Simple interface, simple style graphics, mind-boggling depth. This is an incredible video game worthy of all praise!
You play the role of a person who has somehow logged into Darwinia, an experiment in artificial intelligence. These little creatures called Darwinians are the creation of one computer geek in an experiment in artificial intelligence over a decade old. These little creatures are supposed to be self-reliant, intelligent, artificial beings capable of learning and reproduction. They inhabit their own computer-generated world and, by making use of the means they are provided, have grown and prospered into a fully functioning society. However, their land has been ravaged by a virus which the Darwinians themselves managed to download from their Creator’s email. You showed up just in time. Instead of resetting the whole thing the creator has now decided that the two of you can fight to save his little, virtual world.
This plot is actually fairly nice and they use it to help you develop an attachment to these little, simplistic creatures. It works.
The interface is simple. You hold a single button which brings up a menu screen in real time (the game is still progressing as you do this) and pick to create various things from here which are necessary to defeat this scourge of virus. Pressing up (or clicking towards the top of the menu screen) displays a list of these things and their “research”. This is a status bar showing progress. You can prioritize these items and let your ally know which programs he should develop further and faster. Pressing (or clicking) down brings up your current objectives...
Easy, yes? No. The interface is simple but the action is fast paced and demanding.
Along the way you learn how the Darwinians perpetuate their line through the use of “soul” reviving Incubators and even a full re-birthing system. This is great but the virus infected the Darwinians and changed them to suit itself. It, too, can perpetuate itself by using these same resources to develop more infected “evil” Darwinians. You must take back Darwinia location by location form the virus which plagues it. This starts off fairly simple since the virus manifests itself in the early stages as “monsters” of sorts who cannot use the equipment. However, eventually you meet the infected Darwinians and the task gets much harder as they use the machines to replenish their numbers. Each location begins with the virus running everything and with control of one station...enough to form a squad or two and start kicking arse. Welcome to the hard part.
This game’s graphics are a sort of throw-back to 80's classics with the Darwinians being simplistic, 8-bit type, 2 dimensional stick figures who move but have no animation. Most viral monsters consist of simple polygons, too. The world itself may have very elaborate terrain but the whole thing is covered with a grid for that retro feel. This simplistic style is a nice touch since its creator states that the project is over a decade old.
The sound is a nice touch. Explosions are good and clear and zooming in or out from the battlefield produces a nice change in volume without you ever truly losing the ability to hear your own units anywhere. When zoomed out you can hear any laser or cannon shot on the battlefield which helps you to monitor any left over villains who may have hidden somewhere.
The opponent AI is fairly simple at times and never seems to employ much strategy. It defends itself adequately, especially when you make use of the game’s transportation means and the virus begins to group near it...thus complicating your efforts to attack. The only things that employ any real strategy are the red Darwinians...and even that seems to be limited to the mentality “Strike as a group”. This may sound fairly simple and easy to conquer but be warned: it is not. The AI puts up an amazing fight and makes sure you earn every inch you take. At times you get pinned up against almost impossible odds, but some good, strategic thinking and decisive action ensure that it may look impossible but it never really is. Even if you get yourself stuck you have a “reset location” option in the game’s main menu. I only used this once and it is a great help. RTS fans will certainly find much in this game to enjoy while the more action oriented among you will get a major kick out of it as well.
The game isn’t too long by current game standards but it isn’t what I’d call “short” either. What I feel compensates for this short-coming is the amount of sheer gaming goodness they’ve managed to just CRAM into the length of game they give you. However, it has a longer element to it because completing the game heralds a little speech (all text) from the creator of Darwinia first going on about the fate of his beloved creation and then granting you full access to every location in the world of Darwinia because he can no longer do it alone. I don’t want to truly spoil the ending for you but I will leave you by saying this: this game has, hands down, the most satisfying and simple ending I have seen in a PC game a while.
Overall, I TRULY recommend this game to anyone who has the scant few bucks they want for it. They grab hold of the “TSS” philosophy (Think Simple, Stupid) and never let it go. This is a great game with much to offer the world at large. I cannot help but once again praise this game for its uniqueness, style, and depth.