Retrovirus Review

Retrovirus is a nod to the classic Descent series that makes battling virtual viruses a mostly pleasant pursuit.

In the real world, cleaning out the digital crud and viruses mucking up your ailing computer is rarely a fun ordeal, but Retrovirus' sci-fi-heavy approach to tech support is far more satisfying. This "six degrees of freedom" first-person shooter sends you hovering, scanning, and blasting through a vast microscopic computer realm to purge a rampant virus from the system through brute force. Though a thick, meandering plot and massive difficulty spikes make for an uneven experience, Retrovirus marks a mostly welcome return to the twitchy, sometimes disorienting style of subterranean combat and exploration made popular by Descent in the mid-'90s.

Worm hunting is messy business.
Worm hunting is messy business.

Storytelling isn't Retrovirus' strong suit. Played solo or cooperatively, the campaign throws you right into the action amid a deluge of tech-speak, offering a confusing introduction to the world and its metal inhabitants. Taking place within the confines of a desktop computer, the game opens with a boot sequence that reveals a bustling society of microscopic robots going about their routines. That is, until a nasty wormlike virus infiltrates the system and unleashes hell. You play as a heavily armed antivirus bot dispatched on a seek-and-destroy mission--one that leads you down a winding path through the system's inner workings and requires you to annihilate tons of volatile purple gunk.

You sporadically uncover emails throughout your trek that fill in a few blanks on the bigger conspiracy that's afoot, but the dry dialogue and hollow exchanges between the game's disembodied cast of robotic characters don't bring much personality to this harsh electronic landscape. Simply put, the narrative hook is lacking. Even by the end, it's hard to feel any lasting connection to the shaky plot or its characters, but the journey itself is a wild ride nonetheless.

As you move from one area of the computer's system to the next, exploration and combat are inextricably linked by the need to clear away the nasty trails of purple corruption left behind by the virus. Playing clean-up duty is both challenging and fulfilling, since the large pustules join with snaking tendrils to form a foul network that houses spawn pits for a bevy of alienlike foes. From bulbous beasts that spew heat-seeking charges to flitting critters that multiply when killed, the vile menagerie is formidable in large numbers. Taking down their infrastructure quickly is crucial, and the attacking creatures aren't pushovers. Among their many traits, they can all infest and re-infest friendly droids to turn them against you. Their tenacity proves equally thrilling and harrowing at times, so emerging victorious to purge each area of its pestilence delivers a level of satisfaction that's on par with scratching a stubborn itch--over and over again.

Not all vistas are doom and gloom.
Not all vistas are doom and gloom.

Thankfully, your antivirus drone is largely up to the hefty task. It's extremely maneuverable, letting you move in six directions and rotate your angle a full 360 degrees. While this "six degrees of freedom" makes moving and fighting through twisty corridors and larger obstacle-filled rooms disorienting at first when enemies are coming at you from all directions, it's an exciting way to play that hasn't been done this well in a while. Along with the ability to cloak for a short time, boost to escape danger, and send out a scan ray to detect nearby foes, your scrappy little bot has a versatile assortment of perks to draw from. As you level up, you can cherry-pick helpful plug-ins from three loadout categories that boost your abilities, enhance your arsenal, and assist in other ways. What's great is that you're never locked into your decisions either. You can reshuffle your plug-in points to adapt to different combat situations, which is necessary for surviving everything Retrovirus throws at you.

A limited-yet-rechargeable power supply that ties in to your weapons and abilities keeps the balance of power in check. If you fire too frequently or use other abilities in tandem with your guns haphazardly, you rapidly deplete your reserves and have to wait until they recharge. This adds tension to most combat situations, since you often run out of juice while battling in close quarters. This balance is necessary early on; however, it works against you in the game's larger, tougher confrontations that throw massive swarms of foes at you. Frequent checkpoints and quick saves help counter most of this frustration, though some stretches are particularly brutal. The fact that these killer areas are sometimes sandwiched between quieter zones offers some relief, but they tend to blindside you as a result.

The organic nature of your foes provides great visual contrast to the tech-heavy environments you explore and battle through. Retrovirus' impressive visual design and frequently changing environments help carry some of the more repetitious combat sequences that pop up. Sporadic boss battles, light puzzle sections, and some optional objectives to boost your experience further flesh things out too. Beyond the main campaign, several multiplayer options are worth exploring despite an anemic online player base. Group co-op is functional but hampered by various glitches, such as doors not opening for all players. Deathmatches against bots or other players are fast-paced and use a cool weapon upgrade system that triggers new perks as you amass kills.

Look at the problems you cause when you don't properly maintain your hard drive.
Look at the problems you cause when you don't properly maintain your hard drive.

The MOBA mode is by far the most interesting option, however. It pits opposing teams against one another to push through their opponents' base defenses and destroy their nexus. Mobs, turrets, and other players add to the chaos, as you battle alongside human comrades and drones alike. The push-pull flow of these battles makes for some hotly contested matches. They're a lot of fun when you have enough human players to fight against and alongside. It's just a shame there aren't many players online with whom to take advantage of these multiplayer features.

As a revival of classic Descent-style exploration and combat, Retrovirus masterfully revamps and improves on the winning formula that hooked players almost two decades ago. A weak story and other fumbles make it hard to fully embrace the experience, but this unique, fast-paced shooter is still worth digging into for its distinct setting and intense virus slaying. Overlook a few foibles, and you'll find blasting bugs a sporadically blissful time.

The Good
Unique settings juxtapose the organic and the mechanical
Fresh take improves on Descent-style exploration and combat
Tons of customization and weapon options for your drone
The Bad
Weak plot and story presentation
Difficulty spikes wildly at times
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Retrovirus More Info

  • First Released Nov 16, 2012
    • PC
    Retrovirus is a modern take on the classic six-degrees-of-freedom shooter for the PC.
    Average Rating22 Rating(s)
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    First-Person, Shooter, 3D, Action