Reviews

First impressions: Darwin Project - Big Brother royale

Scavengers Studio
A convict is running through snow during the night in Darwin Project.
Darwin Project

Darwin Project is a battle royale game currently in early access on Steam and yet, it is not ''just another battle royale''. Scavengers Studio have managed to pull off a game that isn't a copy of PUBG or Fortnite, while in the same genre.

Scavengers Studio set their game in a grim future where a new Ice Age is inevitable. The titular Darwin Project is initiated as a science project vital for survival with a healthy dose of reality TV thrown into the mix. Players either assume a role of one of the convicts chosen to fight in a freezing arena or a Show Director who controls the stage and observes the battle via drone.

Playing as a convict is where the action is. You go to your dressing room, customise your character's aesthetics and on the crafting wheel menu you get into customising your character's build. This is Darwin Project's first step away from traditional battle royale systems. You do not create your loadout on the go and weapons aren't delivered through RNG and loot drops like in PUBG or Fortnite. Most of the specific are taken care of before a match starts.

Scavengers StudioCrafting Wheel customisation from Darwin Project.Darwin Project - Crafting wheel customisation shows six different possible choices for the tools you can bring into the game.

Crafting is also widely different than the system in Fortnite. You won't be crafting instant cover or stairways. Instead, you will have to collect Leather and Wood in order to improve your armour parts, craft arrows and improve your axe's damage. All three of these categories can have different stats and bonuses and are handled in a pre-match customisation wheel. These bonuses and stats include better movement speed, increased damage, tracking bonuses and plethora of other quirks which can help you win the game.

Resource gathering is also different from Fortnite's, as you can't just swing your axe at everything in sight for harvesting purposes. Trees and furniture you can harvest are marked with a bluish-white outline and are not a common occurrence, other than the two trees everyone gets to chop at the start of a match. Any resources you gather or items you craft gain a red outline on the spot for all opposing players and they can use it to track you, which will outline you regardless of line of sight or how far you are.

Scavengers StudioA convict is gathering wood in Darwin Project. Chop Chop.Darwin Project - Resource gathering is only possible on outlined objects.

Electronics are a unique resource that can be randomly spawned by the game or spawned in areas chosen by the Show Director. Once you harvest one of these, you can enable skills such as invisibility, invulnerability or teleportation. There are eight skills you can choose from.

Now, as you may have noticed, I have written three paragraphs describing how different Darwin Project is from the standard battle royale games. The only thing the game has in common with other battle royales is the basic premise. It's the standard ''kill all your opponents or outlive them in another manner if you want to win''. 

Scavengers StudioDarwin Project - You can also be a pacifist and just try to outlive everyone else. I finished second here, having dealt only 150 damage, which is equivalent to one arrow hit.Darwin Project - You can also be a pacifist and just try to outlive everyone else. I finished second here, having dealt only 150 damage, which is equivalent to one arrow hit.

Speaking of killing opponents, let's dig into the game's combat. It has somewhat simple basics, since the only two weapons available to you are a bow for ranged combat and the axe for melee. The combat style may not appeal to everyone as it features a weird knockback mechanic, where even a single arrow shot can knock you several meters back. It's even more severe with the axe.

While the game doesn't feature ''87 bazillion guns'' like Borderlands, its combat gets variation out of craftable traps and consumables such as smoke grenades, abilities and different types of arrows. Or at least it would, but at the moment it seems like everyone is just crafting upgrades for their armour.

Scavengers StudioTwo inmates are fighting on snow in Darwin Project, while one of them is being healed by a drone.Darwin Project - You can see the player's equipped traps, abilities and consumables on the bottom of the screen. Bottom right corner shows this player's resources and armour upgrades.

There isn't that much content in the game at the moment, as Duo mode is still in the works, and the game can feel repetitive at times since there is only one humble map available at the time of writing.

Darwin Project is a 10-man showdown. This leads to quicker matchmaking and faster games that usually take 10-15 minutes to finish, and occasionally even less, if the Show Director closes areas off early or manages to bait enough players into fighting with Electronic drops. The currently available map is also a lot smaller than battle royale enthusiasts might be used to.

Scavengers StudioFree float camera from Game Director's perspective in Darwin Project.Darwin Project - Game Director can switch between following a specific player or free float camera.

Darwin Project's 10-people format coupled with its unique crafting and character build system makes the game easy to envision as an esport candidate. Its appeal lies in the fact that no two matches should feel like a similar farm fest due to the crowd being able to influence the map's conditions through the Show Director. That said, the game will need more balancing to become a proper esport but it will likely come in the future.

Speaking of Show Director, this is the feature that will likely make or break the game. When utilised well, a Show Director's powers can make the game more dynamic and provide exhilarating combat twists. On the other hand, they can also decide to hog one player and ruin the game for them. This is supposed to be balanced out by five star rating system, where each of the 10 convicts can rate the Director after a match.

Scavengers StudioShow Director's view in Darwin Project with a preview of their abilities.Darwin Project - The HUD shows the Show Director's ability bar.

Another problem that occurs with the Show Director is that there isn't much incentive to play as one, since you will not be gaining any experience this way. Show Directors have their own experience bar now. This can lead to long queue times if there aren't enough Show Directors around. Streaming integration works well with this role though, as a streamer's followers can vote on how to influence the battlefield and change the passive viewer role they had up until now.

Darwin Project seems to be well optimised, as it features fairly low system requirements and runs smoothly even on rigs that have six year old CPU and GPU components. There are no unnecessary ''features'' that will hog your PC, such as the god rays issues Fallout 4 suffered. The game's stability is at a lower point though, as it still spews out errors that cause it to crash.

Scavengers StudioScreenshot from Darwin Project showing a description of an error that caused the game to crash.Darwin Project - One of the errors that cause the game to crash.

Darwin Project is definitely a promising game but it could also use more content - both gameplay-wise and cosmetic options. Devs are constantly updating it which is definitely a positive trait, but keep in mind the game is still not officially released as Early Access is basically another step between beta and game launch.

It is worth giving the game a shot as the price tag isn't much of an entry barrier since it currently stands at £11.39, €14,99 or $14.99 is now free to play, with paid cosmetics. Regardless of whether you're willing to pay for the game, there is the question of whether it is worth your time. As I mentioned earlier, the game will need more content as its 10 people free-for-all gets repetitive rather quickly. Duo mode is in testing at the moment has been introduced since but it might be worth it to keep an eye on Darwin Project's future updates until you determine the game has enough variety to offer you.