Considering the ongoing pandemic, we just had to create this article. Every gamer probably knows about Plague Inc. by now, so we’re not going to include it. Here are 5 masterpiece games that revolve around a virus outbreak or plague, or at least include one as a plot point. The games are merely sorted in order of release date, from oldest to newest.
Spoiler alert! Simply pointing out that two of the games on our list involve a virus outbreak spoils them! You don’t learn about a virus outbreak until late in both games, and it’s supposed to be somewhat of a surprise in one of them, and a huge surprise in the other. So we are inevitably spoiling their stories by naming them. The games being spoiled are 2nd and 3rd from the bottom of this list and we put them in spoiler tags. We’ll just say here that one of them is a total conversion modification for a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game (2nd from the bottom) while the other is a modern first person puzzle game. With that spoiler warning out of the way, let’s begin the list.
I have already seen memes applying the events of Deus Ex to today (such as this one back in January), especially with the United States declaring a national emergency just like in the game. Deus Ex, a story driven and RPG inspired FPS/stealth game released in 2000, was notoriously prophetic in predicting the state of the world just a few years after its release, so it looks like once again, Deus Ex was right.
The first plot threads you’re introduced to in Deus Ex are that there is some kind of powerful conspiracy going on, and that there is an outbreak of the “Gray Death” virus which has caused a national emergency and significant civil unrest from rioting to domestic terrorists trying to steal shipments of vaccine. The Gray Death first results in flu like systems, but as it progresses to later stages the victim’s complexion will become pale and gray, hence the name. It is very lethal if not treated in a timely manner. You learn all about the nature of this virus throughout the game, and we will not spoil it.
Although Deus Ex was right about many things, it was wrong about others. When it comes to the virus outbreak, it was wrong in predicting that Americans would try to steal the vaccine, when in reality nearly half the country embraced politically fueled anti-vaccine ideology and now refuse vaccines. But who saw that coming?
The plot of Deus Ex branches out far beyond this virus outbreak, which will eventually take a backseat, but nevertheless it can’t be ignored.
Penumbra is an episodic survival and existential first person horror game, the powerful debut of Frictional Games in 2007. The second episode is called Penumbra: Black Plague after all. Now I know a plague is not a virus, but in this case we never learn the exact details about this plague and whether or not it really is a bacterial infection or a virus. It honestly seems to be the latter.
Penumbra’s “plague” infects the mind. In the first episode, aptly named Penumbra: Overture, you encounter feral animals which are infected, and it can also infect humans. Infected humans suffer from severe physical mutation in the eyes, they act feral and hostile, and for some reason they lose all of their clothes too. One researcher documents how infected people seem to become more intelligent in groups, demonstrating some kind of hive mind behavior. Fascinating… and we’ll also say that the protagonist becomes infected with this plague or virus in Black Plague, so you will have to deal with unique symptoms as your infection is different in ways which we won’t spoil.
Moving on, our first spoiled game is below, so be warned.
The second spoiled game is covered below.
Those who frequent GND-Tech saw this coming. We have given so much praise to Pathologic 2, and the game isn’t even finished yet as it will eventually have three campaigns instead of just one (but its one 25 hour campaign is finished). Its initial release was in early 2019.
As the name implies, this first person story driven survival game revolves around a disease outbreak. Not a virus though; it becomes known as the Sand Pest, and it transmits through fleas that live on rats, just like the Bubonic Plague which is its main inspiration. Pathologic 2 gives you twelve in-game days to cure the plague before the military bombards the town. This game will make you fail and accept it, it is impossible to succeed at everything in a single playthrough as you’re always on the clock.
One of the most intense games ever made, Pathologic 2’s Sand Pest spreads dynamically and unpredictably. It is an open world game set in a single large town, and which districts end up infected is up to chance. All but two core characters can catch the plague at any time once it breaks out, and anyone infected can die at any time, again all up to chance, and this of course includes your own character. It is extremely contagious and extremely lethal; if not outright cured, the victim will die eventually, and all you can try to do is prolong it if you can’t cure it.
The symptoms of this Sand Pest mirror that of the Bubonic Plague: swollen lymph nodes (though they spread more in Pathologic 2), flu-like symptoms but even worse, and eventually death. Your goal throughout Pathologic 2 is to create a panacea for the plague before day 12, but the story of the game lies within both the plague itself as well as the town the game is set in. Think you can handle it? Why don’t you give it a try!
And that wraps up our list of five story driven masterpieces involving a plague or virus outbreak. Do you have any personal favorite such games? Let us know in the comments below.