The first Christmas of the new millennium is just days away, but there’s little in the way of festive cheer within the small European town in which this point ‘n click adventure is set. A virus is raging, forcing a mandatory lockdown. With the townsfolk degenerating into zombie-like beings, panic quickly ensues. Waking chained to a bed in a psychiatric ward, your recollection of recent events is hazy. It soon transpires that the doctor who left you to die has the answers you need – prompting a 4-5 hour quest to locate their whereabouts and discover the virus’ true origins.
This is a very traditional, no thrills, example of the genre that falls into the horror category. Cue a handful of jump scares and a smattering of ketchup. The story is spread over around a dozen locations, taking us from the ward and into the nearby town, with a handful of shops and buildings to explore. It has a sketchbook style art direction, that looks rather amateurish with little in the way of animation, and the UI is equally basic with just a side bar inventory to speak of. When the game launched the cursor moved frustratingly slowly. Thankfully, a patch has since been released, allowing the speed to be increased. To say I was appreciative was an understatement.
While exploring a pattern soon emerges. True Virus is very fond of impeding progress with padlocks and electronic devices requiring codes, forcing you to search for memorable dates or anything resembling a code scribbled down somewhere. It’s also an example of the genre where items can only be collected once you’ve found a use for them. For instance, a shovel can be found in the psychiatric ward’s storeroom but can only be added to the inventory after visiting the graveyard and discovering that a spot of grave robbing is on the agenda. So, there’s quite a bit of backtracking too.
By far the most frustrating element is the lack of both a quest log and a hint system. The only guidance given is that the cursor changes to a hand when placed over an object that can be interacted with – i.e., the bare minimum. A means to highlight all interactable items in a room with a single button press would have been helpful. And if you take a break from playing, it’s up to you to remind yourself what the next course of action is – an issue in itself, with the current main objective never being particularly clear. I became stuck several times, wondering if I had missed an item, overlooked an exit (navigating the world isn’t a breeze either), or if I needed to do something to commence a cut scene. On one occasion I convinced myself the game was broken, picking up both a flashlight and the required batteries, but unable to find a way to combine the two.
During its final hour, it casts aside padlock combination hunts for a few puzzles that’ll push your mental skills. One sees you matching symbols with the alphabet to spell out the names of colours, calling for pen and paper to crack, while the last room has a trio of maths equations that you’ll almost certainly need a calculator for. While unquestionably challenging, these aren’t much fun to solve – even our resident mathematician balked at the final equation.
A few other issues arise throughout. While there are zombies dotted around the town, they don’t pose any threat, remaining rooted to the spot while you scavenge around them. The writing isn’t great either. The protagonist makes a few wry observations but never shares much insight. Worse still is that upon returning home and finding their family dead, no remorse is shown. It’s explained that they didn’t get along with their family, but still, you’d expect the sight of their mother hanging from a noose to have some kind of impact on their emotions.
This leaves True Virus’ premise to do most of the heavy lifting. The mystery of what happened to the townsfolk is quite intriguing, with more threads to untangle after visiting a morgue. The urge was certainly there to see the story through to its foregone conclusion, but the basic nature of the experience constantly works against you – even if this was released during the year it’s set, it would have been considered primitive. Check out Bad Dream: Coma instead – it has a similar concept and is far more competent in its execution.
Ultimate Games’ True Virus is out now on Xbox One with PC/PS4/PS5 versions to follow. It first launched on Switch earlier this year. Developed by Farmind and 100 Games.