Wednesday, April 13, 2005


This game is like opening a door and feeling a huge gust of fresh, cool air in your face.

Is it really that good? Yes. Hell, yes.

Darwinia was developed by Introversion Software, who obviously didn’t get the memo about innovation dying in game development. They have developed one of the most conceptually beautiful, visually striking games ever made. A decade from now, it will still be mentioned in reverent tones, a game so good that it is beyond time.


I’ll tell you, but this will be in no particular order, because so much of the game is so good that it’s difficult for anything to stand out.

For starters, the world of Darwinia is breathtakingly beautiful. Jaw-dropping. In one of the most stunning visual representations I have ever seen, Darwinia is a totally artificial world that feels totally organic. It feels far more “real” than games that purport to represent reality. It’s all-encompassing—it’s retro and futuristic and old-school and new-school. The world is so beautiful and so internally consistent that it’s conceptually one of the finest designs I’ve ever seen.

It’s also alive. There are a staggering number of visual details that make the world flesh. It’s a living, breathing place, and that’s always foremost in my mind.

Then there’s how the game feels. It feels like Pink Floyd and Rube Goldberg—at the same time. It’s trippy and funny and always, always internally consistent. There are a variety of units that can be created (only a limited number at any one time, though), and with these units you must repel invading forces, repair giant machines, and staff these machines to re-enable the industrial production of the world. If that sounds dull, believe me, it’s not. The organic feel of this game makes it almost hypnotic to play. It’s one of those games where you stand up and realize you’ve been playing for three hours without even shifting in your chair.

The gameplay is a fusion of almost everything you can imagine. It’s real-time strategy and squad-based combat and a puzzle game. The levels are puzzle-based in the sense that there are many ways to achieve your objectives on a level, and the cleverest solutions are far, far easier than the brute force approach. Brute force can be successful, but elegance is rewarded. It’s very satisfying to avoid the angry hordes by thinking about how a level works and why it’s set up that way.

Sound? Wonderful. There is a dizzying array of sound effects for units and events, many of them subtle, and they all contribute to the dynamic nature of the world.

I would tell you more about the plot, but the plot is really not important in the context of what makes the game so special. The world itself is so rich and full that it’s almost self-sustaining—any story is going to feel cobbled on to some degree. It’s not that the story isn’t interesting—it is—but what drives me to play is not the story. The world itself is so beautiful and fascinating that exploring is its own reward.

In a word: sensational. It’s the best PC game so far this year, and there isn’t a second place. It’s a game from an independent developer that is wildly ambitious, which is not so unusual, but what is unusual is that it fulfills its promise, and does so magnificently. I would very rarely use the word “triumph” to describe a PC game, but Darwinia is a triumph, the stunning result of untethered imagination.

Here’s a link to the website (and a demo is available):

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