I didn’t like RTS’. Maybe I’m just not a fan of the strategy. Or maybe it’s because there’s too much strategy involved. Either way, I’ve never really been a fan of the genre. Then, Darwinia+ came along. Whoever thought of the idea of little green men wondering around an unreal world attacked by computer viruses deserves a medal. He or she makes me like RTS.
Darwinia was originally a hit on PC, until god powers enabled it to be relived on the Xbox Live Arcade. They’ve really got a thing with liveries on PC classics lately, haven’t they? Anyway, what you’re getting for 1200 MSP is two games; Darwinia+, a fun single player experience that is lengthy and challenging. On the other side you get Multiwinia, online multiplayer skirmishes across various game modes with your army of Darwinians. So, is the price tag really worth it? Whereas the majority of Xbox Live Arcade games aren’t, this one is.
In Darwinia+ you start the game with two main units; a squad and an engineer. You can have up to three units on the field at any one time so it’s up to the player what he wishes to spawn, although most of the time you’ll have to spawn at least a squad and an engineer to get the basic tasks done. What makes this game’s RTS capabilities differentiate from other games such as Command and Conquer is that you are given complete control over your squad unit. Once you select them, you move the left stick to move them around and the right stick to fire in a direction; sort of like Geometry Wars 2 controls. Other RTS’ only let you give them attack and defend orders and allow you to move them to a certain spot, which is what makes Darwinia+ unique and special.
So here is how most Darwinia+ missions are set out, you use your squad to take out enemies; the most common form in which is the virus. These are pretty easy to kill however they are in huge swarms so don’t get too close or your squad will get overwhelmed. Enemies get tougher throughout the game with spiders that pounce at your squad and only take most of their damage through grenades and flying enemies which lay eggs which hatch and spawn swarms of viruses. All enemies leave behind souls. Engineers collect these souls and work different machinery to help you proceed in the mission; they take these souls to incubators which then spawn Darwinians. Darwinians are defenceless and rely on you to escort them. These Darwinians then work machinery which is key to success and completion of objectives. It may seem complicated but you’ll be surprised at how fast you pick it up and overall it’s a very clever concept.
The graphics in Darwinia+ are very different to most games. Keeping in mind that 1) this is an XBLA title, not a full retail game and 2) the game released in 2005, they are very unique and surreal. It’s very colourful and the texture of the ground feels like you are inside a computer. Oh wait, you are inside a computer. The way enemies shatter and the grid lines along the floor add to the setting making this game very unique. They are not the best graphics; you’ll find better in games such as Shadow Complex and Trials HD, but that would take away from the game. It is supposed to feel very digital and matrix like.
As you progress through the game, new research is unlocked. This research makes your squads have more troops in them and other things for all units and the way you play the game. Single player missions take a good hour each to complete as there is lots to do in each of them so it makes it a worth while and lengthy campaign. Despite each mission being quite long, there is never a shortage in things to do, which turns “only five minutes of playing” into “where did all the time go?”. As like all Xbox Live Arcade games, there are achievements to unlock too, which will also keep you busy. Surprisingly, this game does feature Avatar Awards. Nothing special, just two Darwinia+ t-shirts for your avatar (male and female) but it’s nice to see more developers taking this idea on board. At least the t-shirts look so much cooler than the Splosion Man Avatar Awards.
Don’t forget, there’s another half to this game; Multiwinia. Multiwinia is very simple unlike most RTS games online which require a lot of thought. Each team starts off with an incubator which is constantly spewing out Darwinians. You then tell these Darwinians where to go. There are incubators scattered around the map which your army can control to spawn even more Darwinians. Obviously, the more incubators you have under your control the more Darwinians you’ll have. As enemy Darwinians meet with yours, fire fighting engages and normally the team with the most Darwinians will conquer. The careful distribution of Darwinians across the map is vital to your success. There are various game modes that range from Domination (hold as many incubators for as long as possible) to King of the Hill, where there are three hills which your Darwinians have to take control of. Overall this is incredibly fun as you can choose to play against AI or battle online against your friends in a crazy Darwinian war.
There are a few cons to this game however. Well, there are always cons with most games. Single Player can get very slow paced at times, as it is quite slow to travel across a large map or wait for your engineers to arrive to help you out with a teleporter. This game requires a lot of patience but in the end it’s worth it. I would have liked to have seen a co-op campaign where you and a friend could play side by side. Co-op teams would have been fun in Multiwinia online too; 2v2 skirmishes would have been fantastic. Overall though, Darwinia+ delivers a package which has great replay value, fun single player and an awesome online multiplayer experience with unique ideas, interesting graphics but the odd features here and there would have given this game a ten out of ten. Darwinia+ is one of the best Xbox Live Arcade games on the marketplace and I am going now to dive back in to the weird and wonderful world of Darwinia.
Reviewer: Ben Gray