Does anyone remember “Radical Heights“? If you don’t, there’s probably a reason for that, as its failure was so catastrophic that it caused Cliff Blezinsky to call quits on the gaming industry and the game itself never escaped the orbit of early access. Basing itself around a game show where contestants kill each other as a bleak metaphor for capitalism, while also theming its gameplay on gathering currency and getting stuck in the walls.
Game Name: Darwin Project
Platform(s): PS4 (reviewed), Xbox and PC
Publisher(s): Scavengers Studio
Developer(s): Scavengers Studio
Release Date: Jan. 14, 2020
While not the most flattering thing to say, it feels as though Darwin Project is a spiritual successor, able to take the concept of Battle Royale game show to the dizzying heights of just ok. There are a lot of good ideas present here but many of them don’t feel well-executed enough to prompt a sustained lifespan for Darwin Project.
As with most Battle Royal games, you and other players will spawn in a random spot across a large map that slowly gets smaller as the match progresses. This time only leaving about ten players and one director, as opposed to the usual one-hundred.
That’s not to say Darwin Project doesn’t have its own identity, as most traditional firearms have been swapped with a universal axe and bow that each player spawns with. Leaving out firefights for a melee system that feels a bit too simple for its own good. Giving players one main swipe of their axe to deal damage and a dodge button to avoid it. This gives the combat a very similar feeling to knife fighting in Call of Duty, where it all comes down to baiting your opponent into swing first.
Things are made a bit more complex by a class system, where players can choose their main gadget with two side abilities. Which can run the gambit from invisibility all the way dropping a dome to prevent your prey from potentially escaping. Personally I found the most amount of enjoyment from setting a ton of traps to immobilize players and leave them helpless to the turrets I laid in wait.
However, since most of your kit is predetermined before the match starts, you won’t be finding any luck-based drops to dramatically increase your chances of survival. Meaning that scavenging can only reward you with two types of crafting materials, wood and “Darwinium”. Wood can be used to create fires to stave off freezing to death, arrows for your bow, and various traps to be placed around the map. Meanwhile, Darwinium is more akin to an experience meter, allowing you to purchase upgrades for your character and class.
However, all of this business of trap setting and investigating clues to find other players doesn’t mesh with the breakneck speed your character takes at running around the tundra, leaving the game with some pacing issues.
The main spark injected into the gameplay comes in the form of “Director Mode”, a spectator-style game mode that allows you to take the place of a hovering drone that can control the environment around the arena to spice up the melee. While this mode doesn’t offer any specific goal other than “Have fun”, it’s a worthy experience and almost the sole reason to recommend Darwin Project (though players will need to invest a few hours before being able to control the spectator).
The lack of goals does allow for some free form of storytelling, perhaps you form a bond with a certain player by watching them or choose to spite someone playing dirty by nuking their quarter of the map. My favorite game in my whole experience being centered around nurturing a younger player to his very first victory by tactically closing zones and providing buffs when I could. This is all wrapped up in a bundle of not-so-great writing (particularly favorite saying, “It’s the wood that makes it good”) and fairly lame customization options.
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While Darwin Project seems to lack the staying power of other franchises, it’s certainly worth a few tries before the inevitable decline in players that was seen with the release of the PC version come to pass.
- Great Map Design
- Class System
- Director Mode
- Lackluster Melee Combat
- Unimpressive Comestics
- Awkward Writing