Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Following our recent Uplink review, we deliver the verdict on Introversion's latest game.
To answer the question we posed in our Uplink review, it seems that the age of the bedroom programmer could very well be upon us once again. The three strong team of Introversion Software who brought us the hack without the slash have now have made an attempt to do something a little different with the Real Time Strategy genre, bringing us the ever-so-stylish Darwinia.
Thereís little opportunity to praise cover art in the computer games industry these days. In recent times, only the cover art for Katamari Damacy managed to portray any sense of artistic beauty. Enter Darwinia, with its brash green cover, adourned with silver edged Darwinians - though it may sound like overkill, it turns out that it provides quite the unique visual masterpiece. Naturally, the manual follows suit. Perhaps this is proof that the best people to create the manuals and box art are they who know the game better than anyone; the developers themselves.
However, these stylistic visuals don't dissapear once you start up the game. Itís quite unusual to look at a game, and find it hard to liken its aesthetic styling to that of one of its brothers within the genre. With Darwinia, Introversion Software have managed to create a fantastically individual artistic style. While the design of the darwinians themselves, the enemies youíll face, and the backdrops seem initially basic in design, itís the delicate way that itís all blended together that shows just how fantastic a computer game can look. While everyone seems intent on claiming that true-to-life realism is all that will get video games accepted as an art form, Darwinia stands against that concept with its own individual, picturesque visuals.
Though commendable for its graphical splendour, Darwinia has a beating heart of pure gameplay. In simple terms, what we have here is an RTS; you're able to build buildings, and create squads of powerful units. However, Introversion has delivered a twist to each traditional gameplay mechanic - instead of simply clicking once to select your units, and again to launch a multitude of rockets and various other balistics, youíre required to draw simple gestures to build and instruct as you see fit. You hold the ALT key, draw the required gesture, and youíll get what you asked for - simple! Unfortunately, your darwinians do suffer from a slight lack of intelligence. The same pathing pitfalls of the genre's past have sadly followed us into Darwinia.
Sadly, times will occur when one of your cute little darwinians will perish on the battlefield. When this unfortunate event happens, the fallen darwinian will leave behind a soul. All you have to do is use your engineers to gather up these souls and take them to the nearest Incubator, where they will be reborn into fresh, new darwinians, ready once again to help you help themselves.
As you progress through the game youíll come across helpful research boxes. Inside said boxes are upgrades, which usually prove themselves worth the search in the later missions, as the game does tend to get quite difficult. Thankfully, the frustration levels are kept fairly low due to the constant thought you're required to put into Darwinia and its people, which leaves you no doubt as to why you failed a mission; it was your fault, not the game's.
Thereís even a storyline behind the gameís events. Dr Sepavulda created Darwinia as a virtual theme park, populated by the cute little darwinian people. These evolving life forms have unfortunately been perishing thanks to an evil red Viral Infection, in the guise of various virii. You are the one recruited with the sole task of saving the darwinians and destroying said virii before they tear the darwinians apart.
If you take a look inside your manual, youíll find a wealth of information and back story to the game, all of which is very interesting, and adds a whole new level of depth to Darwinia.
The Virii themselves come in all shapes and sizes. Each variation has its own particular strengths and weaknesses, requiring you to employ differing tactics for each one, and decide what's needed to overcome each one. While the Virii on their own arenít so powerful, groups of them can prove quite fatal unless youíve done your homework. This is especially obvious when they reproduce rapidly by combining their eggs with the souls of previously fallen creatures.
Pathing bugs aside, thereís very little to criticise about this title. While the incredibly stylish graphics will be the initial draw, youíll stick around for one of the greatest examples of pure gameplay this side of the aforementioned Katamari Damacy. When all of this is brought together with a storyline that is more than a little intriguing, you find yourself in the possession of a true gaming masterpiece. Darwinia comes highly recommended.