One of the most refreshingly original and addictive genre-bending games I have played in years, Darwinia is a beautiful, unique, and fun stategy/RPG/action hybrid from Introversion, makers of the superb hacker simulation called Uplink which I reviewed in 2002. The name of the game refers to the world's first "virtual themepark" which is built inside a computer network built from parts of old 1980s game consoles. This giant digital world is populated by sentient artificial lifeforms called the Darwinians. As the game begins, Darwinia has been overrun by a red virus which has multiplied at an alarming rate, threatening to drive the Darwinians to extinction. Your job, naturally, is to save the world. |
Darwinia is a difficult game to pigeonhole into any particular genre. The best way I can describe it is as a cross between Cannon Fodder, Populous, and Sacrifice. You begin with creating a 3-man "hit squad," armed with lasers to fight the virus. But in a nice Populous-style twist, your job is not only to kill the intruders. Released from each virus you kill is a "digital soul," which can be collected by the engineer unit, who takes them to the incubator building, which then converts them into Darwinians. Like most real-time strategy games, research plays an important role: you can update the abilities of your units (by improving weapon range, research new weapons, etc.), and enlarge the original hit squad to 6 units.
Stunning graphics and a very captivating visual style underscores the uniqueness of Darwinia. The graphics style could be described as "retro goes 3D" : instead of using 3D to create ultra-realistic graphics, the designers opt to re-fashion 'retro' elements from 1980s games (the stickmen from Robotron 2084 and slithering snakes from Centipede for example) into 3D characters that don't lose their 'retro' origins. Part of the fun in Darwinia is to discover new virus units or weapons that you recognize from an earlier 8-bit classic. Sound effects and music are also excellent and equally innovative.
Like all excellent cross-genre greats, it is impossible to describe what makes Darwinia so compelling. Like Shiny's Sacrifice, it is a wonderful underdog that must be played to be appreciated. Two thumbs up to this modern-day classic which I proudly add to our Hall of Belated Fame.
Reviewed by: Underdogs