started working on the cure too! Hmmm…should I evolve a bacterial shell or the insanity symptom? Or maybe I should start evolving the respiratory symptoms; that might slow folks down. Choices, choices…