I finally finished the last level of Darwinia – it was easier than I feared. The second to last level (Biosphere) was much harder. Darwinia was immense fun to play – the mix of indirect and direct control made for great fun. It reminded me of the original Myth, and Lemmings, and Syndicate – but it combined all three so seamlessly. The retro TRON look is just icing on the cake.
Darwinians flock around mindlessly, but pick up the ability to defend themselves after a few upgrades. Later on in the game you can give them armour and gun turrets, which suddenly turns some of the most annoying enemies into swiss cheese. As new enemies are introduced, they force new tactics on you. Armies of little ants can’t be mowed down by gunfire like the enemies you’ve faced early on. You need to ignore the ants and attack the nests. These changes and shifts in balance make exploring the possibilities interesting. The exploration is so much fun because programs don’t cost anything. If something isn’t working, you cancel the program and try again with a new one.
The 1.3 Patch is vital — the early version used a gesture recognition system like Black-and-White. It’s was an interesting idea, but in practice you want a button to press — the stress of battle is not the time to start cursing the pattern recognizer, plus it’s difficult to remember whether the symbol for “airstrike” started from the top-left or bottom right…
The game is coming to Steam, so go buy it when it’s released there next month.