Review: “Virus: It Is Aware” (Playstation One Game)

Since I recently got a second-hand copy of this game, I thought that I’d review it. I should probably point out that I’ve only played it for a couple of hours, so this review only reflects my initial experiences of the game. However, in all honesty, a couple of hours of “Virus: It Is Aware” is probably more than enough. I think that this may well be my first truly cynical review on this blog. So, yes, it will be long and it will be sarcastic.

The thing is that, despite all odds, I wanted to like this game. Yes, it was a movie tie-in (and this type of game doesn’t exactly have a stellar reputation) for a sci-fi/horror film called “Virus”, but the cover art looked amazingly cool and the intro movie was also amazingly cool too. Even the menus looked wonderfully dark, cyberpunk, gothic and futuristic too. I was excited and I was looking forward to playing this game. What a fool I was.

Little did I know that these are probably the best things about this lamentable 3rd person shooter game. From what I gather, this game doesn’t follow the plot of the movie (which I saw about half of on TV about seven or eight years ago) but takes place sometime after the events of the film.

Anyway, you play as Joan – a police officer without a surname – who, along with her partner Sutter, has to infiltrate a hotel because it has been filled with zombies and cyborgs which have something to do with the villain in the film. As I said earlier, I’ve only played this game for a couple of hours, but any connection to the film seems to be tenuous as best.

Although I say that I’ve only played this game for a couple of hours, what I mean is that I’ve only got halfway through the second level. The levels are fairly short and it still took me a couple of hours to get to the second level.

This is mainly on account of the fact that the game is frustratingly difficult in all sorts of obtuse ways – Joan can take a lot of damage very quickly and the only health power-ups you will get are when Sutter randomly decides to heal you at a couple of points in the first level. Not only that, but there are a few “instant death” moments where unless you’ve worked out exactly what to shoot or exactly where to stand or run (through lots of labourious trial and error), then you’ll end up dying in less than three seconds.

Now this might not be so bad if “Virus: It Is Aware” had a decent re-start system which allowed you to try again (from an earlier point in the level) a few seconds later or to re-start the level instantly. But, no, that would be logical. That would be fun.

Instead, it displays an animated “game over” screen, then it spends a while loading the main menu again. After that, you can start a new game (and go through the 3-4 pages of introductory text again) or you can load a saved game.

If the difficulty curve of the first freaking level was reasonably fair, then this wouldn’t be an issue. But, since you’ll end up dying ridiculously often in the first level, this process gets very annoying very quickly.

As for the gameplay, I’ve already mentioned the “instant death” moments in the first level, but the other frustrating thing about this game is how repetitive it is. Whilst I don’t really mind this too much if the gameplay is reasonably solid – when you’re fighting the same three enemies in pretty much the same room for the third time, it starts to get a little bit dull.

In fact, “fighting” isn’t even the right word. Since you start the game with two fairly weak pistols which you can’t re-load whenever you need to (ok, I’ll give the game points for realism here) and you are faced with enemies that will pretty much halve your health bar if they get within a metre of you, combat in this game mainly consists of running backwards and tapping the “fire” button as quickly as you can.

Fortunately, this game has a fairly intuitive and almost automatic aiming system, so the designers obviously put a tiny bit of thought into trying to make the game playable.

However, the gameplay and combat also suffers from another major flaw. You can’t strafe. Yes, I’m serious here. This is a fast-paced shooter game with no strafing in it. I’m serious. Whether it’s a first-person shooter game or a third-person shooter game, it’s a pretty well-known fact of gaming that moving sideways is an essential part of gameplay. Hell, even games which were made four years before “Virus: It Is Aware” gave the player the ability to strafe.

In addition to this, “Virus: It Is Aware” contains a few interactive ‘in game’ cutscenes. Now, this might sound pretty cool and forward-thinking for a game made in the late 90s, but there is no way to tell whether a cutscene is interactive or not until several enemies are already attacking you. Not only that, but when the cutscenes end, the camera angle and/or the player’s position will sometimes suddenly change. This can be disorientating and distracting to say the least.

In fact, during one part of the first level (where you have to outrun a wall of water and climb up a ladder) the camera completely changes direction halfway through this fast-paced and time-sensitive sequence. In fact, the only way I was able to get through this part of the level was through dead reckoning (eg: making sure that I ran along a line between two rows of floor panels in the corridor) and a lot of time-consuming trial and error.

The dialogue in this game is done entirely via text boxes too. This is probably a good thing since I still dread to think of what kind of quality the voice-acting would have had if it had been even twice as good as the dialogue itself. Honestly, it seems like some of the dialogue has been badly-translated into English from another language. This probably wouldn’t be an issue if the dialogue was interesting and contained proper characterisation, but most of Joan and Sutter’s conversations in the first level are as generic and utilitarian as some of the robots they are fighting.

I can’t really comment on the settings, since I only played one and a half levels before abandoning this game out of sheer frustration, but the first level is set in a vaguely-futuristic and very generic sewer. This is probably a good metaphor for the game itself too.

All in all, the box art might look cool and the intro movie might give “Resident Evil” a run for it’s money, but the only people who might be genuinely interested in playing as much of this game as possible are game designers who want to learn what kind of mistakes to avoid when making a game.

If I had to give this so-called “game” a rating out of five, then it would get one and a half. And the only reason it gets one and a half rather than one is because of the cool intro movie, the realistic (albeit badly-handled) reloading system and the cool menu design.

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