Developed by: Introversion Software
Published by: Introversion Software
Platforms: Xbox 360 (XBLA), also available on PC as Darwinia & Multiwinia
Players: Singleplayer and Multiplayer (up to 4 players online)
Rated E for Everybody by the ESRB
It’s hard to describe an RTS that takes cues from games like Lemmings and Smash TV and that also visually pays homage to old school vector graphics in a single sentence; so let’s use just a single word. Awesome!
The Important Stuff
Back in 2006 Introversion Software won a few prestigious awards at the Independant Games Festival, including the Seumas McNally Grand Prize, for their PC title Darwinia. Now their hard-to-classify-yet-extremely-addicting creation has made its way onto the Xbox Live Arcade. The gist of the game is simple. Crazy Doctor invents a crazy digital world called Darwinia using old school computers. Next he populates it with little digital beings that can live, grow and evolve; calls them Darwinians. Darwinians misbehave, unwittingly unleash computer virus upon themselves, and of course YOU are the only one that can save them all.
The game doesn’t just throw you into the world of Darwinia and let you fend for yourself though. The Crazy Doctor holds your hands for the first couple introductory levels before opening up a campaign world with objectives that span across multiple levels. So why is this game hard to truly classify?
At heart, Darwinia+ is a strategy title. You’re tasked with controlling units around an environment, destroying enemies and capturing buildings in order to complete objectives. The reason Darwinia+ stands out from the genre is because of the way that these things are accomplished. Most RTS games deliver a hands-off approach. You click a unit, you tell it were to go, and you watch it shoot enemies as the unit pathfinds to its objective. This is where Darwinia+ moves away from the pack. The units, or more appropriately called “Programs”, and their various properties. Let’s take a look at the units within the game.
To start out we need to take a look at the basic Darwinian. These fellas are strictly 2D, meaning when they turn sideways they’re so thin that you can’t see them, kind of like Kate Moss. On their own and unupgraded (a word on this later), they will come into existence and generally just mill around without doing much else. You have no direct control over these little digital dudes, although they are required to control and make use of certain buildings. Darwinians are not spawned, they are “born”, and as such need to be generated by Engineers who have harvested the souls or soul factories (found later in the game)
Next we have Squads. Vanilla squads (again, unupgraded) come in a group of four and have the ability to shoot lasers and chuck digital grenades of pixel-death. You can directly control these units via the left analog stick and generally control the direction of their laser fire and grenade tossing via the right analog stick. Squads will be your first line of defense against the viral outbreak and can be spawned from any captured buildings like Radar Stations or level gateways (Trunk Ports).
The Engineer unit, which looks straight out of Disney’s TRON movie, are the harvestors of souls and claimers of buildings. They can be given orders to move to certain areas but may not be directly controlled. They have no attack capabilities. Engineers can be spawned immediately next to any Squad unit, or next to other buildings like Radars and Trunk Ports.
There is an Armor unit, a general transport for your basic Darwinians that has no attack properties itself but can also unfold into a gun turret. These units can be given orders to move, pick up or unload Darwinians or turn into a turret but can not be directly controlled. Armor may only be spawned near Trunk Ports.
Lastly we have Officers. Darwinians need direction and therein lies the birth of an Officer. Any Darwinian can be “promoted” to an Officer. A vanilla Officer (unupgraded) can give a general move order for any nearby Darwinians who will follow that pathway.
Are you getting the Lemmings and Smash TV references yet? The Squad’s dual-stick shooter controls are a welcome gameplay element to this RTS game. It’s a considerable amount of fun to dispatch your viral enemies and have direct control over their demise. And the Darwinians? They’re Lemmings for sure. Tell them where to go and they’ll march off to their deaths if you’re not careful.
All of your units and their main abilities can be upgraded. During the game you can pull up the menu to instruct the Crazy Doctor to research various aspects of your unit’s abilities. Squads can grow in size, shoot their lasers further or lob grenades farther. Darwinians can be given weapons, Armors can ferry larger amounts of Darwinians, Officers enabled to give more commands, Engineers can grab up increasing numbers of souls, and the Doctor can even research ways to allow the use of more units at once. For an Xbox Live Arcade game, Darwinia+ offers a hell of a lot of depth of gameplay.
All of this would be an amazing game for $15, but I haven’t even mentioned that this game supports Multiplayer yet. Five different game modes are included such as:
- Domination – A gametype to crush all of your opposition
- King of the Hill – A classic gametype, Darwinian style
- Capture The Statue – Send your Darwinians to carry statues back to their homebase before your opponents do the same
- Rocket Race – Refuel your rocket and blast into space before your opponents (Authors note: DAMNIT! THIS IS TOUGH!!!!)
- Blitzkrieg – A domination style gametype.
Multiplayer offers up a tons of different options to mess around with, and the addition of “crates” that fall onto the battlefield that dispense digital weaponry to the recipient makes the game extremely fast paced. I have to admit, dropping a Napalm Bomb on a thousand enemy Darwinians and watching them suffer horrible pixelated deaths is incredibly satisfying.
Tips & Tricks
- Controlling a squad can be tricky due to some minor camera issues. If the camera gets stuck, deselect your Squad and reposition the camera before reselecting them.
- Engineers can be spawned directly next to Squads. Once your Engineers drop off their souls to be processed, kill them with the Select button and respawn a fresh one next to the Squad to avoid the travel time!
- It’s tricky to learn how to properly utilize your Armors and turn them into turrets. Once it’s loaded up, move it to where you want the turret. As it’s moving, press the Y button directly on the intended spot until you see the turret icon.
- Upgrading your Officers early to unlock additional commands can help you move your Darwinians around the maps easier.
- Upgrading your Darwinians as soon as possible to give them weapons can help you avoid unnecessary losses.
- If you’re stuck on a level and have lost too many Darwinians, don’t be afraid to use the Reset Location option in the start menu. You’ll still have control over any previously captured Radar dishes.
Can you tell I enjoyed the game? I’m going to try to not be biased, but if you’re a fan of strategy games you should definately check out this release. The graphics aren’t going to appeal to everyone, but being a 1980′s kid myself I have to admit it’s oddly amazing to look at. Something so simple can be so crisp and beautiful. Hey, if the 80′s style vector graphics weren’t incredibly cool then why would they even be bothered doing a remake of the movie TRON? I rest my case.
So you know from the description above that Darwinia+ offers solid gameplay, but this wouldn’t be a review without a little critique. The soundtrack to this game is outstanding, I just wish there was more of it. It’s so good and so cool that I wish that there was more background music during actual gameplay, rather than only ambient noises and sounds of weapons fire.
Another minor complaint is the camera control. Frequently when you’re attempting to direct a squad around the map the camera may get hung up on a mountain range or stuck in an awkward position. A remedy to this is mentioned in the Tips & Tricks section, but it’s worth talking about. It’s certainly not a gamebreaker by any means.
I had a heck of a lot of fun with this game, but I have to say that the demo version does absolutely NO justice to the full release! Introversion has brought a solid title onto the Xbox Live Arcade and I can only hope that they will continue to work on quality games for us. It’s nice to see independant developers getting a chance to release their creative works to a broader audience with digital distribution services like Xbox Live.
Stay tuned to Gamercide, because next week I will be releasing a special Q & A with Introversion’s Mark Morris, who has some special news for all you PS3 owners out there!
CoyAndChris gives this game an 8.5 out of 10!!