I’m a patient man. I have been shouted at and had obscenities thrown my way that would make Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown blush. But this patience only applies to people, not machinery; that’s another story entirely. If something doesn’t do what it is designed to do, I get very angry very quickly. God only knows what will happen if my Xbox does decide to go red ring on me, as I fear that death may follow whatever I come into contact with. And so on to Darwinia+.
Anyone that downloaded the original for PC will be undoubtedly aware of lavish praise heaped upon this bedroom project, created as it was by a couple of guys who went on to sell a hell of a lot of copies. Frankly however, for my tastes, it still feels as if it was made in a basement.
But to say that Darwinia+ is a bad game is unfair. I was going to start this article with a tirade about the graphics being very basic, but then remembered how I have always focused on gameplay, and it should be how a game feels and not how it looks.
With this fresh perspective, I sat down to see what all the fuss was about. I love the premise; you are helping a doctor save his digital creations, the Darwinians, from being killed by viruses that have infected his computer. You do this by creating squads to shoot the viruses with blasters, grenades, etc, and have engineers to research and capture new spawning points so you can advance through the well designed and varied maps. The art style, whilst basic, does fit into the overall theme of the game, and as such does make it feel like you’re in a computer programme. The feeling of sending your squad over a hill into a swarming pile of viruses is quite exhilarating and once they’re destroyed, a sense of job well done ensues.
So you’re probably wondering why I disliked it so much. The answer is, of course, the Darwinians themselves. For a creature named after the theorist of evolution, these are some of the most unevolved examples of AI that I have ever seen in a game. Unlike the other machina in the game, these guys can’t be controlled directly and must have a couple of them turned into waypoints directing them to points on the map. This would be fine, if they actually moved where you directed them to. I had to move them up a hill, so clicking on one of them and dragging the selection point to the area in question, I watched as 2 of the 30 odd little green men made their way bravely up the side. The others must have gotten confused, so I placed another waypoint, to the exact same location and watched as 2 more moved around in circles and the rest did sweet FA.
This was where it all started falling apart for me. The problem with Darwinia is nothing really does what it is supposed to do. The camera auto zooms on the squads, but not the engineers. This means having to move very slowly in the rough direction that the icon is pointing to find said troops, by which time they are either dead or wandering around doing absolutely nothing useful. Most strategy games allow you to zoom back to points of interest; even the peons in the original Warcraft kept doing what you asked them to do; until they’d mined enough gold to plate the Himalyas or were dead from being smacked in the face.
The point is that Darwinia+ doesn’t get the basics right. The people you are trying to save don’t do what you tell them to do, and it’s almost impossible to care for what is essentially a paper cut out man with no personality. I know I’m supposed to rescue them, but I don’t care. The squads could have been made to be more exciting than a couple of stickmen carrying baguettes, and even if they had included sheep launchers or nuclear laser weapons, the gameplay would have changed from ‘point right stick at target’, to ‘point right stick at target and press B’.
Maybe I missed something, but games are supposed to be fun. The only positive thing about Darwinia+, is that it makes you realise that there are amazing titles available this early in the year and you should be looking forward, not backwards.