Created by UK developer Introversion Software, the company which previously released the genre mixing computer hacker themed game Uplink, Darwinia is an action real-time strategy game set in a Tron like virtual world. The back-story concerns a computer genius named Dr Sepulveda. He's built this huge virtual world called Darwinia and in it he has simulated life. Darwinia is populated by a sentient evolving life form (or AI constructs) called the Darwinians. They are represented in-game by little green man-shaped bidimensional sprites. They are the product of a decades worth of research into genetic algorithms. Unfortunately, the systems of Darwinia have been overrun by an evil red Viral Infection. This Virus has multiplied out of control and must be stopped. Your task is to destroy the Viral Infection and save the Darwinians from extinction.
Entering the game puts you on a 3D map screen without guidance. Fortunately there's only one location where a mouse click accomplishes anything - the Garden Here you will be greeted with a "Who the hell are you?" message from Sepulveda. The doctor says to explore for a bit and then he'll provide instructions, a nice way of letting you look around and getting accustomed to navigating. The first thing you will notice about Darwinia is its look. Darwinia itself is a polygonal landscape, dotted with occasional wire frame trees that look like they were created by a fractal algorithm - a world unlike any I've seen before. The Darwinians are just green man-shaped bidimensional sprites and the viruses a slight rip-off from the arcade classic Centipede (a large worm-like monster), spider and Jellyfish (flying monster). Needless to say it's an amazing departure from every PC game that has come before.
To start with, you'll need to create a Squad to clear out the virus. At first, you will only be able to control a three-man commando squad armed with lasers, and eventually grenades, rockets and airstrikes, and take the fight to the viral forces encroaching on the little green AI constructs' domain. Besides Squads, there are also a flying Engineers which can be used for non-offensive tasks. They can capture Control Towers, and will collect Spirits from the nearby area and take them to an Incubator if you have one. You can also create Officers, which have only one purpose - to tell other Darwinians where to go.
Creating units in Darwinia is done using the Gesture System (do you remember Black & White casting system?). To Draw a Gesture, hold the [Alt] key to open the Task Manager, hold your left mouse button, and move the cursor around the gesture window. Once you have finished drawing the gesture, release the mouse button, and if you have done it correctly, the Run Program message will be displayed.
There's no limit to the number of units you can create. Instead, there's a limit on how many programs can be running at any one time. At the start of the game, your Task Manager, which can be upgraded later, is limited to a max of 4 Tasks at the same time. Squads and Engineers will use a Task space up while they are still active, and Officers will use a slot when the Gesture is made, but the Task will be freed up once you promote a Darwinian. You can close any active task (kill unit) by selecting it and then pressing [Ctrl]+C while [Alt]-[Tab] switches between running programs.
Everything is upgradeable! You can upgrade your squad so that it consists of more than three guys. You can upgrade the task manager so that you can run more programs, you can upgrade the Engineer to hold more souls when collecting to make more Darwinians in a shorter time, you can upgrade weapons to be more powerful or have a better range etc. Later in the game, you can also upgrade the Darwinians to carry their own weapons!
Darwinia is certainly one of the most interesting titles I've seen released this year. Of course, there are certain things in the game that could have been done better, but what this game really brings back from past is pure gameplay. Overall, it's a game every gamer should try/own, no matter what genre interests you!
The Next Game
(Darwinia fansite + mods)
System requirements: 600MHz CPU, 128MB RAM, GeForce2 graphics card or equivalent, 10MB HDD space.