When I saw this game, I knew I had to have it. It wasn’t a question of if, it was when and how. Back in the day, I was a big fan of the Descent series of games, and finally a new game in the same style was making it’s way out to market. This game could have sold me on anything, but after finishing playing it, I think putting it on PC was indeed the best choice they could have made. Sadly, the reason for this is not a happy one, but a matter of brute strength.
Still, all this is of little important compared the all important question of how was it. And all I can do is smile at the question and say “come on in and see.”
Story: The story of RetroVirus is really two stories in one. Most directly, it is the story of a computer system under attack by a malicious worm and the efforts of you, the AntiVirus client installed on the machine, to clean the machine of this threat and return the system to it’s normal operations where the programs can run in safety. To this end, the game will portray the computer workings like a manufacturing city, and the programs as little floating citizens who run around the world doing what they need to do.
But there is a much bigger story going on that is told through the emails you collect as you play the game. These will tell the story of three individuals: Susan, a young woman (and likely the owner of the PC) who is an architect for a living, her boyfriend, who secretly writes viruses in the seedy underworld of the internet, and someone who never gets a name, but bought one of his works. Through the emails, you will pick up on these real-world characters and their rolls in the events going on, assuming you can find all the emails. Otherwise, this part of the story is going to quickly fill up with holes.
Not that this is an issue. Retrovirus is an action game where the story for the most part was never designed to more then take you between points and fill in breather spaces as you pause the game to read the emails you collect.
Graphics: Bright and vibrant, Retrovirus quickly makes a good impression with just how different it looks from almost every other shooter out there. Taking a lesson from the likes of Tron, you will notice most characters in this game use this vibrancy and a bit of bloom to feel right at home in this world.
And yet, this glow carries it’s own character as you will get a blatantly different feel between areas that are fine within the system and those with a sickly purple glow as the corruption proceeds to infect and destroy the area. You will be met with everything from sterile and pristine environments to the organic decay of something that does not belong in the machine, but sure as hell has made itself at home, and you will love the look of it all.
However, not everything is perfect in this game, and you will notice a few small issues here and there. There are a lot of places where bitmaps are laid over each other, resulting in some rather interesting meshes as they battle for dominance on your screen, as well as an issue in the engine itself. While the game looks awesome, ESPECIALLY for a game made by 5 people, their engine is not well optimized, so be ready for the game to slow down from time to time. To put it to a point, I’m running 6 cores with over 3ghz each and an Nvidia 460GTX for my hardware, and there were times when the game really started to chug. If you are running the minimum specs or anywhere close to them, you are in for a slide show.
Sound: While a lot of games these days go for an orchestrated or metal tone, Retrovirus stuck with the theme of the game and kept to an electronica soundtrack. This is for the best for while most of it is not memorable, it fits the idea of playing an antivirus program getting to work perfectly. The exceptions to this are the main theme during the title screen and the music that kicks in when combat gets hectic. These stand out, and stand out in a good way: One sets the mood for the title while the other is energetic enough to go with the flow of battle you will now have to face.
Sound effects, can be a bit weaker here, though. Viruses you fight make organic gurgling and clicking sounds for the most part that serve their purpose and warn you when that particular monster is nearby, but nothing really stands out. Your weapons fair better, but not by a lot. Outside of the Thrasher (chaingun) almost nothing sounds meaty. I have to say almost because when things explode, they boom.
But the real audio star here is the voice acting. There are only a handful of characters, but the acting done allows their personalities to show, from the “no nonsense” Kernel (yes, there is a pun here), to the “valley girl” Qat, everyone has things to say and will make it worth your while to listen. The only problems with the voice acting are in the sound effects. If you read the text box, there are a lot of times where you see things like *static* and such, but you hear nothing to go with it. Just the character cutting off. If the guys at Cadenza Interactive can straighten that out, it would just add that much more to an already awesome experience.
Gameplay: RetroVirus is a First Person shooter, but of a kind really not seen for thirteen years. Modeling after the Descent series, this game has no use for gravity, instead giving you total freedom in where you go: forward, backward, left, right, up, and down. It’s all available, making this game something many modern players have never played anything like. You can think of it as a dogfight that you have the option to stand still if you desire.
Not that dogfighting is all you will do when you play this game. You will find yourself wanting to explore every nook and cranny for extras that will help you in the game as well as potentially explain more of what is going on. These items take the form of emails and memory (which both increase). You will want as much memory as you can get because as gain it, you gain the ability to use modules to adjust how your client works. You can adjust these at any time as it suits your needs in any given situation, allowing you to do things like make your client heavier so pushing and pulling moves you less, make weapons shoot faster or more accurately, or even become invulnerable for 10 second intervals!
But there are both limits and balances to this system. For example, you can only carry one adjustment to any gun you have at any given time. If you want your chain gun to do damage over time, then you will have to give up having two of them. In addition, each upgrade you have running will fit into one of three categories: speed, shooting, or health, and having it running will give you a bonus of moving faster, shooting faster, or a higher maximum health, respectively, balancing out the leveling system, but at the same time letting you adjust how you want to play the game.
In addition to this, there are some levels with a theme that you will have to complete, changing the goals from time to time from simply blowing up enemies to possibly racing the worm to a location or find a specific weapon you know you will need. The game will always keep a list of these objectives on screen, so there is absolutely no chance of losing track of it.
If there is any issue with the gameplay of this game, it’s the difficulty. I’m not about to tell you the game is tough, cause for the most part, it’s not really. But the designers do not comprehend the idea of a difficulty curve. You will hit a few spots as you play that are brutally unforgiving with absolutely zero warning about just how tough it’s going to be. They will frustrate you to no end when they happen, but for the most part they are winnable and you will be able to grit your teeth and move forward.
Bugs: And this is where Retrovirus has issues to talk about. There are a number of issues I found while playing the game, and while most of them are minor, their are still some seriously worth mentioning.
- Framrate: This game is NOT genuine about the system requirements. Being well far and beyond above them, there were still rooms where I noticed some serious slowdown. This most likely has to do with draw distance and the heat effect around areas that will kill you to go into. Just be aware, if you are buying this game, do NOT do so for anything close to the minimum specs. This game will likely run at speeds that are unplayable.
- Soundcuts: This was an issue I hit from time to time. I would enter the menu to manually save, and when I came back, all sound in the game simply ceased to exist. Going back to the menu the music would return, but the game itself from that point on would be silent. Thankfully, this was easily fixed. Quit your current game and reload that save. Back to normal.
- Mouse stopped working: Similar to the sound cuts issue, I had the mouse movement stop working while trying out the co-op mode of the game. This time, however, in order to make it work, I had to exit and restart the game. A bigger issue with a much more annoying solution
- Patches can break the game: This almost killed the game for me, but as I write this, the latest patch actually stops the game from working for most gamers. It literally will not load. However, I have to also point this out with major props for Cadenza, since they had a work around literally hours later with the promise of a hotfix to automatically do it for everyone asap. For those who have this issue, the answer is to go into the game directory and delete Cadenza.Paragon.ContentPipeline.dll. This file was never supposed to be included in the patch and removing it will bring the game back online. Details are in the launch window of the game already, so there is absolutely zero reason anyone shouldn’t know about this as well as where the file is. Due to how fast this team responds to issues like this, I can’t take a lot of points off the game when they make a mistake.
Overall: Retrovirus is a really hard game to rate. On one hand, it is amazing and a blast to play, but on the other, it is also a game where you have to hope your system is beefy enough to play it, which judging from the forums, a lot of people are having issues with. On the one hand, this is the second game I have ever played where a patch broke it in any meaningful way (for those curious, Dawn of War: Winter Assault was the first, as the patches make the game unwinnable as orks in the campaign), and yet at the same time, the team behind it responded so blindingly fast that at most you missed out on a night’s gaming, depending on when you went to play at night.
The game turns into a lot of extremes for the good and the bad at once. Still, the game is also cheap, so if you have the power behind your rig to play, you would be missing out by skipping it. Get your hands on it, and have some fun. And if you have been yearning for a new Descent style game, you really need to get this one.
out of 10