The battle royale genre is known for its big and brash last-man-standing battles. The most successful examples have around a hundred players roaming large scale maps, whether alone or in teams, fighting to be the last using whatever unique hooks that particular game has. But what if all of that was pared back a bit? What if there were just 10 players in a match in a smaller, more compact arena? That’s where Darwin Project comes in.
Developed by Scavengers Studio, Darwin Project seems to be inspired more by the Hunger Games and Battle Royale films that inspired the genre, as opposed to other battle royale games. The ten player limit isn’t the only way Darwin Project tries to be different; the environment plays a bigger role here with the cold being an extra factor that players need to worry about. Keeping warm is a must if you’re going to survive.
When matches start, players are armed with an axe and a tool determined by your chosen class, which grants either jet wings, a grapple gauntlet, or headhunter drone. As you’d expect, jet wings let you fly for a bit, the grapple gauntlet can grab onto surfaces to propel you towards them, while the headhunter drone can be used to mark things targets or scavenge resources for you from a distance. As resources are required to craft items such as arrows for your bow or class-specific equipment, my personal choice was the headhunter drone.
Gameplay is similar to what you may expect in other battle royale games, though you won’t find any additional weapons in the field. Loot boxes contain traps like cages and tripwires that can ensnare opponents, while class bonuses can include a radar to find nearby enemies or a turret to offer an additional offensive tactic. Other than that you’re armed with your axe and bow to fight enemies.
Crafting is simple enough. In the arena, there are trees to cut down for wood and caches of Darwinium to craft equipment. The wood is used to craft items such as arrows and shields, but is also required to create fires and keep warm. As you move around your character becomes colder and if you don’t build a fire and warm up you will freeze to death. Fires are a blessing and a curse, because while they replenish your cold meter, the smoke acts as a signal to other players who are hunting for you.
Tracking other players is well implemented. Aside from the smoke in the environment you can use the stumps of trees or discarded crafting materials as clues to where opponents have been. Scanning these clues will briefly highlight where that person is in the world, but it doesn’t last long and they could be long gone in a completely different zone.
The arena is split into different zones that can be closed off at any time. Closing the zone makes the map smaller, and the way it does this in pockets is a big differentiator to other games. Naturally if you’re in a safe zone, you won’t have to worry, but anyone in a closing zone will have to dash for safety. The longer the match goes on the more zones close until it’s sudden death. At this point only one zone is open and its area shrinks rapidly, forcing all survivors into the middle to fight for victory.
Darwin Project adds another twist with the Director mode. An eleventh player in the game can look down on the action, controlling it to a certain extent and giving commentary on events. Directors are equipped with action cards which use up action points to do things like shut down zones, give a player resources, call in Darwinium drops or, if you’re feeling particularly dastardly, drop a nuke in a zone. Players have a little bit of time to escape, but if they’re caught in the explosion then it is instant death.
You’ll have to wait to try it out though, as Director mode is only available once you hit level 5 in any one of the classes. Levelling up also grants players fan gifts which are Darwin Project’s version of cosmetic loot boxes. You can customise most things including the looks of your axe, bow, cloak, clothing, and character design. None of the clothing items as far as I could see offered any additional bonuses for character stats.
It’s early days in the full launch of Darwin Project but the community on PS4 comes across well for the most part. While the game only has a solo option, you do see players teaming up sometimes. For example, in one match there were four of us left. I managed to spot the other three camped together around a fire. Of course, I deployed a drone and starting firing some arrows down only for the three to run off together and spend time hunting me down. Needless to say, I lost, and teaming is frowned up at best in solo queues.
We also had some issues at the game’s launch like freezes and connectivity issues, which can hopefully be put down to early teething problems.