Darwinia Reader Review
I'm writing this review in response to Kieron's, which while interesting to read, overstates the game's brilliance in my opinion.
I've stayed away from Darwinia in the past, having been put off by the demos that Introversion put out. The gameplay in the demos always seemed a little unrefined and too simple. This was at the time when they had a gesture system for executing programs in the game and it never worked that brilliantly. Thankfully they took that out. Now that the game has been out for a while, I'm sure this can be regarded as the closest-to-final version we're going to get, with most of (if any) bugs in the original version being fixed.
I've played through most of the game now and generally my thoughts are positive. The graphics are stunningly beautiful and the gameplay is fun and quite addictive. I think what I enjoy about the game most is its pace which allows the player to approach problems at whatever speed he or she chooses. However this game is not the second-coming and it would be a mistake to regard it as such. In my experiance, the game is rather easy and doesn't require that much strategem. Sure, there are difficult bits but it doesn't take long to work them out.
The game has a rather charming personality and it's consistant throughout with the interface, the gameplay, the graphics, the dialogue, the mission select menu etc... all adding towards the creation of what almost feels like a persistant and living world, inhabited by cute, little green stick-men. A lot of reviewers I've heard seem to get really affected by the story and world of the game. Personally, my emotions remain unengaged. To me the game is chiefly a puzzle game, like Lemmings, and so to see a dozen or so Darwinians perish isn't going to affect me in the same way a dozen Lemmings fall to their doom would. I regard the game as purely a game and nothing more.
As I said though, the game is mostly good. Most importantly, it's enjoyable. However there are issues. Darwinia has obviously been designed for the player to have a heavy hands-on approach to gameplay and the enemies themselves are fairly formulaic and robotic in their attacks against you. Of course, this is entirely consistant with the game world since a 'virus' at its most basic level doesn't have the ability to evaluate the situation and make choices, it is an organism which runs on the mechanism of stimulus-response. Fair enough, this isn't a problem. Obviously it would have taken the devs a lot more time and effort to program in a smarter AI and in this game I don't think its necessary.
One thing that does grind my goat, so to speak, is the pathfinding and the friendly AI which just isn't intelligent enough. There's no point having command of multiple squads if you can only control one competantly while the others seem incapable of defending themselves. This is definately a point which limits one's tactical options somewhat. For instance, you couldn't try and surround or 'pincer' the enemy because you can only have direct control over only one squad at a time and the one not under your control would inevitable flounder in such a situation and die.
The pathfinding also is a big bugbear. Kieron seems to be saying that the pathfinding complaint isn't valid because the game isn't an RTS. It's totally irrelevent whether the game is or is not an RTS, the question over pathfinding is about whether it makes the game less fun and more irritating which in fact, it does. Having to come down and rescue a unit stuck in the scenery or trying to climb over a mountain instead of getting around it requires no skill, it just introduces tedium.
All-in-all, it's a good game but it's not brilliant. It's certainly highly impressive and imaginative in certain areas, especially considering the small-size of Introversion's dev team. But, y'know, let's not get carried away here. I don't see myself playing this game over and over again.
7 / 10