Darwinia Linux Demo 1.2.1
I initially heard about Darwinia on some obscure web forums where the game was lauded for its old school graphics and sound effects. I don't recall there being a demo back then, but last week I managed to finally get hold of a demo version of the game, for Linux. I tried the demo and played through it, this story tells a tale about low fi graphics and distinct gameplay features.
As much as I'd like to start talking about the game, I'd first want to say that Darwinia runs on both Windows and Linux. You might have heard horror stories about how Linux is a bad platform for game development and stuff like that, but Darwinia proves this wrong: I downloaded the installer, ran it and within a minute I was flying around the colorful world of Darwinia at a fully 3D accelerated 1280x1024 resolution with stereo sound.
So let me say congratulations to the people over at Introversion for making this game run without a hitch on my Ubuntu installation and ATi graphics card.
New To Darwinia
The story as I recall it
Upon starting Darwinia, you are textually greeted by a professor kind of person who introduces you to the game world and will continually assist you with tips and help on your objectives. The story is about computer virii and how they've infected worlds. Your task is to eleminate the virii, which is the supposedly plural form of virus, so that the Darwinians can walk about and do their duties.
Darwinians are the virtual inhabitants of the virtual world. They're flat, green and look like a man drawn by some preschool children. They're functional in the sense that you'll get a lot of Darwinians wandering around and because of their flatness won't take up a lot of processing power of your PC.
Well, the story's kind of short but at least it provides a little background on why everything looks like it does in the game. The landscape is a collection of wire-frame polygons, the virii are small red strands of triangles and the Darwinians are little green men. So far so good, we're set to get playing.
The first few minutes
As you're guided along your initial camera movements you notice that the world of Darwinia looks great: you can view the whole world from the beginning of the game, but you can not reach all parts yet. This may sound weird, but it makes sense: you are not physically present in the world of Darwinia, nor you can control the little green Darwinians yourself, even destroying virii is beyond your own capabilities...
Because you play in a virtual world, you must use Programs to gain control over entities in the game world. Programs come in a few forms, the demo provided me with these:
- Engineer is a Program designed to reprogram virtual control posts, and to collect energy orbs left by virtual lifeforms.
- Squad is your main offensive Program, designed to kill virii with a plethora of weapons and an impressive array of laser guns.
- Officier is not a standalone Program, but must be applied to a Darwinian. The Officer will then direct all nearby Darwinians to a given point on the map.
Anyway, after the first encounter with strands of the red virus you'll already have learned how to use the Engineer and Squad programs. The Officer is necessary to complete the mission later on.
Shooter? Strategy game? God game?
It's kind of hard to place Darwinia in a single genre, but it definitely looks, sounds (and quacks) like a god game simulation. Because of your indirect control over the world, it always feels like you're in charge from high up, giving orders to subordinates. Controlling, creating and deactivating your programs makes it feel a bit like working on a computer: you decide what runs and where it runs.
Getting rid of the virii is mostly a task of getting one of your Squads in firing position and pushing the right mouse button, coupled with the left mouse button for extra grenade, rocket or airstrike punch. If you lose your Squad you can easily create a new one nearby so you never actually get a feeling of having to start completely over.
The goal is soul?
Even though I got some good tips from my professor pal I eventually had to figure out quite some stuff myself. You can and must use the radar dishes you see to transport squads to new locations, without the dishes you can only look at new areas but not get there. Admittedly Engineers can travel over water, but virii will kill them almost immediately.
There was also some big machine on a hill, to which I had to get the Darwinians. The prof made some comments about it and I was glad to see the machine finally got moving once I had my green people up there. There was a catch however: you must also activate mines so that raw materials pass through the machine. The professor had conventiently forgotten about that part I suppose. After getting the mines up and running it was, well, all mine.
After getting the mines up the game kind of played itself: I flew around a bit while the green sprites turned unshaped polygons into other formless shining matter. It's kind of annoying you don't get to interact anymore with the game after you've killed the virii.
If you've got the time, play Darwinia yourself - it's a fun experience especially in the beginning. The game has quite good looks and sports a retro ambience thanks to the emulated low fi sound hardware. I liked the demo version, but I was slightly irritated by the lack of a clear objective and the sparse tips. The gameplay itself was fun though and the difficulty of the game starts low.
Because the Linux game ran so well on my testing machine without tweaking, it scores some extra points. Overall I'd rate it at a 7,5 on a scale of ten.
Check out these pages for more information about Darwinia: