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Throwback Thursday – Darwinia

Throwback Thursday - Darwinia

Throwback Thursday – Darwinia

Introversion Software, a small independent developer from the UK, has taken several old gaming classics and combined them into a new, fresh and highly addictive gaming experience.


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Genre: Action with strong Story and Puzzle elements
Release date: March 2005

Note: This review was first published August 17, 2005

“Invention” is the art of nailing two things together which have never been nailed together before.

Introversion Software, a small independent developer from the UK, has taken several old gaming classics and combined them into a new, fresh and highly addictive gaming experience. 

Imagine taking Warcraft II, Lemmings and Centipede, combining them into a single game, and pouring it into the environment of the original Tron movie. 

Yes, this is an action game. There is running around and shooting, but there are also strong story and puzzle elements along with an amazing virtual world to explore. There is adrenaline, but there are also places to pause, look around and plan your strategy.

So my first suggestion is to be sure you have played the three games I mentioned above (there is a reason why they are classics). If you liked them, then you will like Darwinia.

But let’s get to the game itself. From the website:

“The world of Darwinia is a virtual theme park, running inside a computer network built by a computer genius named Dr Sepulveda. Darwinia is populated by a sentient evolving life form called the Darwinians. They are the product of a decade’s worth of research into genetic algorithms.

“Unfortunately, the systems of Darwinia have been overrun by an evil red Viral Infection. This Virus has multiplied out of control and must be stopped. Your task is to destroy the Viral Infection and save the Darwinians from extinction.”

(Ed Note, 2017: The above was on the site in 2005. In currently says: “The world of Darwinia is a virtual theme park, running entirely inside a computer network and populated by a sentient evolving life form called the Darwinians. Unfortunately Darwinia has been overrun by a computer virus which has multiplied out of control. Your task is to destroy the Viral Infection and save the Darwinians from extinction.”)

The first thing that will strike you about the game is the loading sequence. Several are chosen at random to make it look as though the game is being loaded by a Commodore 64, or an Amiga, or an ancient PC, or whatever. But this is just eye candy. The game actually loads very quickly and you can escape out of the loading at any time.

Then you find yourself floating above a hollow world with a sun in its center. This is the virtual world of Darwinia and that sun is the central database, or Heaven, where the archives of the Darwinians are stored after their programs are terminated. This is a beautiful scene you can explore in full 3D. If you have a wheel mouse (highly recommended) the wheel will raise or lower your viewpoint. As maps go, this is one of the coolest I have ever seen. At first, there is only one place to go — GARDEN — so you click on it.

You enter the land of GARDEN and the Dr. finally notices you. Well, if you’re going to hang around you might as well make yourself useful. This is the world where you start learning the basics. And the first thing you learn is how to control your viewpoint.

Your old friends, the WSAD keys, move you forward, backward, left and right while the mouse turns you side to side and up and down. If you have a wheel on your mouse, it will raise and lower you. There is nothing pressing at the moment, the virus appears to be stable, so spend as much time as you like looking all over the level. You will see the little green Darwinians and the snake-like red viruses. Notice the larger red things that look just like…centipedes. You will also see little buildings with red lights flashing on them. Your job is to get the red out..

The only place you have any control is right by the gate that brought you here. You hold down the key to enter Program Mode and you see a circular area where you can start programs by drawing a figure. This technique will be familiar to anyone who has ever used a Computer Aided Drafting program.

At first, your resources are limited. You can only call up an Engineer or a Squad. And you can only have a few things at a time. So we bring up an Engineer and it starts right off converting the gate from Red to Green. Score one for the Good Guys! That was easy enough. Maybe the Engineer can convert the Viruses as well? No such luck. If a virus touches and Engineer, its program is terminated.

So we call up a Squad. It is that set of three things that look like rough chess pieces. You can move the Squad around by left-clicking where you want it to go. Once it gets close to the viruses, right-clicking causes Squad members to shoot. Just hold that button down while aiming with the mouse. Gee, this game is rather like Centipede, except the bullets go in a straight line and the world is definitely hilly. If a virus touches the Squad, you lose one of the members until all are gone. You can then call up another one.

Once a virus is killed it leaves behind a little red jewel of its DNA. The Engineers can collect these and take them to an Incubator where they will be converted back into Darwinians. But they must be quick. The DNA Souls only hang around for about 30 seconds before floating up and back to Heaven.

This is the basic game play. You look around and decide your strategy. Then send in the Squad to clean up the first infection, shooting all the crawling bits just like in Centipede. Keep the Engineers close behind to collect the Souls for processing into Darwinians. And build up your resources as in Warcraft II. Then herd the Darwinians towards whatever goal you have for that level like so many Lemmings. Take a deep breath, look around, and go after the next group until the level is clear and you have achieved your goals.

While all this is happening, you can keep the Dr. busy upgrading your systems. This will let you put more units into a Squad, run more programs at the same time, get new weapons, etc.

Each level gives you training using the resources you have so far. But the next level always introduces new enemies, new weapons and new things for the little Darwinians to do. So while the pace remains fairly constant, you are always presented with new problems to solve. Namely, how to achieve your goals with the resources you have and what the best way is to deal with the new stuff.

So And you even get a prize for winning the game. Once completed, the Mod Engine is unlocked and you can design your own levels.

If all of this sounds complicated, it is. But it is fed to you a piece at a time and each piece becomes natural by the time you get to the next level. The combination of using keyboard and mouse for multiple actions allows you to do many things. I always had a feeling of control and never felt as though the computer was taking over just to fill in the gaps.

The graphics speak for themselves; never have so many colors been used to portray such low resolution. It was almost like playing Pong with a perfectly round puck (the original Pong game had a puck made from one square pixel). They did an excellent job of keeping the feeling that you were not just on some exotic world, but inside a computer.

The music is good enough to sell on its own soundtrack CD, and the sound effects are good: appropriate and not distracting.

I know that I usually break my reviews up into different categories and analyze each one, giving it its own grade. But not for Darwinia. It is just too tightly integrated. It is a total gaming experience that’s fun, fresh and completely addicting. You will be too caught up in the conquest to care much about the artwork.

So how do I grade this game? Well, it has new ideas that have not been done before. They nailed the user interface and playability. It’s addicting. They made it for PC, MAC and Linux. And they are Independent Developers. Sounds like a solid A to me.

Go to the website.  Download the free demo. If you like it even half as much as I did then you’ll be ordering the whole game in no time.

The [2005] website doesn’t list minimal hardware requirements (Ed Note, 2017: we found some; see below), but it ran fine on my system and they stopped selling my graphics card and CPU years ago. Also, most of the graphical effects can be toned down or turned off to improve performance. So if your system is even close to contemporary, you should be fine. Again, the demo is free and will expose any problems.

Grade: A
New ideas not previously seen in a game
+ Good user interface and playability
The combination of using keyboard and mouse for multiple actions allows you to do many things
 Could be seen as complicated 


System Requirements
MINIMUM Windows:
OS: Windows XP
Processor: 600MHz CPU
Memory: 128 M

Graphics: DX7-based video card 
OS: OS X version Leopard 10.5.8, Snow Leopard 10.6.3, or later
Processor: Intel Core Duo 1.66GHz+
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Graphics: 64MB of video memory
MINIMUM Steam OS + Linux:
Processor: 1/66Ghz
Memory: 1 GB RAM
Graphics: 64 MB memory
Hard Drive: 60 MB 

Bob Washburne

Bob Washburne

I have been playing adventure games since 1979 when I played "Adventure" on the DEC PDP minicomputer at work. The first adventure game I ever purchased was "Zork 1" for CP/M. I can remember the introduction of the IBM PC. I remember the invention of the microcomputer (actually, it was discovered rather than invented). I remember the invention of the minicomputer. Yes, I am an old fart. I have written 80 reviews and articles for JustAdventure starting with my review of "Bioscopia" in February of 2004. I currently own more adventure games than I will ever be able to play, let alone review. And I want more!

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