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Darwinia+ (Xbox 360) artwork

Darwinia+ (Xbox 360) review


"With the introduction of spiders, things rapidly became more difficult. I had to rely on grenades to damage them, as they seemed immune to laser fire. Making that difficult was their habit of suddenly pouncing at my unit when within range. Until I'd really enhanced my grenade-throwing range and could blast them before they noticed my squad's presence, they were able to decimate squads with ease."



Dealing with computer viruses tends to not be much fun. I've gotten off easy in my life, as the worst problem I've endured was when something got in my office's email program. Every day, I'd have to delete about 100 pieces of spam ranging from bizarre fictional news headlines to fraudulent promises of untold riches to porn. It was annoying, but the over-the-top nature of it all did provide me with entertainment (as well as a few "Whoa...those naked chicks don't look legal...this ain't cool!" moments). Then, a tech guy figured out there was a problem one day and that was the end of that. Just another forgettable chapter in my life.

I'd likely not be so casual about that whole incident, though, if my work computer's main purpose was to provide a home for an artificial, digital form of life I'd created. There I'd be, proud as a peacock that I'd created life out of some sort of coding and it was evolving into something greater than I'd imagined -- and then my computer would contract a virus. Helplessly, I'd watch it spread like wildfire through my programming, corrupting my data and slaughtering my creation. All my work would be destroyed and my only option would be to swallow a bullet. Bummer...

That's the sort of thing you'll be trying to prevent in the Darwinia part of Darwinia+. Originally an acclaimed computer game by Introversion Software, this 360 port puts you into the computer system of Dr. Sepulveda. This guy had created artificial life (Darwinians) which was gradually evolving; however, all of his work is being threatened by a computer virus that has taken over Darwinia, home of his creation. Your job: to reclaim the many regions of Darwinia and repopulate them.

The game is an interesting amalgam of real-time strategy and a more arcade-like shooter. You start out with the ability to create squads and engineers. Squads are small groups of laser-toting units who exist to eliminate viruses. Engineers reprogram various structures in Darwinia so they may be used by squads or Darwinians. Speaking of those critters, some of these buildings are used to create them from the souls of slaughtered viruses. The engineer will collect the red icons that appear when a virus is shot and carry them to one of these places to be reborn as Darwinians. Another function of these multi-purpose helpers is to find and unlock various bits of technology, so your squads can supplement their pea-shooters with far more destructive weapons such as grenades, rockets and aerial assaults.

Meanwhile, in the "real world", Sepulveda helps you out by improving the range of your weapons, how many members are in a squad, how many souls an engineer can carry at once and other things. You pick what aspect of your war effort you want improved and he'll go to work. Having the freedom to personally select what he's working on is a nice way to add some customization to this game, which is good, as compared to many strategy titles, Darwinia is quite simplistic. There is far more focus placed on simply blasting the crap out of enemies, as opposed to figuring out strategies that give you an improved chance of successfully overcoming them.

The blasting can get pretty intense, though, which is something I would not have suspected after the first couple of levels. Squads move at a snail-like pace and the viruses were very easy to kill, mainly consisting of large clusters of cannon-fodder worms and the occasional centipede. The latter were only tougher in that they took more damage and split into smaller creatures as segments of their bodies got blasted. There also were these giant floating things (crude polygonal graphics = me not always sure of what I was fighting), but they were more a nuisance than anything else, as their primary purpose was to drop eggs that sprouted into additional worm-viruses.

With the introduction of spiders, things rapidly became more difficult. I had to rely on grenades to damage them, as they seemed immune to laser fire. Making that difficult was their habit of suddenly pouncing at my unit when within range. Until I'd really enhanced my grenade-throwing range and could blast them before they noticed my squad's presence, they were able to decimate squads with ease. Around this point, I also had to deal with egg-spitting plants which existed for the sole purpose of replenishing areas with viruses. Which were followed by aggressive army ants and even virus-corrupted Darwinians. Now, it wasn't quite so easy to clear the game's levels. If I lost a squad, all I had to do was create a new one, but by the time I'd walked back to the battle, there were new viruses spawned to replace those I'd killed.

Darwinia is a fun game that is hurt somewhat by its simple, linear style. The average level consists of you slaughtering what feels like a million viruses, while sending out engineers to program machines and turn souls into Darwinians. After the smoke has cleared, odds are that you'll then be leading Darwinians through the now-safe regions to machinery they can operate to fulfill the remaining stage objectives. It's fun, but the simplicity and overall lack of tactics don't add to the sort of experience that leads me to want to play the game again.

If you're into multiplayer challenges, Multiwinia may add some replay value, though. Putting the "plus" in Darwinia+ this game doesn't have a single-player quest, but does offer a large number of competitions for two or more players (or one person against the computer). Everyone will control their own little army of Darwinians in order to conquer a region, capture giant statues or a number of other activities. While I don't tend to spend much time doing multiplayer stuff, from the time I spent with Multiwinia, I'd say it gives this title a lot of extra value for online gamers. Playing alone, it might be a bit dull, as part of the appeal here is simply the requisite trash-talking gamers engage in while competing against each other. You don't get that by playing "capture the flag" against the computer.

Darwinia+ is a neat little title. On one hand, you have a fun quest to save the Darwinians from viruses -- on the other, you have a bunch of short multiplayer competitions. Aesthetically, this Live Arcade download was nothing to look at, with graphics that brought back memories of the most blocky and simplistic PlayStation efforts, but the gameplay more than made up for that. While I was bored at times while controlling slow-moving squads as they methodically cleared the terrain of non-threatening worms, things got surprisingly (and pleasantly) intense when the opposition picked up to the point where I found many confrontations to be tense battles for survival. When I find myself pausing a game after a fight because I need a short breather to calm my nerves, it's definitely doing something right!

Rating: 8/10

overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (March 26, 2010)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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