|Want to take a break from cookie-cutter eye-candy games that mix movie-like reality and intense, high-adrenaline sound tracks with average to abysmal game play? Try Darwinia, where you'll watch stick figures wandering in a polygonal world that soon feels as real as any other. This title takes us all back the basic DNA of arcades and good design, and it can hook you. |
Darwinia is a hard game to describe. The action is intense at times, and there is a steep learning curve. First, the backstory: Darwinia is a virtual theme park, running inside a computer network concocted by the genius Dr. Sepulveda. The sentient, evolving life forms inhabiting that theme park are Darwinians, the product of decades of research into genetic algorithms. An evil red virus runs rampant through this virtual world, and must be stopped to save the little green sprites.
The landscapes in Darwinia are interesting, comprised of "state of the art" fractal mathematics, according to the game's literature. You'll find pinch points where you can level more firepower at the spreading enemy, and mountains where you can rain down firepower from on high. Don't try to wade from island to island, however.
Your goal is to clear levels by wiping out all instances of the virus that prowls the landscape, starting in segmented Centipede style. Your first weapon, a laser, seems to work well enough, but with continued upgrades you'll land a grenade launcher, rockets, and airstrikes. Unfortunately those upgrades take time for Dr. Sepulveda to work out, so you have to master the basics quickly.
The guts of a real-time strategy game are apparent. You don't have to produce anything, so to provide balance there is a limit on how many three-man squads you can create. When you make your research choices, you frequently have to choose between more population and better weapons.
One nice feature is the incorporation of mouse movements in character creation. To form a squad, you hold down the ALT key and trace a triangle with your mouse. Viola! A squad is formed, packing a laser. To create an engineer, hold down the ALT key and trace the top three sides of a rectangle. Genius.
Another inventive part of the interface includes the ALT key and sliding the mouse left. A controls menu displays as though it were hidden off-screen. It's been a long time since a game's interface made me sit up and say "Cool!" Darwinia is fearless in that regard.
When a life form is destroyed, be it a virus or a Darwinian, the soul gently floats to the heavens in the form of a little dot. With an engineer unit, you can recapture that soul and convert it back into a Darwinian. It's kind of like harvesting, for die-hard RTS fans.
Predictably, your offensive capability will continue to evolve. Over time, your sophistication will grow. But the Darwinians remain spiritual and sharing. When a Darwinian dies in proximity to others, the survivors circle around and start to sway, as though they were singing Kumbaya.
After awhile, you do start to care more and more about your little creatures. I think that was always the genius of the old arcade games – sure, its just an icon, but it stands for something. And you'll want to talk about it. A thriving online community has sprung up on the Darwinia website, and the game can be modified with an editor that ships with the title. Released for Mac, Linux, and Windows, it has an "All-World" feel to it, as though everyone is invited. You'll see the product roadmap on their website, with expected dates for patches and upgrades.
There is a lot to like about this game, because it has new features, great depth, and a classic look-and-feel. Introversion's first title, Uplink, was a well-received game, noted for innovation. This one, by all accounts, is better. Consider it an homage to the arcade games of yesteryear, and definitely try it out.