The most successful video game about spreading disease got a long-promised new mode today that lets you try to stop a pandemic. Plague Inc.’s new Cure mode challenges you to find the right mix of contact tracing, lockdown enforcement, vaccine research, economic assistance, and similar measures to bring society to the moment we’re all dreaming of: the end of a global health catastrophe.
Plague Inc.’s Cure mode basically flips the dynamics of the 2012 strategy game, which has long attracted millions of players with the challenge of spreading a virus until it wipes out humanity. In the new Cure version of the game, which its developers say was designed with the help of global health experts, you instead dispatch researchers to hotspots as a map of the world inexorably fills with red dots that represent disease.
To fight the spread of sickness, you can alert governments, send researchers, and enact some very familiar policies—including bans on travel, mandatory lockdowns, and eviction relief—all the while financing health organizations and beginning the long process of making a vaccine.
Cure mode forces you to not just try to manage the disease but the human population’s reactions to the ongoing events. In-game people will get angry about extended lockdowns and start to defy them, for example, especially if such policies aren’t paired with financial relief. Gee, what a concept.
As time races on and disease-filled planes fly across the map, you’ll also need to monitor your level of “authority” or trust that the population has in your policy-makers. As it diminishes, people are less likely to be compliant. They’ll resist wearing masks, the game’s lead developer James Vaughan noted to Kotaku. That helps the disease spread more. Lose all your authority and the game ends.
Making an in-game vaccine isn’t easy and requires multiple steps. “Players are typically caught out by how long it takes to make a vaccine, and they learn that they need to prepare manufacturing facilities in advance,” Vaughan said. “A frequent beta tester response was ‘Disease ran out of control because I didn’t start making the vaccine until after I’ve researched it.’”
The game optimistically assumes that everyone will take the vaccine, one detail of several that supports the developers’ warnings that Cure mode is not meant to be a simulation of real life. “We need to draw it to a conclusion,” Vaughan said of the decision to make merely manufacturing a vaccine be a victory condition. “[That’s] one of the areas where we had to gamify it.”
It can be played at three difficulty levels. The easiest difficulty, called Casual, has one key factor pre-baked into its simulation: “people love wearing masks.” In Normal difficulty, it gets tougher: “politicians [are] vaguely competent; experts [are] mostly listened to.” In Mega-Brutal? “Doctors play Plague Inc. all day.”
Cure mode is available now for anyone who has the mobile version of Plague Inc. and is coming soon to PC and console. The new mode will be free, Vaughan says, until Covid-19 is under control.