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 forward. Also like a helicopter, your hoverplace 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 display. If the virus infects a tree, it either withers it or causes it to mutant 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 Fighters, which have the same wantonly destructive instincts but an even 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.
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 the 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, and I reckon anyone who fancies a new approach to the combat flight simulator should definitely check Virus out.
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.
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!
Redefinable keyboard or mouse options and intelligent demo mode. Nice in-game touches, such as leaping fish and a sea monster.
Fast and exhilarating 3D effect, with one or two outstanding details.
Sampled sound effects range from very good to pretty silly.
Controls take a little getting used to (particularly mouse), but Hoverplane manoeuvring becomes instinctive after a short while.
Plenty of levels, but though the action is always challenging, it doesn't have a great deal of variety.
An excellent and innovative game, but Virus is an acquired taste.