In a virtual world, can a virtual war have meaning?
Possibly not, but it can certainly have explosions and taxing gameplay. First appearing on the PC some years ago Introversion’s classic game Darwinia has arrived on the 360. Is it worth the effort? Find out in my SquareGo review.
Viruses really are the bain of a PC user’s life. Get one and you’re guarenteed to spend hours deleting files, losing documents and inevitably either losing all your valuable files, resinstalling the Operating System or spending inordinant amounts of time fixing the problems. If only you could climb into the computer and physically kill the virii one by one in open warfare, wouldn’t that be good?
That was the idea behind a challenging and unusual Real Time Strategy (RTS) title set within the virtual world of a computer. The game was Darwinia and it put “bedroom programmers” Introversion firmly on the UK developer map. This was followed up with Multiwinia, a multiplayer skirmishing game based on the same idea. Now after some silence Introversion have retooled both and released them on Xbox Live Arcade as a single game, Darwinia+
The Darwinians themselves are a race of one-dimensional green stickmen who spend the majority of the game wandering aimlessly around the map but are essential to the survival of this world. Unfortunately Darwinia has been infected by an aggressive virus which is sweeping over the lands, slaughtering the Darwinians and ruining the work of Professor Sepulveda, Darwinia’s creator. The Prof. tasks you with clearing out the virii from his project and helpfully advises you throughout the game; meanwhile upgrading your units and weapons as you go along.
The world is a fairly bizarre one; the entire game is set inside a giant AI simulation being run in archaic computers from the late 80s. It’s a giant sphere with a world on the inside made up of cheap 3D looking blocks that wouldn’t be out of place in Tron. The landscape is a vast polygonal mess, with few colours and as a result is utterly reminiscent of 3rd generation games.
The game itself is pretty basic RTS fare, you can build combat squads to kill Virii, and Engineers to capture buildings and pick up the souls of the fallen. These souls can be used to spawn new Darwinians, who in turn can power machines such as gun turrets or factories and help win the war. One great facet of Darwinia is that the entire map remains active throughout the game, as some tasks need to have parts completed on multiple maps, adding to the feeling of this being a grand campaign in an ongoing conflict.
It’s not perfect though, the controls aren’t quite up to mouse and keyboard standards of smoothness. The Squads especially, your default unit, are imprecise with a controller making aiming an unnecessary pain.
The other side of Darwinia+ is Multiwinia, 2008′s successful attempt to bring the joys of Darwinian warfare to multiplayer in a simple, easy to pick up blast of fun. It holds up brilliantly as the Xbox copes with the increasedly frenetic action easily and the controls seem more fluid and simple without the square-based gunplay rearing its head. The variety of different game types ensures that you won’t get bored anytime soon, and before long you will be waging Darwinian civil war like it’s second nature.
It just goes to show that a great gaming concept is well worth the purchase on any system, as Darwinia+ is one of the first truly essential games to be released on XBLA in 2010. It’s not perfect, but it’s a shining example of what brilliant fun can be created with a little imagination and some talent.