After decades of saving the world through video games, it’s refreshing to be tasked with its utter destruction. Pandemic 2.5 does this by granting you a baby disease, asking you to name it before making you responsible for its development and growth.
Your goal is simple, dark and delicious: infect the world; exterminate life as quickly as you can.
When Pandemic launched for PC it became a quick success, and the game’s recent release on iOS has only spread that popularity as an entirely new audience has been infected with a lust for, er, infection.
But as Will pointed out in our recent look at the game, Pandemic 2.5 is far from a perfect game, with obfuscated rules, weak tutorials, ugly visuals and an execution that’s far less effective than the diseases within.
Enter Plague Inc. a near exact clone of Pandemic 2.5 that smooths almost every rough edge of the original, introducing a concise tutorial that teaches as you play and pretty interface screens that have obviously been arranged by a graphic designer rather than a programmer.
It seasons the original concept with a small handful of ideas of its own, for example, bubbles that occasionally pop up on the world map screen which, if collected, provide points that can be spent on upgrading the symptoms, supports and traits of your disease. But most importantly, it extracts the most meaningful information in the game introducing a host of new graphs and metrics to allow you to chart the spread of your disease.
They are small additions but add a little extra physical interaction to a game that, in its latter stages, can be fairly hands-off.
It is, unquestionably the better game. But it is also unquestionably a game that wouldn’t exist were it not for Pandemic.
An accusation cloning can damage your game beyond repair, as Us Two, the developer of Papa Quash, a cynical iOS copy of indie scene favourite Johann Sebastian Joust discovered last week when an entire community rose up against the company, leading to the game’s removal from the App Store.
Usually, so the argument goes, a clone is easy to spot as it adds nothing to the original while taking away some of its soul and character in the dead-eyed copying. Many clones feature not only the exact same ‘numbers’ (e.g. cost of items in the shop, or points attributions) but also the same menu layouts.
Games that stand on the shoulder of their influences, meanwhile, may appropriate the core mechanics or feel of other games, but add their own spice of invention, improvement or theme as differentiation.
Plague Inc. sits somewhere in the middle of these two poles. Pandemic 2.5 is the only entry to the disease ‘em up genre, and Plague Inc’ layout and game flow is almost identical. But it adds a few shrewd ideas of its own and, in the graphical smartening the game arguably gains character and accessibility, where Pandemic had a somewhat standoffish PC impenetrability.
It’s important to note that most of the people who have left reviews of the game are fully aware that it’s heavily based on Pandemic 2.5. Yet, thanks to Plague Inc’s superior execution, they are only too happy to recommend the game over its predecessor.
Indeed, reviewers are in a difficult position. In terms of consumer advice: your 69p is indisputably better spent on Plague Inc. But it’s Pandemic’s developer who had the creative vision to construct the rules. Arguably, buying their game is a vote for originality and, potentially an investment in yet more interesting games in the future.
Perhaps there is a middle ground here. There are creatives who innovate and creatives who perfect. So long as you fall into one of those two camps (or preferably both) then you are probably fighting the good fight.
It’s the creative thieves who steal everything and add nothing who are most deserving of our scorn. Plague Inc’s makers have added style and quality of execution. It may not be the most noble of creative endeavours, but, in terms of the virtual molecular war against humanity, it’s a valid contribution nonetheless.
So Hookshot readership: what’s your take on the issue? Are we being too soft on Plague Inc.? Or is pure aesthetic evolution as a valid a contribution as innovation?