It’s easy to respect the monsters or beasts, the vile horror that lurks in the night and haunts your nightmares. They’re imposing, they’re frightening and they’re creatures that you can tangibly understand.
Yet there’s little fanfare for the tiny, microscopic being that kicks off the party. There wouldn’t be any walking dead without a zombie virus, and there wouldn’t be any viral catastrophe without the virus. So let’s take a moment to honor the viruses, parasites and infections that caused so many of our favorite video game catastrophes over the years.
It’s hard to pay homage to any one zombie virus in particular, but the t-virus remains one of the most iconic in gaming for its continued evolution and the creatures it creates. While in the original Resident Evil you fight stereotypical zombies, the t-virus mutates throughout the series to create amazing monstrosities, including a massive lake monster, the persistent and unstoppable Nemesis and several mutations of Albert Wesker.
Though the name changes, the song remains the same, and the t-virus made for some horrific monstrosities to unleash on the little town of Raccoon City.
10. GREEN POISON
The biggest issue with spreading a virus is the distribution, as anyone who has played Plague, Inc. will tell you (damn you, Madagascar). For The Division, Ubisoft took an interesting approach to the spread of the virus by focusing it on the truest constant of American consumerism: cash.
By infecting bills and distributing infected cash during Black Friday, terrorists utilize a weaponized version of smallpox called “Green Poison” to effectively turn New York into a post-apocalyptic warzone. The virus itself isn’t all that special, but much respect for the craftiness and clever idea of using money against the American consumer.
The Prototype games pit you against the military and the world as an experiment gone awry, your body turned into hungry parasite with superpowers. The infection it causes allows protagonist Alex to shapeshift and change his appearance, as well as make crude weapons like blades with his limbs.
Other infected come after you with similar abilities, but you can absorb them as well and get their cool skills for yourself. Blacklight basically turns you into a parasite, consuming genetic material and people to grow stronger and stronger. You can basically think of Alex as your own personal virus, and the game’s Manhattan as your petri-dish feeding grounds.
’The Last of Us’
Sure, there’s plenty of games that do the zombie thing, and The Last of Us could have taken the easy way out by making their zombies typical “rargh brains” walkers that are dime-a-dozen nowadays.
Instead, Naughty Dog crafted a fungal infection called Cordyceps that manifests in both people and the landscape itself, taking over humans and turning them into “clickers” that have to use echolocation to see. Based off a very real fungus that infects insects, the Cordyceps of The Last of Us provide an interesting take on “infected,” and a gruesome enemy to deal with.
It’s questionable whether the OD are infected, mutated or something else, but regardless of the classification, Sunset Overdrive is filled with these soda-bingers. After a hot new brand of energy drink released by soda giant Fizzco turns everyone into super-mutants, the few survivors are left behind to fend for themselves against the surprisingly violent creatures.
There’s little in way of exposition or explanation on how the Fizzco infection works, but I can appreciate the absurdity of a single consumer product infecting so much of the population. Imagine if the zombie outbreak happened because of a mess-up in a Coke bottling plant? That’s what the OD outbreak of Sunset Overdrive is: sugar-infused hubris.
This one might be a stretch, but stick with me: SHODAN, the malevolent artificial intelligence that takes over Citadel Station, acts much like a computer virus. She gradually infects all the station’s systems, taking control of every subroutine and machine, and either killing the personnel or mutating them into cyborgs bent to her will.
What gives SHODAN an edge is that she is a sentient being; she can think, feel and what’s more, she can hate. And oh boy does she not like you (as the player character). We’ve seen what zombie viruses and diseases could do, but a program like SHODAN could be equally, if not even more dangerous to humanity.
Parasite Eve is quite a strange game, beginning with a theater of people spontaneously combusting and ending with a fight against a superpowered fetus. At the heart of all this is the mitochondria that powers both the titular antagonist Eve and main character Aya Brea, as well as the dozens of little mutant creatures that Aya has to destroy.
You don’t get to employ your parasitic powers very often, but the craziness that takes place because of the unnamed mitochondria is worth the price of admission. When the villain/virus’s plan is to spontaneously combust every person on the planet, you know you’re not dealing with an ordinary virus.
4. SCARECROW GAS’
Batman Arkham series
This dangerous toxin gets a special nod because of the amazing moments it produced in the Batman: Arkham series. Scarecrow’s signature weapon intoxicates the mind of whoever inhales it, making them see their greatest fears manifest around them.
The etymology might be shaky, but this toxin leads to some of the best Batman moments, especially the game-breaking segment in Arkham Asylum. As long as Scarecrow’s gas is around, you can be sure that things are about to get weird.
3. THE FLOOD
This parasitic species is responsible for one of the most hellish levels of my gaming youth. Going into a dark installation, I was prepared to fight wave after wave of angry blue aliens, but little could have prepared me for The Flood, Halo’s infectious enemy.
These things kill and infect any living, breathing being they can crawl onto, turning entire Covenant and human platoons into mindless servants of the Hivemind. This massive horde of parasites were so powerful, the Forerunners (Halo’s precursor race) built the titular Halo installations to wipe them from the universe—and failed. That is one hell of an extermination bill.
2. MAVERICK VIRUS
The Maverick Virus is what took the happy, cartoon aesthetic of the original Mega Man series and plunged it into the post-apocalyptic depths of Mega Man X. A virus that infects the oddly specific robots of the Mega Man universe and turns them into haywire evil cyborgs, turning on humans and reploids alike.
The switch from cheery platformer to all-out robotic warfare is what made the Mega Man X series so compelling, and it’s all thanks to a little bit of binary that might turn your oven into Bake Man, a box-chested cyborg intent on making you into a culinary treat.
’Enter the Matrix’ / ‘Path of Neo’)
There are plenty of manmade viruses: disease, parasite, computer or human-borne, in vials or in the air itself. But what if the greatest virus is humanity itself? This argument was the crux of the Matrix sequels, and so it carried into the Matrix games, especially Path of Neo.
As robots have established control over the world, turning it into an industrialized but conflict-free machine utopia, humans are pacified into a shared experience in their battery pods. There’s no disease, no zombies, no monsters or parasites, just constructed perfection. Maybe the greatest virus was not our creation, but our existence.
Just kidding, the Flood is way worse. Did you see those giant Brutes?
Eric Van Allen is a Texas boy and freelance writer who can be seen at IGN, Paste, Playboy and other outlets. You can follow his work and ramblings on Twitter at @seamoosi.
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