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There is something quite interesting to note with today’s game industry. the big names such as EA Games and Ubi Soft are on nearly every shelf, franchises, sequels and other tie ins, it can be something to think back to a few years ago, when games were on casettes and floppys, and loading times were the length of a cup of tea, toast and even a full meal.
-Back in these times, it was more likely that you would see games from indiviuals, bedroom programmers who weren’t interested in making a product, but making games that were theirs. They may not have always been good, but that didn’t matter, the games were their own creations, made with their own knowledge and manpower, with a minimal amount of people working on all areas of the game. These games felt more like they belonged to the programmers, rather than an “intellectual property” owned by a corporation…
Introversion Software is a reminder of that time. The entire studio started with three people when they released their first game, Uplink – became a major success story, gaining critical acclaim from many gaming websites, and actually resulted in the general release in the game throughout all major gaming stores, giving them shelf space alongside the big names – while still the company consisted of three people. Now, as the self proclaimed “Last of the Bedroom Programmers” prepare to release their second game, Darwinia we take a look to see how it shapes up…
The good news is, it does so well. A strategy game, with elements of classic arcade shooters, as well as little bit of puzzling thrown in for good measure. It shouldn’t work, but it does. And it feels so, well, right…
The basic premise of the game goes that a Clive Sinclair style 80’s computer mogul failed to sell any of his wonderous consoles, and with the unsold units, linked them together to make a virtual world, which he called Darwinia. Unfortunately, the world has fallen into the grip of a virus attack, and now you must help the good professor reclaim the world for the Darwinians. During the game, you can control squads, tanks and engineers to help fight the virus and build various things to aid you in your mission, and it’s a great deal of fun controlling the squads and ordering them to shoot, with a very simple Cannon-Fodder esqe interface of left clicking to move and holding down the right click to spray bullets.
This control system, although basic, works extrememly well, making it simple to get your squad to do what you want them to do. But even more ingenious is the system used to actually “summon” each type of squad. Like Black and White, Darwinia uses a Gesture system, which means you hold down the mouse, drag a certain shape and voila! – your chosen unit will appear at the nearest control points (which, incidently, are captured by engineers – the other basic unit you start off with) The system is fun to use, and although it doesn’t seem so new if you have played Black and White – it still feels very fresh and an interesting control method. However, Introversion haven’t stopped there, since the 1.3 patch, they were kind enough to introduce a classic icon-style selction method, for those who feel more comfortable controlling the game in that way, and switching between the two methods is as simple as setting an option through the pause menu.
Quite cleverly, other commands can be utilised using classic windows commands, for instance – Alt-Tabbing in game will switch between your available programs (units) – and pressing Tab on its own opens up a window showing your available units in a “Task Manager”, as well as being able to switch between your objectives and the research menu. It just feels so “right” for the game – and really sits in well with the overall theme of the game.
The graphics, despite their retro-stylings, are quite a thing of beauty – and not in the way that they are photo-realistic. The visuals are something more like a piece of artwork than a game. – As much as the squads, landscape and even the intro have the look of a classic console (the C64 springs to mind) – they also have a sheen to them that does indeed provide a visual treat for anyone watching the game in action. The only problem with this is that still screenshots can not do the game justice, indeed – it takes seeing the game in action to be truly awestruck by the beauty of this game.
The enemies in Darwinia are indeed, inspired – taking their cue from some of gaming’s greatest moments – those of you who remember the classics will nod as you fight variations of the virus in the form of the Atari classic, Centipede. If that wasn’t enough, some of the attacks and other moments in the game are clear nods to games gone by – the air strike in particular will remind you of the Space Invaders – they haven’t taken their inspiration from just anyone, indeed – they have taken aspects of some of gaming’s greats – only the best inspiration will do, thankyouverymuch.
The only real problem that Darwinia may have is it’s length – it’s not huge – and with only ten levels, you may complete it fairly quickly. However, the game does provide a decent challenge, and will probably last you longer than you may first think. Overall, Darwinia provides a solid gameplay experience, on par with many of today’s great games. To think that a team of a number of people which you could count on the number of fingers on one hand created this, it makes it all the more special.
It’s not, however, the best game in the world. It’s not trying to be. It’s Darwinia, and it’s a game that should be tried once by everybody – because it is, quite frankly, unique, interesting and above all – FUN. In the end – isn’t that how gaming should be?
Final Score: 90%