Germs, eh? Don't they make you sick? Er, yes, actually, they do. Forget the medicines, get in there with some heavy duty firepower and blow them out of existence. Ed Ricketts goes Germ Crazy in the name of science...
The interior of the human body seems to be a very popular place for film makers - maybe it's because it has such a huge and varied structure. Unfortunately, ST gamers have been poorly served by decent games of this ilk - until now that is. In Germ Crazy you have the task of entering your brother's body and ridding it of a particularly nasty and mutated strain of the common cold.
You can play the game on many difficulty levels: tackling the cold in one section of the body - in a limb, for instance - or over the whole system. There are also six different stages of virus viciousness to take into account. Dealing with the whole body is a task not to be taken lightly, so it's best to start with just a small area.
Decisions you make during play can affect the whole body or just parts of it - even down to the individual cells. Here you can create one of 28 different agents. These fight the virus on a one-to-one basis and have individual strengths, weaknesses and abilities.
Mobiles float around and home in on the enemy, for example, while Statics stay put and provide firepower or defences. You can control their movement, their targets, their numbers and see exactly what they're doing at any time. These defences don't come free, though - energy is constantly being drawn from your reserves. Draw too much and the body starts breaking down its own cells to stay alive.
You don't just have to destroy the virus either. You also have to raise the body's immunity level to prevent further infection, as well as keep it nourished and rested. Otherwise, it simple conks out.
If things get really desperate you could visit the NHS or a private doctor for pills, an injection, major surgery or a life support machine. Beware, though: you start off with a set amount of money. Once you've used it all - buying pills and so on - that's it. Taking chances on the black market is a bit dodgy - no-one knows exactly what the medicines do. Neither is it too far-fetched to say that the transplant organs might have had something to do with a horse at some point.
There is a wealth of information displays available to show you how far the virus is progressing. You can replace dead cells (apart from dead nerve cells) by uing repairing agents. Nerve cells, as in real life, can't be replaced, so once the virus has worked its way through these, you're a gonner. You must look after them if you want to survive.
The graphics aren't quite up to the standard of, say, Gods, but they are recognisable. Icons in particular are clear and detailed, more so than the views of the body which are a little out of proportion. The various agents at the cell level are animated in their own individual way - some being more distinctive than others.
Sometimes it's not easy to distinguish one of your own forces from the general confusion of sprites floating around, but this does add to the feeling that you're fighting a major war. Indeed, you might mistake the game for a standard shoot-'em-up at this level.
Audio effects are somewhat beefier than normal. A few samples are used here and there - a manical cackling when you're losing (just to make you feel worse) for example. A thudding heartbeat serves to remind you of the urgency of your task as well. Other than that, there are just assorted spot effects.
Germ Crazy is not an easy game to get to grips with. Even at the simplest cell level there are many different icons and graphs to sort out. The manual is a definite must, but unfortunately it has some fairly glaring grammatical errors. Some of the game's features are also very sketchily described, so it takes at least four games to make sense of what's going on.Once you get into the swing of things you can really begin to enjoy the game though. Just as the game is complex at first - because there are so many options and difficulty levels - so it has real staying power when you're familiar with it. It's not easy to categorise though because the arcade, strategy and business sim elements are all combined together.
However, there still seems to be something missing from the game and this stops it from gaining a Format Gold award. The graphics just don't have that polished edge and the manual is less than perfect. Sure, it's fun - but it isn't going to drive you to the point of obsession.
Criticism asied, Germ Crazy is one of the most originally executed games released this year. It could so easily have been just a simple shoot-'em-up - you against the anti-bodies. Instead it's a complex and absorbing game with plenty to keep you occupied for a long while - if you can just make it past those first few frustrating games. (Antiseptic wipes not included.)