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Darwin Project PC review: A battle royale with several twists

Darwin Project
Darwin Project (Image credit: Windows Central)

Darwin Project

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Battle royales are obviously popular, pitting players against each other in huge battles that span massive arenas. The free-to-play Darwin Project, developed by Scavengers Studio, takes what its predecessors have done right, shrinks things down, and twists the formula a bit. The result is a unique spin on the genre more akin to Hunger Games than Fortnite.

There's very little story here; it's just you against the other combatants and the elements — the environment plays a much larger role here than simply providing vantage points or cover. You must also face whatever the Director, a potential eleventh player, throws at you. Available for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One, Darwin Project has a lot going on.

Unique survival twist What I liked

I'll be upfront with you; I don't really like battle royales. However, I found Darwin Project to be mostly fun and engaging, with a good gameplay loop that didn't make the hours draw on too long. The focus on melee combat, crafting, and survival are all a lot to handle at first, but you eventually learn to keep an eye on your surroundings and listen for the very audible sounds of other players.

In Darwin Project, you face off against nine other players. The map has seven zones, which the game closes every couple of minutes to shrink the arena until one remains for sudden death. This system bugged me at first since it can interrupt the gameplay, but after I learned to adapt and hunt other players (versus playing passively), I began to like it. It adds another level of stress and goes to show that you shouldn't always make snap decisions about a game right from the get-go.

The reason we delayed this review to a post-launch timeframe was to give me a chance to actually play the game with other people since the test build we were sent only let me play against bots (due to underpopulation). Once I got into the game proper, however, I rarely had any trouble finding a match. Technical issues on the PC version were non-existent for me on my 2080 Ti (opens in new tab). This game can run on very low-spec machines.

PC requirementsMinimumRecommended
CPUDual core 2.4GHz+Quad core 2.4GHz+
RAM4GB8GB
GPUGTX 760, 660GTX 970, 1060
DirectX1011
Storage6GB6GB

You can select from three classes — jet wings, grapple claw, and headhunter drone — and you're dropped into the wilderness alone and armed with naught but an ax and bow. You'll run through the snow, chopping down little saplings and smashing open glass cylinders filled with valuable Darwinium that you use to craft abilities and upgrades. When your character gets too cold, build a fire and warm up, lest you freeze to death. This is how I spent most of my matches.

Eventually, you'll run into another player, either hunting you or you hunting them. If you've crafted some arrows with your spare wood supply, you'll try picking them off from a distance before engaging in ax-to-ax combat. But your class abilities add some unique flavor to that combat, whether you grapple them with your claw, drop an impenetrable bubble, fly above them, or what have you.

It's in these tense moments where your choices on resource allocation really come into play. Whether you opted for increased ax damage, shorter cooldowns, or those class abilities, you'll find out how good of a player you are. And I really liked that.

Excitement doesn't last What I didn't like

Darwin Project

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Darwin Project comes with the usual free-to-play stuff. Both the microtransactions and loot boxes (called "fan gifts") are limited to cosmetic items, thankfully, and so don't get in the way too much. The max you can spend is $39.99 for 5500 Ramen (the in-game currency).

For one final twist, Darwin Project includes a Director Mode. An eleventh player can survey the entire match and dabble in it to a certain degree. That includes closing zones early, handing out resources to players, and even dropping a nuke on a zone. Getting caught in the latter irked me since you're given less time to escape a zone than you are when it is just closing. As a combatant, I don't like the Director Mode, though it is kind of fun in a sadistic way when you're the Director.

I mentioned that I liked the gameplay, but after a while, it gets quite dull. Whether you win your match or not, you'll be doing the same thing over and over again. Unlike something like Monster Hunter, there isn't any reward beyond a loot box for each level gained, and so it feels repetitive.

Should you play Darwin Project?

Darwin Project

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Since the game costs nothing to play, why not? If you've enjoyed other battle royale games in the past, then Darwin Project might feel like a breath of fresh air. It's a fun time for a few hours here and there. And even if you don't like battle royale games, Darwin Project is worth checking out to see if you like the changes that Scavengers made to the formula.

You'll occasionally see players team up to take down another person who's doing too well. This doesn't happen too often, though. I never got ganked or anything, but I saw it happen to other players a couple of times. Based on the open mic chat in those few instances, it was heavily frowned upon.

Darwin Project really nailed the one-on-one combat.

Darwin Project, in my opinion, really nailed the one-on-one combat. The survival stuff is fine — not my cup of tea, but whatever — but the moments I enjoyed most were when I tracked someone down and fought them head-on. I think that's the experience that's worth highlighting.

You can ignore the microtransactions and loot boxes easily enough, but I'm glad to see Scavengers got the gameplay down. Darwin Project is certainly a worthy addition to the battle royale genre.

Jordan is a long-time gamer and PC hardware enthusiast. From the mid-90s on, he has constantly tinkered with computers and played every game he could get his hands on. Coming from a varied background, he found his passion in writing about Android in 2016, which also launched his writing career not long after. Now, Jordan is an avid gamer who just loves sitting down with tea or a glass of cold water to play whatever game has his attention (or he's reviewing), and he's lucky enough to make a living out of doing so. You can find him on Twitter if you want to chat: @jccpalmer.