The Darwin Project is everything I hate in an online multi-player game, and why you just might love it.
I don’t mean that in a condescending way, but in a way that highlights different playing styles in general. It could be compared to why I hate the color green, but someone reading this may love everything green. It’s purely subjective.
The Darwin Project may scream ‘copy and paste’ to me, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, but more a game that rehashes a lot of stuff with a couple cool twists to separate its identity from everything else in its genre.
This ‘copy and paste’ mantra a lot of developers seem to be following makes the video game industry feel stale – an opinion I will dive into in a later article. As stale as the industry is getting, there are still some gems to behold (The Last Guardian, L.A. Noire (not really new, but still freakin’ amazing and unique by today’s standards) and Gravity Rush, to name only a few). Is The Darwin Project one of these gems? I don’t think so. This doesn’t mean you can’t have hours of fun with it. So, let’s get into why I hate this game, and why you just might love it.
Strap up your boots and get ready to die with ’em on.
If you’ve played Fortnite, then you have a good idea of what you are getting yourself in to. Does that mean Darwin Project is a clone of Fortnite? Well, if Call of Duty and Killzone are clones of one another, then yes, it is. You have weapons and there are a bunch of other players running around that you’re trying to use them on. There are a few more similarities, but – to me – there were enough differences as well not to confuse me.
Since we’ve established that Darwin Project is not an exact clone of Fortnite, let me explain what I came to think of it as.
Canadian Death Metal!
Okay, maybe there’s no metal involved, but there’s plenty of Canadians and death going on. I’d actually really want to hear some Canadian death metal. Do they sing about murder, then apologize for being offensive? Probably not. I bet Canadians can be some of the most unapologetic death metallers out there. I mean, Canada did spawn Annihilator – arguably one of the best thrash metal bands of all time.
Moving on. We aren’t here to talk about metal, much to my dismay. We are here to talk about Darwin Project. Scavengers Studio built them an impressive, if somewhat unoriginal, battle royale type of game using the Unreal Engine. I understand originality is pretty sparse these days, so I won’t gripe about that too much longer. I’ll focus on gameplay, mostly.
The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic snowy Canada that’s entering a mini ice-age. This impending ice-age has ushered in a new type of game show where people pit off against each other to the death. What was that? Hunger Games? Not so new of a game show idea?
To prove my point, the FIRST game I played I heard people talking about how this ‘isn’t the Hunger Games’. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to convince their friends, or themselves.
A different take on the battle royale style of gaming.
Upon starting up the game, the first thing I noticed was the music, or lack thereof. It’s not non-existent, just not in the forefront of your speakers. As you hit play, you’re greeted with a loading screen, followed by the title of the game slowly drifting towards you. This is accompanied by some Star Wars-esque music that lasts all of about ten seconds. After that, there are very low ambient sounds that I had to turn my speakers up pretty high to hear.
Now, before I get into gameplay at all, I want to take a few moments to talk about the menu. There’s your normal Options, My Career, and Play selections. You’ll also find some unique ones as well. There’s the Dressing Room where you can alter the appearance of your character. This is pretty cool, but it doesn’t get as in-depth as The Elder Scrolls or Fallout. Where you might spend hours customizing a character you’ll never actually see in Fallout, in The Darwin Project you might spend all of three minutes.
The last option in the Dressing Room is something called ‘Special’. I don’t know what this is as I had nothing there to select, but I imagine no other player does. Keep in mind, this review is written during the early access beta, so certain things are sure to be added. Changing your gender will be one of them.
The other unique menu option is the Crafting Wheel. It’s accessible in the menu but used in game. The crafting wheel allows you to create arrows, fire arrows, snowballs, fur coats, boots, traps and more. All of which I suggest getting familiar with as they are key to winning a game.
Once you hit Play, you are given three types of games to play. The first is Solo. This is self-explanatory. It’s a free for all. No teams. Kill everyone you see.
Second is Duos. This option is not available right now and will probably be playable once the game officially releases.
The last option is Show Director. This is the coup-de-grace right here. This is where true showmanship happens – where all aspiring TV show hosts long to be. At first, Show Director is blocked out. You need to complete five solo matches first in order to unlock Show Director.
Now, one thing to keep in mind when contemplating purchasing this game is the story behind it. Though thin in narrative and a bit derivative from The Hunger Games, the story tells of a new game show taking place in an extra-icy Canada. What do the contestants do? Surprise surprise, they fight to the death. The really cool thing here is the game works best when you have real people watching. To encourage this, there’s a large button telling you to stream your game on Twitch or Mixer. It’s not required, but if you can, you should. Personally, I didn’t because I was lazy and didn’t remember my Twitch log-in, and it didn’t affect my playing the game. The person that probably SHOULD ALWAYS stream is the Show Director because the audience can get involved. How do I mean, you ask? Allow me to set the stage so I can show you.
CTRL + C Fortnite, CTRL + V The Darwin Project.
With some backspacing and editing, of course.
I compare this game to Fortnite a lot, I know. This is in part because when it comes to these types of games, Fortnite is the one I have the most experience with, and The Darwin Project seems to take a bit of its style from the game. I’m sure there are other games it takes from, but I haven’t played them. I’m 32 with a full-time job NOT writing reviews. I don’t have time to play every game ever, so give me a break.
Unfortunately, The Darwin Project doesn’t allow you to choose where you enter the map. You don’t launch from a plane and para-glide to a place that looks like it has some good loot. You are dumped into the map at a random spot and must loot whatever is around.
Looting is highly important, like in all these types of games. You begin with a bow as your main weapon with a very limited amount of arrows and an ax. The ax is used to chop down trees that are then used for building fires, crafting arrows and other such things you need to survive.
Along with chopping down trees, you also have to harvest leather from randomly placed leather chairs or loot chests. With the leather and wood combo, you can – and should – craft traps to lure unsuspecting enemies in, and fur coats as well as boots to keep warm.
Once you have a nice arsenal going, it’s time to hunt. The Darwin Project is divided into sectors. As time ticks on, certain sectors become closed off, forcing players to battle it out. This part largely made me think of Fortnite. I get why it’s done, though it really adds to that copy/paste thing I mentioned above. The graphics also lean into that area.
My first game in The Darwin Project was almost my last. I survived for about three minutes before I was annihilated without doing an ounce of damage to my assailant. I took a deep breath and played a second one. It went very much the same as my first game, but I had a better handle on things. My third, however, was a fluke. I actually killed someone. In such a masterful way the Show Director called me out by name in congratulations.
Then, I killed a second enemy. My heart was pounding. I had survived and the Show Director again congratulated me. Soon, I came upon my third target. I was a hunter now, salivating at the thought of another kill. We begin the dance of death. Him jumping unrealistically high, and me strafing left to right, right to left. We are exchanging arrows shots and ax blows. The fight heats up and I hear the Show Director say “Whoever wins gets a heal’. I suddenly get incentive and deliver the killing arrow blow and the promised heal comes my way.
I am invincible. I am a warrior of legend. I am beginning to like The Darwin Project.
The zone I am in begins to close and I need to leave fast or forfeit a sure win. It’s now down to me and one more enemy. I hunger for victory.
Things get intense now. I see my target and we shoot some arrows, but he runs off. I lose him and start to freeze to death. At this moment, I hear the warnings from another player spectating me. It’s reassuring that I have friends in this cold, harsh land. I start up a fire and resume my hunt once I am warmed up.
“He’s to the left’, I hear the voice say. I turn right. ‘No, the other way’, it chides. As I turn the right direction, I hear approval and I move forward. The zone is getting smaller and smaller and yet, I don’t see my enemy. Then, some crazy anti-gravity shit happens and I have no idea how to expertly control myself. My enemy does, and he sends a barrage of snowballs at me. My heart pumps in my chest as I fly to and fro, unable to see or control myself.
Then suddenly, the Show Director gifts me with invincibility! This will surely grant me a win, I think to myself. Unfortunately, I still can’t see or control myself, invincibility runs out and my sworn enemy sends the killing blow.
What a fight it was! I wasn’t even mad. A small smile crept to the corners of my mouth and I realized I could see why people enjoy these kinds of games.
The Show Director
This is where The Darwin Project is separated from its peers. This feature unlocks after you have played the minimum 5 solo games. The purpose of the show director is to oversee the match as a whole, flying around as a large drone looking down on the contestants. You can reward those that are doing well and punish those that aren’t playing nicely. But don’t be predictable. Nobody likes that.
In my previous section, I detailed one of my games where the show director got involved a number of times. I was granted a heal and invincibility. There was also a part in the match where the show director started closing off zones to force battle. The anti-gravity I experienced is also one of the few abilities the show director may employ.
There are a number of other abilities the show director may decide to use in order to nudge the game forward, but the one I like the best is audience interaction. If the show director has a decent following on Twitch or Mixer and needs some help deciding who will get nuked or who gets the heal, they can turn to the audience for guidance. To me, this is the most unique part about this game and what will make people talk about it for months to come.
My first reaction to The Darwin Project was: ‘Meh’. By the end of my trial with the game, it’s a lighter ‘meh’ but it’s still a ‘meh’. A match begins, you kill each other, the match ends. Rinse and repeat.
I remember the first time I played Tribes. It was in the library in high school. Our computers had it installed, and my friends and I would play it every day. I was in awe of what it offered. So many people playing at once in an enormous battlefield. It was nothing short of amazing. Now, the industry is rife with these kinds of games, slogging you down with game after game offering the same thing in a new package. I struggle to find that same magic in most online multiplayer games these days.
But…The Darwin Project attempts to add something new. I will applaud Scavengers Studios for their valiant effort, as it is a good one. If they put more focus on the new twists they introduce – namely the show director – then The Darwin Project has so much more potential than any other battle royale game out right now.
I’ve grown to learn these types of games aren’t my thing anymore. I get bored easily with them. The Darwin Project sparked something in me that brought some of that old love back, but sadly it didn’t catch fire and the spark died. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, and almost certainly means that if you’re a fan of battle royale games, you need to check this game out. If I had a bit of fun with it then fans of the genre are bound to find a lot of enjoyment here.
Currently, The Darwin Project is in beta on PC and Xbox One.
Review Code provided by the publisher.