The battle royale phenomena goes from strength to strength and the ever expanding fan base of titles like Player Unknown Battlegrounds and Fornite: Battle Royale show there’s no sign of the genre slowing down.
Darwin Project caught my eye back at E3 2017 and while it didn’t throw 100 players on a single map, the simplified close quarters combat was intriguing enough, but when you add the ability for one person to control a match in ‘Director Mode’ I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
Finally Darwin Project has released on to Microsoft’s Game Preview program and I’ve had plenty of time to get to grips with the game, set up as a futuristic game show where inmates fight to the death, you begin in a central hub as the director and 10 inmates are populated, waiting times where minimal even on this early build, and before I know it I was walking knee-deep in snow trying to figure our what I was doing. It took me about 30 seconds to figure out that I couldn’t chop down every tree, and by the time I actually realised I had a bow, I was being attacked by some psychopath with a shovel, inevitably it didn’t end well and while I died first, I happily watched the rest of the game to get an idea of how to proceed.
Thankfully it was quick learning and second match, I was able to get a kill, chop down tree’s and woods to explore the power-up wheel where I was able to craft wood to set a bonfire to warm myself up, the game went on and I finished in third place, but still there was more to learn.
As well as crafting bonfires, arrows and snowballs, you can also create traps to slow down your enemy and highlight their position to surrounding players. As you navigate the map you’ll find it’s split into 8 zones, these zones will slowly close off to force players together and random electronic drops will give one lucky player the chance to add a power to their arsenal such as temporary invisibility or a giant leap across the map.
The core gameplay all works very well, runs smoothly and while arrows seem a little too weak to resist getting in close for melee hits, the bow and arrow mechanics work well especially combined with a headshot at greater distances. I thoroughly enjoyed running around the snow, chopping tree’s and skinning chairs and animals for leather to try and craft my way to survival all while avoiding (or confronting) other players, it’s fair to say it’s fairly bare bones early on, only a handful of customisation options and weapon variants, but if it follows in Fortnite’s steps, I can imagine plenty more being added or unlocked the more you play.
The real highlight for me though, was Director mode, I didn’t get any XP and the leaderboard didn’t seem to be showing any different between 1, 3 and 5 director mode games, but having that control over ten other players was just as thrilling as it sounds.
One guy was clearly new, wandering around with little clue and seconds way from dying due to the cold, I quickly used my powers to warm him up like a floating hot-water bottle in the sky. While he only survived another few minutes, it at least gave me the satisfaction of helping him. Another game I encountered two guys constantly teaming together (something the game tries to avoid) as well as dropping a nuke on the area they were hauled up in and boosting the health and speed of the two people confronting them, eventually, they fell one-by-one and I smugly continued to finish off the game.
Being fair is fun, and while Matt might not have thought I was playing fair when I healed the guy he was just about to kill, I’m sure that player was grateful, until I slapped a Manhunt on his head.
Graphically Darwin Project looks pretty good, quite similar to Fortnite in style, it’s bound to have a few haters because of the cartoon style, but being a fan of Overwatch, I’m quite partial to the less realistic graphics and it certainly doesn’t hurt Darwin when you’re searching for a kill across the map, everything is clear and well represented with on screen markers when you have an enemy tagged through site or a trap. There’s plenty of other information on the UI, giving a brief overview of other players and this is especially helpful in director mode when you’re trying to watch 10 players at once.
I’d like to see more map variation in the future, PUBG might have only started with one map, but it’s colossal compared to Darwin Project, so hopefully it’s not too long before that (and the cosmetic options) are built upon.
Audio isn’t bad either except for it all feeling a little too quiet on the menu screens, but in-game there’s nice atmospherics from your surroundings and hits, enemies and attacks are all clearly represented, there’s obviously room for improvement, but it’s not a bad start for a game preview title.
Darwin project seems to have started off well, customisation and the map choice is weak, but there’s still plenty of options with 9 powers and 6 tools to select (3 of each) from, and with options to slightly modify items such as your axe, boots and cloak (to have a higher base stat, or lower with other benefits) there’s plenty to try out before you can work out your best route to success.
Many similar titles rely on luck, a game on PUBG and Fornite can easily be decided in the first few buildings you search dependent on what you find, but with Darwin project, I’d even go as far as saying there’s more emphasis on a players skill, and resource management. Wood and Leather keeps it simple, and while sometimes you’ll find yourself struggling to find any, most games you’ll have enough, it’s just a case of deciding what you do with it, and what sort of mood the show director is in.
With Mixer integration allowing viewers to make such decisions is a great jump for game interaction, streaming and a slightly less hectic battle royale experience and while it’s early day’s there’s already a solid foundation to build upon.