Monday, 1 August 2011

Overhead Run 'n' Gun Games #5

Virocop (1995)
By: Graftgold / Renegade Genre: Run 'n' Gun Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium-Hard
Featured Version: Commodore Amiga First Day Score: 69,550
Also Available For: Nothing

Imagine if in the future it was possible to take holidays without leaving the comfort of your own home. This concept has been explored in films before, such as Total Recall, but in games? I don't know actually but that's exactly what forms the basis for this game. Virocop was released late in the Amiga's life and until recently my only experience with it was via a magazine cover-disc demo. I remember liking it a lot but I only had one stage to try out so I've been meaning to delve more deeply into it for years now. The story is actually quite detailed but it involves a virtual game park which has been invaded by many viruses. Sent in to clear the park so virtual holidays can resume in peace is not just a Virocop but the very best Virocop of them all - D.A.V.E.

DAVE, which stands for Digital Armoured Virus Exterminator, is a small, hovering, robotic creature who must make his way through sixteen levels and cleanse them of the unpleasant virus creatures who now dwell within. The levels are spread over four themed areas - It's a Funny Old Game (sports), Urban Jungle (city and industrial), He Who Dares Wins (military), and Crusader (medieval) - and are viewed from an angled overhead perspective. The objective of each is to make your way to the exit, clearing a set quota of viruses as you go. The viruses predictably take the form of hideous looking monsters and must be eradicated by shooting them, and there are many smaller creatures and devices around, usually related to the theme of the area, to get in your way too, and each area ends in a boss fight. All of the enemies can be shot and there's a wide variety of weapons with which to do this.

Dave can carry up to four weapons at once from a selection of thirteen, although these are not all available straight away as you might expect. He has three 'slots' to which you can assign weapons. One of these must be his default cannon, which has infinite ammo, or a similarly unlimited weapon but other two slots can be outfitted with any other weapon you like. If Dave picks up a new weapon during a level which he isn't already using, it will be assigned to the otherwise unused fourth slot. The weapons vary in their usefulness and include the likes of three-way shots, mines, homing missiles, flame-throwers, lasers, etc, each of which has its own special merit at one time or another. Gaining access to all these weapons requires you to blow stuff up!

When you defeat non-virus enemies they'll leave behind a 'Power Ball', and only by collecting a sufficient number of these can you 'activate' the circuit on which they lie on the weapon-select screen. Contact with the enemies, or their projectiles (which are abundant!) depletes Dave's battery reserves. Luckily there are lots of bits and pieces to collect on your travels including more energy as well as items for bonus points. The viruses themselves also leave something behind when defeated, namely bonus letters which gradually create the password for the next level. You'll need passwords too - this is a large and difficult game! Mercifully, the levels aren't timed so you can spend as long as you want taking out the enemies as stealthily as possible if you want which is great news for me!

Most of the levels are multi-tiered with vertical movement enabled by extensive use of ramps. Dave can make his way up and down them easily enough, although some steep ones might require a run-up, but it's also easy for him to teeter off the edge of a section and fall back down to a previous one. Some sections also have water, lava, or other less than robot-friendly substances, so if he falls into those the results won't be good! There's also moving platforms and other platformer-like features here and there and the game also makes use of restart points when a life is lost so you may end up doing a lot of rushing around up these often-narrow ramps to reach your previous point. Happily, control of Dave is flawless. His motion is smooth, fast, and accurate, so exploring the fairly large levels and shooting up the crazy enemies with him is really enjoyable, and it rarely feels like a chore to retread old ground.

This is a much bigger game than most others of its type too - it would take even a skilled player a few hours to play though the whole game. There are two versions of it - the standard one (this one) and an enhanced AGA version for A1200 owners which obviously includes slightly fancier graphics, but also features an entire new area of four levels - Silicon Valley. The graphical enhancements are trivial, though, as even the standard version of Virocop is a real looker. Dave himself is a great character. Considering he hovers around he has a surprising amount of animation and it works well to give him a lot of character. The enemies are also very creative and distinctive and the stages all look superb with some beautifully drawn scenery. The military area is a little drab looking but the others are gorgeous - just look at them! All the movement is very smooth too - Graftgold really must've squeezed every last drop out of the trusty Amiga!

The audio is of a similarly high standard with some pretty good music tracks and superb sound effects which makes Virocop a real treat for the eyes and ears. It's also a treat to play and can even be played with a friend - one player controls movement while the other is on shooting duties. There's also lots of little touches which really add to the game's appeal. The first boss is an ice-hockey team and defeating them is rewarded by a cheerleader routine, for example. I knew it was a top game when I first played it on that cover disc all those years ago though, and upon closer inspection it's just as good as I always thought it would be. It's not a perfect game by any means - it's perhaps a little overly tough, and a two-player mode with two controllable on-screen characters would've been better - but it feels wrong to complain. It may have been released late but it was worth waiting for. If you like this kind of game you have to try Virocop. It's original, funny, addictive, great fun, and is a near-flawless example of its genre.

RKS Score: 8/10

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