When Charles Darwin came up with his ‘survival of the fittest’ theory he probably wasn’t referring to 10 homicidal maniacs running around the snow and mutilating each other with axes and arrows. Yet here we are.
Launching into Early Access recently was Scavengers Studio’s debut title, Darwin Project. The game is an interesting take on the ‘last-man-standing’ game mode that is currently surging in popularity. Drop into the world, scavenge for resources, survive the cold, and kill anybody who gets in your way. The game features 10 players who are fighting to be the last one left alive and it’s a genuinely fast-paced and thrilling experience. With surviving the environment, scavenging for resources, and a show director overseeing and impacting the game – Darwin Project really is as close to The Hunger Games as a video game can get.
Games of Darwin Project can go pretty quickly when compared to other games that are played in the last-man-standing style. There are also never any periods of down time because you are constantly on the hunt for supplies and resources that you can use to upgrade your gear. This is actually one of the game’s greatest strengths. You’re never just running for the sake of running or wandering around searching for players. The survival elements and resource gathering elements encourage a constantly flowing and adaptive gameplay experience. If you stop to take a breather then you are already falling behind your opponents who are out scavenging and crafting.
Due to the way resources are evenly scattered around the world it also never felt like you were at a disadvantage based on the loot around you. This isn’t a game where you can pick up the best item right from the start or struggle to find anything decent for a large stretch of time. This is a game where everybody will easily be able to come across the resources they need to craft the gear that they want and it all comes down to who can do it the fastest and most efficiently.
“Playing as the AI Director makes you feel like you’re a god as you watch over a group of fighting ants while occasionally jabbing a finger into the middle of their squabble”
The game features an AI Director who watches over the game and alters the battlefield. The AI Director is controlled by a real player and they have some serious power to influence the course of any given game. Shutting down zones of the map, spawning powerful resources, setting off special modifiers in the battlefield and more. Playing as the AI Director makes you feel like you’re a god as you watch over a group of fighting ants while occasionally jabbing a finger into the middle of their squabble.
The AI Director can even approach a particular player, give them buffs, give them hints and useful information, or trick them into walking into an ambush. This is their game that they can influence in the way they want to, whether it is fair or not.
Naturally the role of the AI Director can be abused, especially if they are specifically helping their buddy win. Although players can vote on an AI Director’s performance resulting in a bad director having their powers stripped from them. It’s a super interesting system and a risky one at that. Although so far my experience with the AI Director has been incredibly positive. Sometimes they take a liking to you and sometimes you are public enemy number one. Either way the game shifts and your play style will have to adapt to give you the best chance of winning
The game features a customisable crafting wheel with a range of different gear and abilities you can take into any given game. One player may prefer bear traps to snare their opponent whilst another may prefer snowballs to put out fire and give their opponent a chilly surprise. Everything seems pretty balanced in this regard even if I do see some of the higher skilled players typically choosing similar load-outs. It really allows each player to find their own groove and choose a load-out that suits their style of play. It also means you never quite know what to expect out of your opponent, forcing you to adapt your play style on the fly.
Powerful abilities can be crafted after harvesting an electronic. These are big resources spawned in by the AI Director which are often highly contested. Abilities such as teleporting a huge distance, turning mostly invisible, and deploying a turret to shoot at nearby foes. These abilities can have devastating effects on a battle and keep things highly fun and competitive.
There is also this weird Twitch integration aspect of the game. I know, that sounds horrendous, although it actually kind of works. Streamers can have their Twitch viewers vote on the outcome of a game with the entire thing set up in a viewer friendly manor. I hate the idea of a game being pushed or designed as an eSport rather than naturally adopting an audience, but Darwin Project actually feels like it could work. I feel like I’d actually enjoy watching a competitive game whilst being able to vote on how the AI Director should influence the battlefield.
If anything is going to be Darwin Project’s downfall it will be its small playerbase. Matchmaking is everything when it comes to competitive gaming and right now Darwin Project has pretty terrible matchmaking. A brand new player will easily be put into a game with a hardened veteran and proceed to get their ass whooped. The reason for this, I believe, is that the game just doesn’t have enough players to sustain a healthy matchmaking system. I’m not currently struggling to find a game to join and this really wasn’t too much of an issue for me personally because I could pick up the game quickly and compete with others, although I definitely see it being problematic in the future. The problem is Darwin Project is competing with some very well established games, one of which is completely free. For it to have a big impact on this market it needs to be able to pave its own path and draw in its own healthy playerbase. Whether or not the game can do this will ultimately be the difference between a fantastic and fun product and something that just shrivels and dies in the shadow of its competitors.
The Bottom Line...
I have very little in the way of negative comments when it comes to Darwin Project. After I complete my reviews on games I don’t typically return to them unless they are particularly engrossing. Although having said that, I have no doubt I will continue to jump back into games of Darwin Project. This will be especially true when the game releases some of its planned content as it moves through this Early Access stage of its life. If the game can hold a healthy playerbase then it will be an undeniably fun experience and a game I would recommend to any last-man-standing enthusiasts.