By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
Retrovirus is a six degrees of freedom shooter in the style of the Descent series. I personally never played the Descent series therefore Retrovirus was my first experience of the six degrees of freedom shooter. This is worth taking into account as there could well be a hardened core of six degrees of freedom players that just cannot stand the dimensionally limited approach to shooters that I may be dragging reluctantly into this review. Retrovirus was released early this year following an unsuccessful kickstarter in July 2012. This kickstarter failed to raise the $75k, unfortunately only reaching around $30k. There is a silver lining to the failed kickstarter as it managed to create interest among alternate financial backers, leading to financial backing from Gamestop among others and allowing for the completion of the game. This game therefore has an interesting background and becomes another outcome case study from the crowdfunding model. Whilst the initial popular funding scheme failed, it raised enough interest to attract other backers.
The six degrees of freedom gameplay takes a short while to adapt to when coming into it fresh, but once that short period is over and the disorientation has been managed the freedom that it offers is astounding. The single-player campaign uses the six degrees in a perfect context as a graphical representation of a computer system, with the well designed levels being graphical-physical representations of the various software components within a modern operating system. The core of the single-player campaign is the hunting down and destruction as an anti-virus program of a software virus in the form of a worm. This worm will move through the operating system tearing holes in vital infrastructure and leaving large areas of infection, which is represented by an organic looking growth of pods. The implementation of this infection is the core of the combat in Retrograde as many of the enemies are native operating system agents that have been corrupted by the infection. This means that once the enemy is destroyed they revert to their native state and work against the infection alongside, which leads to some very tactical decisions as to which enemies are destroyed first, which might become infected again as an ally and how much priority is given to destroying the inert but dangerous infection. The story is well done, the characters are appropriate and entertaining and the voice acting assists in being solid.
As the player progresses through the campaign an experience system allows them to customise and upgrade the various weapons that are gradually given to the player. This allows the player to adapt to their own specific play style, be it high rate of fire spray n’ pray or high powered precision shooting. This system combines very nicely with the relatively large levels and six degrees of freedom to give the player an astounding amount of tactical choice. Some situations are approached in a fairly mandatory way, but the vast majority are open to a variety of approaches.
Two forms of multiplayer mode are also included alongside the single player, with a competitive multiplayer as well as a co-op mode allowing the completion of the campaign with friends. This is a nice addition and opens up even more tactical options as players can combine different builds to scenarios.
The game looks great with great graphical fidelity and detail working in conjunction with the two significantly contrasted styles present. The overall operating system; levels, are represented by a hi-tech industrial style with clean surfaces and exposed complex technical innards. These levels are then infected by the worm which leaves behind a highly contrasted biological look. The infection is a purple based biological entity with bulbous pods and roots/tentacles, although there is still a slight technical hint with the presence of hexagonal patterns (it’s still a computer infection). The contrasting styles work perfectly in relation to the gameplay as the style will change from one to the other as you fight the infection and clear it from an area. This extends to the infected operating system agents as they will gain a different, organic look when infected and lose it when disinfected.
The sounds are immensely well done with the weapon sounds being appropriate to each individual weapon. The lasers sound appropriately ‘pew-pew’, the shotgun has punch, the mini-gun sounds thoroughly satisfying among others. The ambient sounds are technical in nature, as would be expected and certainly add to the immersion. The music is fitting and is ranges from ambient background to a more intense soundtrack for frantic combat. I personally muted it for a while to stick some Mad Capsule Markets on for a faster feel, although this is very much personal taste.
The game is available on Windows from Gamestop, Desura, Steam and the Humble Store. Currently the game is 40% off on Steam putting it at £8.99 (approx $13.60), whilst it remains £12.99 (approx $19.63) on Gamersgate and £13.24 (approx $19.99) on the Humble Store. Currently the Steam offer is the best deal, however outside of the sale it is without doubt worth going for the Humble Store as it offers both a Steam key and a DRM free option. The system requirements are reasonable for a low-range gaming PC, maybe a laptop if you have a reasonable iGPU or GPU.
In conclusion Retrovirus is a great six degrees of freedom shooter, which isn’t a highly played or populated genre nowadays. It is a unique game which looks fantastic and plays great, the failed kickstarter is merely a blip on what has turned out to be a great and highly polished release. The game deserves far more attention than it gets and deserves to be played, with a full-featured single-player campaign, co-op and competitive multiplayer it has all the bang for your buck you could possibly want… once you’ve gotten the hang of the six degrees of freedom.