The Darwin Project came out of nowhere and snapped up the spotlight at Microsoft’s E3 press conference. It’s the first game from the 12-person development house Scavengers Studio. Combining the best aspects of games like Don’t Starve and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The culminate in a Hunger Games–style battle arena.
Imagine Katniss Everdeen running around Pochinki Hill, chopping down trees like Wilson the Gentleman Scientist. Welcome to The Darwin Project.
Taking place in the Canadian Rockies, The Darwin Project is an asymmetrical combat game. Described as “half science experiment and half live-entertainment.” The game pits players against each other in a contained battlefield, starting on opposite ends of the map. One bow and an axe, no other weapons, ammo, shelter, heat or other survival resources. The debut map is a frozen tundra with rolling hills of snow, frozen lakes and abandoned shacks littered around dense woods.
In this lethal winter wonderland, the first thing players need is wood to start a fire, to avoid freezing to death. Players gather resources by chopping down trees, unlocking crates, and looting tents and abandoned shacks. Then the crafting begins. Create traps, arrows and other gadgets. Light a fire so you don’t die, but be careful, because the enemy can see its flame.
Finding objects that another player has recently messed with reveals clues about their whereabouts. With a beacon of light signaling the location of a special upgrade serves as tasty, neutral bait. As the game progresses, the map shrinks, forcing players into battle.
Players can adopt the role of several heroes with unique abilities in the arena. But the unique spin on the genre arrives in the form of the Show Director mode. The Show Director can observe and control the dynamics of the entire playground from a separate viewpoint.
“The director dashboard contains a suite of tools, unlocked through a progression system, with the potential to influence the outcome of the match,” Microsoft said in a press release issued today. “The show director can choose to give the underdog an unforeseen edge or turn the tables on a particularly bloodthirsty contestant by restricting zones, calling in airstrikes, or even triggering a manhunt — which reveals a player’s position for a few seconds.”
A neat idea to freshen up an already crowded genre. But it’s unclear how the presence of a God-like onlooker might negatively affect balance in The Darwin Project.
The Scavengers crew has been working on The Darwin Project for only about nine months. But the first map already feels polished, and the mechanics make sense. The online multiplayer game will be a welcome addition when it hits Xbox One and PC in early 2018.