|System: X360 (XBLA)||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Introversion Software||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Introversion Software||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 10, 2010||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Steve Haske
When Darwinia+ was first released on PCs five years ago, it was lauded for its unique, action-oriented take on the RTS genre and its conceptually and aesthetically interesting world of simple polygonal shading and retro feel. It quickly became an award-winning title, getting a few nods from the Independent Game Festival.
But, what worked in 2005 doesn't necessarily in 2010; although, for better or worse, the game at least has a different premise from a lot of others. Essentially, the world of Darwinia is a digitally created ecosystem that's been taken over by a malevolent and fast-spreading virus. The Darwinians are peaceful, defenseless AI that inhabit the world, and they don't have much in the way of defenses to stop this threat that's suddenly taking over their lands. That's where you come in: the scientist who created Darwinia enlists some outside aid in eradicating the virus from Darwinia, and bringing peace back into this world by using small squads of infantry to combat the various organisms the virus has created.
This is where the bulk of your time playing Darwinia+ goes: killing the virus' "bugs". Darwinia itself is set up as a series of shaded polygons that make up the landscape (think Atlus' upcoming JRPG 3D Dot Game Heroes and you're on the right track), and it's this terrain that you have to march over. Unlike most RTS-style games, you actually control your squad manually, moving them from one place to another. Controls are the same as any dual analog shooter, with movement mapped to the left stick and shooting in the direction of the on-screen reticule with the right. Squads are also equipped with grenades, and later, have the ability to call in air-strikes from a series of Space Invaders-type aircraft, though neither of these abilities is available to you at the start, making combat a generally lengthy affair.
This is where Darwinia+'s design starts to show some weakness. You essentially have only squads to combat the virus, and you can only command one squad at a time (with no option to auto-send other squads out to take care of other threats while you're clearing a particular area). While the combat may seem fun in a simplistic sort of way at first, it quickly grows tiresome. Most mountains, hillsides and valleys of Darwinia are positively bursting with the virus' presence, taking the form of angry snakes of red arrows, centipedes, spiders, and what appears to be a type of egg-laying octopus. With a base squad of three firing their lasers at these enemies, even a fairly small plot of infested land takes at least ten minutes to clear out.
To make matters worse, many enemies have the ability to lay eggs (not just the aforementioned octopus) or otherwise respawn more-the most annoying (and creepy) of these is a cartoonish-pipe device that catapults enemy-carrying eggs across whole islands at you, so even if you end up clearing an area of bugs and beasties, it's not going to be completely devoid of enemy activity until you can bring your squad to wherever the egg-launcher actually is. This wouldn't necessarily be the worst thing in the world if the combat were a little more sophisticated or interesting, or even if the game gave you an option to send troops to certain locations, but that isn't the case. Making things especially painful is the rate of speed with which your squad moves; they practically crawl across the landscape. While the developers streamlined the unit creation system so you can create as many units as needed (provided a squad dies in combat or you have a free unit slot open to fill, of which you have a very small number), having to trudge all the way from a respawn point back to the combat can take a long time. Needless to say, this becomes tedious fast.
Things aren't all bad, though. Engineers, the only other real unit type you use, can reprogram the Darwinian buildings whose data have been corrupted by the virus. They're very useful for opening up new unit bases, aligning satellite dishes that beam your squads across water, and collecting the digital souls of the virus bugs, which can be subsequently taken back to a unit base and converted somehow into Darwinians themselves. Unlike squads, you can't directly control your engineers (who also glide above land, meaning they can go practically anywhere) which is actually a good thing, since you can send them off to take care of business in cleared areas while focusing on combat.