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Early Access Impressions: Darwin Project – A natural selection

The Darwin Project is doing surprising things with the battle royale genre. The Finger Guns Impressions;  It’s fair to say the Battle Royle genre is the most popular it’s ever been right now. With the rise of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and […]

The Darwin Project is doing surprising things with the battle royale genre. The Finger Guns Impressions; 

It’s fair to say the Battle Royle genre is the most popular it’s ever been right now. With the rise of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and current devastation of Epic’s Fornite, the genre has seen a mighty wave of popularity across consoles, PC’s and mobile that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. It’s obvious to claim that the bubble may burst at some point in the future, but with every game being announced getting followed with a ‘does it have a Royale mode?’ in the comments, the thirst is real and Scavenger Studio have taken it upon themselves to turn the whole thing on its head. Darwin Project is something that may surprise you.

Taking place in the Northern Canadian Rockies (after an apocalyptic event), surviving are readying themselves for an ice age a project known as Darwin Project emerges, forcing participants to fight to the death before they freeze in specially built arenas that continually get smaller, live to a TV audience. Participants will need to withstand the freezing environment, craft tools, set traps, track where your opponents are and murder, quite literally in cold blood, their fellow contestants.

It’s a neat twist on the genre, and despite its colours and the heavy emphasis on crafting, it all feels much darker and bleaker than those released before it. It’s a twisted tale that feels more reminiscent of The Hunger Games than of PUBG. What Darwin Project does to differentiate it is to narrow down the player count to only ten, as the map is vastly smaller than what we’ve come to expect from the genre. It’s tight quarters means moving and crafting are essential. Finding decent hiding spots is damn near essential and you’re going to have to keep an eye on the resources you collect, as they can be used for more than one benefit. For example, if you find yourself some wood you can use it to create arrows but you also need to keep an eye on your temperature, which means you’ll need that wood to also make fire. Choices like this need to be made on the fly pretty quickly, as you don’t want to be out in the open for too long (enemies can see your footprints in the snow).

The map itself becoming an enemy is a neat touch that makes Darwin Project stand out and as you begin the game with nothing but a big-ass axe (for resources), a bow (for the killing kill kill stuff) and clothing that has not been chosen well for the particular levels of warmth you aren’t going to feel, almost immediately you’re on the hunt for wood and warmth. It took me a while in my first couple of games to see anyone nearby, so there would be appear to be a small window at the beginning of the game where you can hunt for resources without having to deal with the locals trying to take you out. At the beginning of the game the other contestants are the least of your problems with your temperature percentage continuously dropping. You’re able to craft items such as fur coats, though this only means to slow down your temperature gauge, it makes the whole thing far more of a strategy game than I was expecting and it’s worth commending the game for.

And that’s the other thing is the loot, of which their is very little, something which may come as a surprise if you’ve recently been neck-deep in shiny chests in Tilted Towers. What is available is minimal, so you’re going to have to get your marksman skills pretty sharp pretty quickly in order to compete for what is available to benefit your strategy. It’s rare drops and whilst you’re spending most of your time looking for wood you’ve got to have a close eye on drops to see what goodies you can acquire to give you a slight advantage. If you’ve got the bow and arrow skills of Katniss though, you should be able to power through so long as you have your trusty wood stacked up to the nines.

By far the games most appealing aspect though is the Show Director mode, where you get to control the contestants fate in a match. Instead of competing yourself, after winning five matches you get to be a show director, where you have the power to alter someone’s temperature or boosting a players abilities and much more (‘I’m a gameshow host with nuclear weapons’). It works brilliantly well and can be utilised in subtle or devastating ways. Not only that, livestream viewers watching on Mixer can influence the live battles by using a ‘spectator interaction’ mode, which is equally exciting and terrifying all that the same time. I’m not sure I’d like mates of mine being able to control the matches, I’d probably be out in less than the time it takes to craft some arrows. Still, if Show Directors are constantly being unfair with their abilities their powers are taken off them, which ensures the games remain relatively balanced.

Playing the game on Xbox One Game Preview worked about as expected, it’s certainly cleaner and tidier than PUBG in that regard. The character customisation though was a little strange and rather limited in this particular build. The option to play as a female is ‘coming soon’, which is just such a weird omission to not have launched this Preview version of the game with. How playing as a woman is a feature that’s coming down the line has got to be one of the weirder aspects of the game I’ve discovered thus far.

Still, there’s a hell of a lot of fun to be had with Darwin Project. It’s unique enough that it won’t ever feel familiar, each game feels and plays very differently, and where you are on the map can also mess with your strategies, which makes it feel like a whole new experience whenever you jump in. I’ve still got a lot to learn about the game, but so far it’s a brilliantly fun take on the genre, which once again takes it in a brand new direction.

Darwin Project is available now on Steam Early Access and Xbox One Game Preview.

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