by Christopher Coke, reviewed on
Now with More Freedom
Have you ever noticed that a motherboard looks a lot like a city? Capacitor skyscrapers and front-side bus super highways trace the city limits. Ever since computers first hit the public consciousness, imaginative kids (and adults!) have fantasized about the secret lives being lead just out of their sight. That’s where Retrovirus from Cadenza Interactive comes in. Your computer is no city, but a vast network of neon lit tunnels, chutes, and network centers; all ridden with tenebrous veins and pustules of corruption. You play the antivirus, a fire-armed and fully mobile robot who can freely navigate these tunnels, playing janitor, doctor, and destroyer all at once.
Cadenza describes Retrovirus as a “six degrees of freedom” first-person shooter. Those six degrees represent left, right, forward, backward, up, and down, but you can aim freely at any angle using the mouse. This range of movement is used to good effect as you will often be asked to rapidly change course. Just like in Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, your perception of “down” will and must change to navigate with fluidity. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game is shooting through glass tunnels, a lot like mail tubes, rapidly changing direction and feeling the outside space twist around you. Players who experienced Descent in the mid-90s should feel right at home.
The setting is gripping. Exploring the inside of the computer is an experience unto itself thanks in large part to the excellent art design. Bright colors permeate the atmosphere and the palette evokes electricity. Most things glow with a neon radiance and those that don’t are metal or organic. Venturing from section to section often comes with a sense of wonder. Happening upon a fan vent for the first time, I moved from angle to angle trying to see out until I realized that what I was seeing was the desktop; where hardware ends, software begins.
As a shooter, Retrovirus is competent but doesn’t make a name for itself. The joy of the game is in flight and exploration, and that is made no more apparent than when you’re whittling down the health bar of the umpteenth probe with the same gun as the dozens before it. Cadenza injects some variety with the weapon types, such as the gravity inducing shotgun, but destroying viruses often becomes an affair of choosing the right weapon for the job and click-mashing. It may not be much different from other shooters, but it gets the job done and can still be a lot of fun.
There are numerous enemies that will stand in your path to a clean rig. Many of these are organic, like fanged slugs that creep along the walls, but all of them can be deadly. Enemies can also take the form of corrupted observer bots that, with enough damage, can be cleansed and fight for you. The corruption targets these converts, however, and with enough damage they can be re-infected and turned against you.
Killing enemies also grant you megabits of data which unlock abilities in several progression trees. These paths are important and, thankfully, can be re-plotted at any time. These trees can bolster your damage, increase your survivability, or enhance your anti-virus in other ways. With some planning, it is possible to build a character that, so long as he is dealing damage, is almost invulnerable; however, the real fun comes from trying out each different plug-in and discovering how it alters the game.
Excellently realized world, fun to explore, ability progression
Small online community, difficulty spikes, strangely lacking options