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Publisher: Ambrosia Software    Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: 10.2.8    CPU: G4

March 31, 2005 | Mark Sabbatini

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The Darwinians are Lemming-like stick figures in need of rescuing and guidance
In an exquisite world populated by retro electronics, imagine saving the good guys with an Apple Newton.

Wiping out the nastiest viruses this side of Windows XP and saving a tribe of virtual stick people is the mission in Darwinia, a real-time strategy game with a unique interface. Players literally draw battle plans using a series of mouse-driven gestures, similar to Graffiti on Palm Pilots.

It's clever, but perhaps too much so. Like many aspects of the game, mouse gestures are reasonably well executed, but quirky and likely to be more annoying than innovative for some players. Darwinia's strengths easily outweigh its shortcomings, however, and the game is likely to develop a more devoted fan base than the average title, thus extending the life-span of its relatively short quest. Darwinia's hitches are also likely to keep it from becoming a mainstream classic, though.

Darwinia's best attributes are an innovative world and story-line featuring characters, sounds, and other elements from classic video games such as Space Invaders, Centipede and Tetris. It may not be the genre-breaking or genre-defining title its most ardent supporters claim, but it is a vastly different use of existing game elements. Players also control relatively few units compared to most strategy games, a sure way to become more attached and devoted to them.

The biggest problems are 1) the gesturing system doesn't always work properly, especially during intense battles when troops are most needed and 2) too many basic tasks are unnecessarily time-consuming and complex. Units don't always go where directed or do what they're told and at times display stupidity that might revive the wrong type of gaming memories, such as dwarves prone to committing friendly-fire casualties in the first Myth.

Darwinia comes from the three-man, British-based Introversion Software (slogan: "The Last Of The Bedroom Programmers"), with Ambrosia Software porting the title to the Macintosh almost simultaneously with the Windows release. Those familiar with Introversion's first title Uplink (also an Ambrosia port), will know Introversion has a thing for virtual worlds, as that simulation game requires players to assume the role of a computer hacker to complete their quest. Darwinia is more ambitious in most of its visual, audio and gameplay aspects, although fans of each game might debate at length which has the more original plot.

The story of Darwinia, in brief, involves a virus taking over a digital universe on a computer network created by a Dr. Sepuvleda. The doctor's system thrived on the Darwinian concept of the strong surviving, but things are now out of control. Players, under Sepuvleda's constant on-screen guidance, are responsible for clearing viruses that, for now, are confined to series of digital islands. Those wanting to immerse themselves with background material about this universe can find a fair amount of pseudo-academia in the instructions and online. But ultimately this is a tale of brawn over brains, as your "programs" will use lasers, grenades, and airstrikes to wipe out viruses.


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