Review: Darwinia+ (Xbox 360)February 21st, 2010 | Written by Andrew Giese | Topic: Reviews, Xbox 360
Introversion Software’s Darwinia was a low-key release on the PC and Mac in 2005, but steadily gained critical praise and mainstream success. The next year they released Multiwinia, a real-time strategy game based on Darwinia’s gameplay. Seeing an opportunity to bring the experience to the console market, Microsoft courted Introversion to bring their games to the XBLA. The result was Darwinia+, and it’s definitely worth the download.
Darwinia+ includes the original Darwinia campaign and story, as well as the exclusively multiplayer Multiwinia. The storyline follows your involvement with Dr. Sepulveda, an AI researcher who has created a race of conscious polygons known as Darwinians, and is currently attempting to save his years of research from an invading computer virus. You arrive on the scene just before Dr. Sepulveda decides to pull the plug on the entire project, and little by little take back the lands and save the innocent little Darwinians from complete genocide.
Reflecting your role as a computer programmer working to save the Darwinians from your desktop, you are given a task manager from which to run processes. Initially you can only create a few processes to help you fight the virus, but like all other aspects of the game, Dr. Sepulveda upgrades its capabilities over time. From the task manager you can launch a ‘Squad’ process, which is your main weapon against the virus.
The Squad manifests itself in the AI simulation as a group of faceless soldiers armed with lasers, grenades, and the capability to call in an airstrike. You take control of the group as one, and direct them towards enemies with a flick of the joystick. Other programs have their own graphical representation in game, like the Engineer. Engineers collect the souls of dead Darwinians and viral infections, and use them to spawn new Darwinians. Initially the Darwinians are useless to you, more of a nuisance actually. Later in the game they are vital for taking control of turrets, and reclaiming structures key to Darwinia’s infrastructure. Before you realize it, you’ve grown to like the little flat green polygons like digital pets.
While the story and gameplay are generally good, the controls and camera suffer from the translation to the console. Aiming your squad’s weapons can be clunky at times, and aiming is really hard, so you just end up on settling for shooting in one direction, and let the game take care of the rest. The camera tends to angle itself away from where you want to look, and you have no control over this while you’re attempting to maneuver your Squad, as both joysticks are used for movement and fire. On top of this, some very noticeable glitches and bugs revealed themselves to us.
Some of these bugs were pretty severe, like objectives that wouldn’t count themselves as completed, thus not allowing us to advance to the next stage. This is ironic, considering the fact that Darwinia is a story about a corrupted program. Thankfully, we found ways around all of the bugs, so none of them were game-ending.
Playing Multiwinia is distinctly different in that it’s distinctly an RTS game. This is unfortunate, as the gameplay doesn’t lend itself well to pure RTS play, but it is somehow still fun to watch your forces amass and fight other primitive polygons. The multiplayer modes really sound more like something out of a FPS, though. You have your deathmatch, capture-the-flag, and king of the hill variants, as well as one or two unique modes like controlling all the spawn points on the map. If you find your friends online also playing Darwinia+, you can invite them to take you on in multiplayer.
The graphics also reflect the atmosphere of being a programmer working inside a computer simulation. Every feature and creature is rendered in a few simple polygons and basic colors. Don’t let the simplicity fool you, though; a lot of work has gone into making them appear just simple enough to build the atmosphere of the simulation, and if you look closer you’ll notice well-rendered shadows and the believable water meshes. The same sub-rosa simplicity can be said for the sound effects, especially the comic ‘pew! pew!’ of laser fire.
Overall, Darwinia+ is basically just a good port of the original games. Nothing in Darwinia+ is spectacularly breathtaking, but it manages to rope you in with all its charm and subtle nerd humor, and you just don’t want to let go. The story is original and cleverly delivered through short blurbs of text from Dr. Sepulveda, and the gameplay stays fresh long enough for you to enjoy yourself the whole way. Darwinia+ is one of those ‘must-have’ XBLA titles, and you’re getting more than your money’s worth paying the $15 to download it.