Aug 20 2009
The trick with Virus was mastering the insane control system. The ship was powered by a single ‘jet’ located on the underbelly of your craft. One simply tilted the ship in the direction one wanted to go and applied the jet. The main problem was precise control – this required countering your velocity with equal thrust in the opposite direction. This was no problem high above the surface but while skimming the landscape, searching for spore-pods, it was all too easy to slam into a tree or hill. Also while embroiled in a dogfight it was pretty easy to get carried away and flip the ship. Righting it again as you plummeted towards the ground could be a hair-raising and frustrating experience. However it was the honing of this skill which gave the game much of its appeal. Swooping down, taking out a spore pod and a couple of infected trees, only to hear the whistle on an enemy fighter as it bore down upon you, then counter-thrusting and spinning the ship on its axis to take out the fighter was very rewarding.
The game was incredibly difficult after the fifth wave, as huge, spore-releasing bombers flew overhead and different types of fighters really hunted you down. Staying close to the ground allowed you to spot attacking ships by their shadows, but this was also the most vulnerable position as they were difficult to hit from below.
Great reviews followed the release of the game in September 1988 on Amiga and the Atari ST and there were also PC and Spectrum versions released later.
There have been a few attempts to capture the essence of this game – including Binary Asylum’s Zeewolf and indeed Braben’s own update – Virus 2000. But it is this version (and possibly the original Archimedes version) which blended the tactical, dog-fighting and controls perfectly.
The patchwork design of the landscape gave the game a ‘fractal’ look and the engine was used to great effect in the later release of the tank game – Conqueror. It also gave the game a unique 3D feel and a great sensation of speed.