Sometimes when it comes to ferreting out a computer virus, you've got to get down into the nitty gritty and just fire your way through the computer, blowing up infection wherever it grows. Well, at least this is what Retrovirus teaches. And I've got to say, it looks much more effective (and fun) than running the latest anti-virus software on the market and watching files scroll by.
In Retrovirus, you're tasked with destroying a virus that has infected a computer system. As it tears holes through the system, leaving its swollen, violet pods of infection throughout, infecting the digital residents and causing havoc, you must pursue. The game offers you a flying ship, with six degrees of movement, to take out the polluted systems, with a bevy of weaponry and tricks up your sleeve. And though it may take some getting used to, getting to fly and boost throughout the system is enjoyable, bringing back memories of old-school Descent.
Combat is a frantic affair: for a while, the game lets you lower your guard as you just shoot pods and some weak enemies, but the pace picks up dramatically. Soon you're finding that 'cleansed' enemies (you don't really kill them, you simply shoot the sick out of them) can get reinfected, and battles become a race to destroy the purple virus remnants scattered around the room before taking on other opponents, lest they simply turn on you again.
You're afforded a number of weapons, each coming with a special alternate fire that needs to be triggered by your scanning device (it's a little strange in words, but simple in practice). For example, the shotgun-equivalent can be shot, then the bullet holes, or whatever the digital equivalent is, can get scanned, turning them into a gravity field that pulls in everything around them. You have to be conservative though - all weapons are tied to a single recharging enery source that, while it only takes a couple seconds to recover fully, has a tendency of running dry in heated battles.
And by destroying the virus and its leavings, you get kilobytes that can be used to purchase upgrades that turn your little virus-hunting rig into an even more deadly machine. Even better, these upgrades can be reconfigured at any point to give yourself a particular edge when you need it.
Retrovirus has a story somewhere in the mix; well, technically it has two. There's the one you're experiencing, where you and the AI accompanying you are hunting down the virus, and the backstory. Neither are particularly interesting. The backstory in particular is told through text emails you find strewn throughout the system, and are a little hard to follow, not to mention a little dull too. So I wouldn't get into this game for the plot.
There's a nice visual flair that the game gives, presenting the inside of a computer less like the Tron-like simulation you might expect, and more like...well, the first areas of the game involve crumbling construction, with lengths of rebar poking out at various intervals, showing the aftermath of the virus's passage. Later in the game gives access to a large, surprisingly bright city landscape, and much like the rest of the game's world, makes no sense being in a computer. But these areas are a welcome change from the claustrophobic, earlier levels, making it feel more like a place where your flying vehicle can really take off.
Unfortunately, you'll be spending a lot of time looking at the same environments, as the game starts to repeat itself. It's about 10-12 hours long, but there just isn't enough content in the game to justify that length, as you'll be backtracking through old areas, fighting old enemies, and in general getting a sense of deja vu, as if you've already done what you're being asked to do. It's a case of too much content, not enough variety. There's also multiplayer, but despite an interesting base-defense mode (it's similar to the MOBA genre), finding others to play online is all but impossible.
Retrovirus is, in the end, a game that's genuinely fun to play, especially if you have good memories of Descent. Unfortunately, it wears out its welcome long before the game itself actually ends, and has too much repetition in what you see. Regardless, it's a fun experience to fly through this inner-space of a computer, rendered in such a way that I haven't seen since watching reruns of my favourite TV show ReBoot so many years ago.