Imagine (no, come on, close your eyes and imagine) a world
(okay, I know this is cliche. Just imagine Movie Announcer Voice
for me) where you are a God (or at least a god equivalent) and
your actions will save a society, or damn them if you fail to
heed their call for help!
Imagine a land populated by tiny green human-like Darwinians
and somewhat larger red insect viruses (and Triffids!) locked
in a battle for supremacy (and the right to sing and dance and
cheer without being eaten)!
Imagine your computer connected to a complete digital world,
a world not created for your amusement but one that follows
its own destiny (which is to absorb your time with AMUSEMENT)!
So I lied about the amusement thing, but, anyway. . . . Imagine
Darwinia is the most perfect video game I've played
in the last year. And it's cheap. My copy cost me thirty-five
dollars because I ordered it direct
from the creators, in England. You can download the game
for twenty bucks from Valve's
Steam service, but I'm afraid of letting Steam near my computer.
Frankly, I'm glad I'm afraid of Steam (and hot showers) and
prefer having hard copies anyway, because the game also comes
with snazzy packaging. The green cover at first seems simply
covered with Darwinians, but soon you see the letters interspersed
between them calling out, "Save us." The manual has a number
of extras included purely to flesh out the world of the game,
harkening back to the days of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the
Galaxy game that came with a microscopic space fleet in
a plastic bag and Peril Sensitive Glasses.
Even if you don't have the physical game, there are other
bonuses: there are at least five different intros to the game
itself, several of which echo older computer interfaces and
games. They are too much of a joy to spoil.
The backstory of the game involves a Dr. Sepulveda who designed
the Protologic computer in the early 1980s, a computer that
was critically acclaimed and geared to take over the market.
However, a series of problems sabotaged the system, and Sepulveda
was left with thousands upon thousands of unsold computers.
He became a hermit and began experimenting with hooking his
computers together, eventually discovering that the power of
the systems was greatly enhanced when connected. So, as you
might surmise by this point, Sepulveda created one of the first
supercomputers and used that power to create a virtual world
and virtual life: the Darwinians.
The Darwinians have gone through countless generations, evolving
with each iteration, in complete isolation from the rest of
the computerized world. However, now they are getting curious,
and that curiosity has caused problems. Even though you come
to them from the internet, you are their only hope instead of
Here I'll stop describing the plot, because, unlike many strategy
games, Darwinia has a storyline that is a pleasure to
And the game doesn't end when you complete it. The world
still exists. Explore.
If you are familiar with strategy games, you'll be comfortable
here. You can control only a limited number of programs: Squads
(the military arm), engineers (reprogrammers), and armour (troop
transports and gun emplacements). You can only directly control
one of those programs at a time. Your main resource is the individual
Darwinian, and you can only guide those little guys through
the use of officers, Darwinians you've promoted through use
of a program.
The world you'll be exploring consists of islands, and so each
mission will generally involve clearing one island, then moving
on to the next while achieving some larger goal, such as saving
a certain number of Darwinians or restarting the mining facilities.
Again, these missions sound simplistic. It is the style and
the story of the game that will addict you.
Luckily for those with no self control (and unluckily for everyone
else) the game isn't overly long: There are only ten missions.
It is well worth the money, but I certainly wasn't tired of
playing the game when it was done. That is the only caveat,
but for a $20 (or even $35) game, I find it hard to complain
about such an engrossing experience.
Once you complete the game, a level editor and a sandbox level
are opened up, so you can create your own missions. Though when
I searched online for new missions, I could only find a few.
My guess is that it's hard to recreate the feel and immersiveness
of the Darwinia story. How else to explain how this game makes
you feel, at times, like your computer is actually interacting
with the Darwinia network out there?)
There is at least one more mission, outside the game: the demo.
Even if you're sold on the game, this is worth playing (and
not just because it's free) since it provides another view of
the Darwinians' world and their goals. The demo scenario makes
them all the more human, and it is amazing and telling that
this game can make me care about one-dimensional, tiny green
figures who have no expressions and can't even move their limbs.
And it is amazing, because I still care.