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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Strategy / Action

 

Publisher

N/A

 

Developer

Introversion

 

ESRB

N/A

 

Released

N/A

 

 

- Cool presentation

- An experience that grows on you

- Stripped down interface

- Those green Darwinians are just so loveable!

 

 

- No mini-map can make finding units difficult

- No proper save game system

 

 

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Darwinia

Score: 8.8 / 10

 

Something that tends to cheapen an original title is to compare it to other games in the genre.  Think of the way Grand Theft Auto is invoked in a press release every time a new action game is in the works.  “It’s like GTA but wa-a-a-y cooler!” can only be used a finite number of times before the phrase simply indicates sloppy knock-off.  However, I find it impossible to talk about Darwinia without at least mentioning Lemmings and the classic sci-fi movie Tron.

 

darwinia review          darwinia review

 

The Tron reference should be readily apparent to anyone familiar with the film or Monolith’s Tron 2.0 released a couple of years ago but the Lemmings reference may need some explaining to younger gamers.

 

Lemmings tasked the player with ensuring the survival of mindless little beings that marched in a line until they hit a wall then moved in the other direction, unless the player supplied them with specific work orders.  The player could tell individual Lemmings to dig, build stairs, use an umbrella to survive a fall, and even make them explode as the player attempted to maneuver the group to the exit.  It was at times infuriating, slow, manic, and satisfying.  While Darwinia actually has little to do with Lemmings overall, it’s still worth mentioning because you’ll see how some ideas can evolve with technology.  (And in some respects, that’s what Darwinia is all about, evolution.)

 

Maybe the most striking element of Darwinia is that there’s almost no interface (including a mini-map,which is missed) – all the interaction is through the mouse and occasionally holding down the “Alt” key.  It’s not something you’d expect from what is essentially a strategy game, a genre which has become so menu driven, the combat can sometimes feel secondary.  Instead of queuing up unit production, the player simply produces units by scrawling a simple patter on-screen and *blip* you’ve got an engineer, assault squad, etc. that are used in concert to drive back an invasive red virus that has been decimating the Darwinian population.

 

The red virus, as explained by Darwinia creator Dr. Sepuvleda during the course of the game, is taking over the world he has created by assimilating the Darwinians, a strangely loveable race of blocky, green stick figures that mill about aimlessly for the most part.  It falls to you to wipe out the red virus in its various forms, reclaim the Darwinian spirits and generally save the day, while Dr. Sepuvleda continually upgrades programs and general abilities to make your task easier.

 

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Be warned though, Darwinia is more about thinking than action.  If you’re expecting the kind of mayhem characteristic of C&C Generals or Ground Control II, Darwinia’s sometime laborious pace be maddening.  It’s usually the case that you’ll send in a squad to blast a group of red viruses than have an engineer pick-up the spirits left behind to convert to the little green guys, which in turn (usually) have to be returned to a specific area for safe keeping.  It’s a continuous process 

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that is only broken up by taking on bigger red virus threats or lining up transmission/reception dishes so units can be transported over large bodies of water.  The pace is generally slow for another reason: trying to keep your units and the Darwinians from being killed needlessly.  Pathfinding in the early going is definitely not a strong point as units will often drown or get vaporized by security fences if the player is not watching exactly where they’re going because they like to move in straight lines, even if it happens to take them into imminent danger.  There are instances of having direct control – like turning your assault squad to fire (lasers and grenades) at all comers – so it’s likely you’ll pay attention in the first place.

 

darwinia review          darwinia review

 

A traditional save system isn’t present.  When the player selects to leave an area, the state is saved so next time the player starts playing it’s like they never left.  The problem with this is that if an objective is failed, there’s no chance to reload a save game – the player has to restart the scenario.  It may not happen often, but when it does you’ll feel your stress level rise.

 

The strategy inherent with Darwinia is good.  Choices are limited and the unit cap is incredibly low, which forces the player to focus on his next move instead of running pell-mell across the battlefield.

 

And what an interesting looking battlefield it is!

 

Darwinia is a fun game to watch.  The camera has a full range of options that really lends to an appreciation of the ethereal if retro ‘80s digital art of the surroundings and low-tech units.  While I didn’t experience any slow down, it has been reported to be an issue for some.  (Darwinia has a few graphical presets so it’s likely those particular reviewers refused to crank back on the details.)  Add to this a soundtrack that features lots of synth music right out of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s and the presentation can do no wrong.

 

Darwinia is definitely a game that grows on you.  At first, I could appreciate the game for its indie quality and different approach to the genre, but the pace got me down.  After learning to take Darwinia in bite-sized pieces – say 45 to 60 minutes a time – it didn’t take long for me to begin to anticipate playing it.  Darwinia, it’s no surprise does not have a publisher backing it – original and intriguing indie titles rarely do – but the good news is that it’s available directly from Introversion on their website and they also have a free demo available for download.

 

Darwinia is too good to ignore.

 

- Omni

(August 19, 2005)

 

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