Virus logo Amiga Computing Excellence Award

VIRUS is a game with a history. It started life on the Archimedes, for which Acorn wanted a really good demo. They contacted David "Elite" Braben, well-known miracle worker for brain-damaged micros, who some time later came up with Zarch.

For reasons still not likely to convince anyone of Telecom's sanity, the game lost some features - Firebird deemed the smart bombs silly, and gained some new aliens along with the name Virus during its trip to the Amiga. But here it is, nonetheless.

Virus is a shoot-em-up. Compared to others of the ilk it's like selling an ST to someone who's seen an Amiga - fiendishly difficult - but apparently it can be done.
Your Hoverplane flies over a patchwork landscape. It is not alone: a range of aliens has also taken a liking to the area and they are determined to turn it red. They do this by seeding the old green and pleasant with viruses, whereupon the crops fail, the people starve and you - yes, you - get to go out there and marmalise the critters.

The most difficult thing about Virus is controlling the hover-plane. It flies straight upwards when the mouse is dead on the spot it was on when the plane was launched. If the mouse is moved away from that spot the plane tilts in that direction.
Firing the rocket under the plane will start it moving thus-wards, but as the mouse is moved farther away from the central point the plane tilts more and more until it is upside down.

The rocket motor now points upwards, and will propel the plane into the glorious quilt of a countryside at a speed which seems impressive the first five or ten times you see it.
By the thirtieth time you've examined the interesting geology of ten feet under, you will have found that the mouse is so sensitive it bursts into tears during Blind Date.

It is a moment of considerable triumph when the plane is steered towards that blip on the radar and gets close enough to hear the chilling whine, let alone close enough to see the circus tent decor of the alien seeder. Now all that needs to happen is to hit the blighter - just dip the nose a little to aim and... oh well, you always wanted to be a landscape gardener.

Eventually it does prove possible to steer the plane well enough to hit the seeders with the laser fun. The best strategy, to spiral downwards and spray away like an innocent hippo on a helter skelter, pales when you notice that every blob fired results in a point taken away from your score. Negative scores are not uncommon in the early days.

You have three short-range guided missiles, which if fired from too low an altitude, are also liable to take up gardening. However, iit is possible to rise to the flight ceiling and let off the missiles with a fair chance of hitting all three seeders on the first screen.
This leaves you nothing but your wits and the laser to cope with the bombers, drones, mutants, pests and fighters which infest the later screens. You get an extra life and missile for every 5000 points, it says in the notes. I believe these, as so far their description of all those deviants has proved devastatingly accurate. There are so many ways to die...

If this sounds too, too nasty, then rest assured that the graphics are wonderful - the first shoot-'em-up that really works in a three-dimensional landscape - the sound just right, even down to the little plips and ploshes when you manage to get as far as the ocean before crashing, and the animation of smoke, particles and almost everything else scrumptious. The sense of achievement when you hit something is almost incidental.
You haven't lived 'till you've died in Virus.

Virus logo CU Super Star


For a man who's only every produced two games, David Braben has got one hell of a reputation as a programmer. He designed and co-wrote the timeless classic Elite, and more recently (about a year ago in fact) conceived and wrote Zarch for Acorn's mighty 32-bit mega-machine, the Archimedes.

Zarch's astounding graphics and gameplay caused it to be instantly heralded as a classic among classics and so, not surprisingly, Firebird snapped up the conversion rights the moment they saw it. After several months' development, the official Amiga version has finally arrived under the name of Virus, and it's nothing short of fantastic.

Set in the not-too-distant future, the game takes place over a large colony of islands under attack by a sinister race of aliens who are spreading an evil red virus across the countryside which pollutes and destroys plant life. Since the island colonists depend on their crops to survive, all their lives are at risk. The only way the aliens can be stopped is to attack them head on using a hoverplane - a kind of futuristic jet fighter.

As you may have guessed, Virus is a shoot 'em up. Nothing special there. What sets it apart from all other games is the way in which it's presented. Virus employs a revolutionary solid 3D graphics technique to display the game world in the most convincing manner yet to be seen in a computer game.

The hoverplane is viewed from the outside and operates on a remarkably simple 'tilt and burn' system. The ship, which looks rather like a squashed and elongated pyramid, has an engine situated at the base of the craft. Applying thrust forces the hoverplane straight up as a stream of highly-coloured vapour shoots out from the exhaust port. Pushing the mouse forward and back will raise and lower the plane's nose, while left and right movements spin it round through 360 degrees. In this manner, it's possible to tilt the plane at every conceivable angle and so travel in any direction you please. It's like Thrust with an extra dimension.
Learning to control the plane properly is a task that requires days of solid practice and plenty of patience.

The countryside is represented as an undulating series of hills and dips, broken down into many different coloured rectangles to give a lovely rural patchwork effect. Trees, houses and rotating radar towers make regular appearances on the landscape and help to make the whole thing more interesting graphically.

Travelling between islands is not a problem, simply a matter of flying over the expanses of water that segregate them, and navigation aid is provided in the form of a map of the entire game area pinpointing your position at all times. The length of time you can thrust around is dictated by your fuel level, which dwindles away as you fly, and can only be replenished by returning to your home base.

The virus-spreading aliens begin to appear shortly after take off, and are split into eight specific types, each with their own characteristics. Airborne nasties such as the drones and pests fly randomly about the landscape, shooting away and generally being a nuisance. Thankfully these don't cause too much trouble. It's the ones that actually distribute the evil red virus that must be destroyed. Seeders, for example, wander around the landscape, spurting out deadly red dust wherever they go, while bombers drop virus cannisters from a great height onto the landscape below. Even though neither of these two will attack you, they must be killed immediately before they can pollute too much of the countryside, turning it a gristly red/brown colour, and any trees in the vicinity into strange hybrids. The aliens can be shot down using the nose-mounted cannon. Nastier types can be knocked out by firing one of the hoverplane's three homing missiles.

Defending the islands in this manner continues until the designated number of aliens have been destroyed, whereupon the current attack wave ends and bonus points are allocated for the amount of area that remains uninfected. The next attack wave brings more aggressive opponents, and more of them as well. Extra features to make life harder are added as the game progresses, such as higher levels of gravity, which means more thrust has to be used to keep the hoverplane airborne, at the expense of more fuel.

Graphically Virus is a masterpiece. The amazing attention to detail makes it one of the most attractive Amiga games yet to appear. Everything is faultless, from the way the landscape rises and falls smoothly under you as you glide past, to the way in which everything in the game, right down to the vapour trails from your own craft and the smoking remains of destroyed alien craft casts a perfect shadow on the landscape. Fly too high and you'll find a beautiful multi-layer parallax starfield. True, the game isn't quite as colourful as the Archie original, and some of the fancier graphic frills have had to be omitted, but that was only to be expected.

Sound is adequate, with the lack of music being made up for by excellent thrusting effects and a gorgeous sampled splash when vapour trails hit the water. All this, however simply pales away when compared to the sheer genius of the gameplay itself. There's a lot of solid practising to be done before the pig of a control method is grasped, but once it is I defy anyone to leave the game alone for more than an hour.

Virus is so simple and yet so innovative that it completely changes the face of the shoot 'em-up as we know it.

Virus: Starting up
  • Learn to use thrust correctly. Constant thrusting results in rapid fuel loss and makes the hoverplance much harder to steer, so thrust a little and fly on momentum until you begin to drop. Then thrust a little more to keep moving.
  • Remember where your home base is (in the exact centre of the map) and practise landing to refuel until you have perfected it.
  • Watch the demo. The computer is an excellent pilot and you can pick up some great combat manoeuvres by watching carefully.
  • Don't fire the cannons just for the sake of it. Every bullet that misses results in a point being subtracted from your score.
  • Be careful and have lots of fun. (What kind of tip do you call this? - Ed).

Virus logo

Firebird, £19.95 disk

Flipping heck! Will those people from the planet next door never stop invading? This time around they aren't even bothering with all that 'Take me to your leader' rubbish, and have started their conquest by infecting the countryside with a virulent red bacterium. Unless you're prepared to do something about it, defoliation is the order of the day - a demoralising blow to the morale of the ecology-mad populace who will no doubt surrender to alien whims rather than watch their verdant planet wither.

So, now would be a good time to climb into your hoverplane and show those greenies who's boss. The hoverplane is a highly manoeuvrable fighter aircraft, equipped with a protective energy shield, a long range scanner, a laser cannon and three homing missiles. Vertical and forward thrust is provided through a single downward-pointing exhaust in the hoverplane's base, so the craft handles rather like a helicopter - tilt the nose down and you fly downward. Also like a helicopter, your hoverplane can be rotated about a vertical axis, allowing it to turn smoothly or swing round on the spot.

Your flight is viewed in three dimensions from a point outside the hoverplane, which skims over the undulating planet surface consisting of fish-filled oceans, patchworks of fields, trees and cottages.

To help determine where you are on the planet, the long range scanner gives a bird's eye view of the whole surface and plots the positions of your own, and alien craft with a coloured dot. The scanner receives signals from an array of ground-based antennae which, if destroyed by a stray shot, leave a blank space on the scanner display.

One capsule of the virus infects a whole field, and the extent of the infection is shown by discoloration on the scan of display. If the virus infects a tree, it either withers it or causes it to mutate into a virus-spraying plant which further pollutes the land around it.

The infection is first spread by Seeders - blue, diamond-shaped craft which fly slowly, spraying virus capsules over the landscape. Seeders will sometimes land to give one area a really good dose and create plenty of mutant trees.

Unlike the Seeders, Drones are armed with laser guns which they use to attack surface features and the hoverplane. A Drone can turn itself into a more powerful Mutant by shooting a mutated tree while in range of its virus spray. Mutants are also out to destroy the hoverplane, and its faster firing rate and greater accuracy makes it a more dangerous foe than the Drone.

Even more lethal than the Mutants are the Fighters, which have the same wantonly destructive instincts but an ever higher rate of fire. Fighters are also equipped with a shield which means it takes two laser hits to destroy them.

Other alien craft only make an appearance on the game's later levels. Bombers enter the fray from the second level flying a fast, fixed course and dropping high density virus bombs on parachutes.

The Attractor is the most dangerous of all the alien craft, but its appearances are mercifully seldom. As well as firing destructive lightning bolts at the ground, the Attractor is equipped with a tractor beam which it uses to pull the Hoverplane towards it, drawing off your fuel.

There are also rumours of a new alien spacecraft which may appear at any stage in the game, wielding a secret weapon! Ooooh!

Gordon Houghton I first saw this on the ST (not being at Newsfield when they borrowed that spotty great Archimedes) and was pretty impressed. If I hadn't seen Starglider 2 or Carrier Command I'd still be very keen; however, the combination of fast, 3D action and a brilliant plot in both those games tends to overshadow this production. But don't let that worry you! Virus is one of the more impressive Amiga releases, its only fault being the lengthy amount of time required to acquire control over your hoverplane. Once this skill is acquired, you're well on your way to many hours of enjoyment: whether it's just flying around, blasting the hell out of anything that moves, or simply acting as a defender on patrol, this game's compelling. Firebird/Rainbird are coming out with some superb Amiga products these days, and this is just another to add to the list. Oh - and watch out for the sea monster!
Kati Hamza The first thing that strikes you about Virus is the dead impressive 3D: you can spend hours just flying around, getting used to the controls, spiralling to great heights and pulling up just before you crash to the ground - before you even begin to think about the game. When you come down to the action, it's all very impressive - a bit like a modified 3D Defender - though it's sometimes a tad difficult to tell just exactly where you are in space. The sound effects could have been a lot better (they aren't much of an advance over the ST version), but they don't detract from what is a brilliantly innovative and extremely playable game. Be warned though - it's very tricky at first; and if you're to explore its rewarding depths, perseverance is the order of the day.
Paul Glancey Virus' most attractive feature is undoubtedly the excellent 3D rendering of a solid environment, which even extends to exploding trees and leaping fish! It's a little surprising, then, that the technique wasn't bolted onto a game which was a little more involved. That's not to say that the game isn't a lot of fun as it stands, though - in fact, it's most exhilarating to swoop down over hills and oceans at enormous speeds and blast the hell out of anything blastable. The keyboard control method is by far easier to use, as the mouse is so vague that you usually end up pitching and yawing when you only meant to pitch. The audio effects are disappointingly basic on the whole, and distant gunfire sounds like a DIY enthusiast with a hammer and I was often given the impression that there was someone falling down the ZZAP! Towers staircase. Any road up, I liked it loads an I reckon anyone who fancies a new approach to the combat flight simulator should definitely check Virus out.