Microsoft demonstrated The Darwin Project with an extended trailer at its E3 2017 conference, detailing the game's Battle Royale-style gameplay, complete with influences from The Running Man and The Hunger Games.
What really caught my eye about The Darwin Project is its planned integration with Mixer, which will allow viewers of the game on Microsoft's streaming service to potentially interfere directly with matches they're watching.
During my hands-on session, I discovered a game that is already steeped with polish and great mechanics, despite only being in development for around nine months. This is one ID@Xbox game worth keeping your eye on. Here's why.
A dash of Hunger Games and a hint of Running Man
The Darwin Project is essentially a third-person competitive action game, taking place in large arenas. For my demo, I found myself deep in a snowy forest wilderness, complete with deer to hunt, trees to cut down, and abandoned shacks to plunder.
The Darwin Project takes place in the far north of Canada, in an apocalyptic world where society has broken down. In among the chaos, "The Darwin Project" emerges, aiming to examine the remaining humans' ability to survive the harsh wintry conditions while also serving as a twisted sort of live entertainment for those in charge.
It's every human for themselves in The Darwin Project, as players must fight to be the last man or woman standing in a violent game that both looks and feels incredibly promising.
A pile of Darwinism
The game's title refers to Charles Darwin, whose work on evolutionary theory changed the way we look at nature forever. The Darwin Project is all about survival of the fittest, but also the most cunning, and the luckiest. I called upon all of these gameplay aspects to win my match at E3 2017.
Starting out, you'll essentially have nothing besides an ax, which serves as both a makeshift weapon and an essential wood-cutting tool. The Darwin Project is as much about violence as it is about crafting, and the best players will be the ones who build up their arsenals as fast as possible.
After cutting down a few trees, I was ready to fashion a bow. Feeling like Katniss from The Hunger Games, I began stalking the trees, hunting deer for leather to craft better armor, while listening to the carnage from other players murdering each other echo in the distance.
I was impressed with how tight The Darwin Project's controls felt at this early, pre-release stage. Considering the game hasn't even completed its first year in development, it's a credit to Scavenger Studio at just how great the game already feels.
The Darwin Project's arena is divided up into large hexagons, which over time become inhospitable zones. This is how the game forces players into closer quarters, preventing combatants from simply hiding in the forest and waiting out the whole match.
As the play area became smaller, I discovered a large beacon shining in an abandoned shack. Inside, I found some electronics, which serve as super powerups, giving you a game-changing edge. I used the electronics to unlock Predator-like heat vision, allowing me to detect other players through walls for a brief stint. Amelie Lamarche, cofounder of Scavengers Studio, informed me that balance was on-going for some of these abilities and could change, effectively hinting that this heat vision-style ability had been deemed overpowered.
Indeed, I was able to use the heat vision to find and dispatch a wounded player using my bow and arrow while they stood around attempting to craft armor. I also used it to escape a second player who was creeping through the forest.
The Darwin Project has dynamic snow, too. You can sink into loose snow quite easily, not only leaving huge tracks and informing players of your presence but also slowing you down. I was lucky that the enemy player decided to flee, because she had far better armor than me and probably would've spilled my blood all over the snow.
With only one segment of the map left, I found myself among the final two surviving players. Luck shined on me once again as I managed to loot another electronic, giving me stealth camouflage, again like Predator.
I set up a spike trap, turned on heat vision, and sat in the snow, invisible as my enemy came around the corner. She stepped right into the trap and fell beneath a heavy swing of my fire ax. Victory was mine!
Sure, I exploited some admittedly overpowered features, but the concept behind The Darwin Project is sound. These types of games are becoming increasingly popular. The Darwin Project will have to compete with the likes of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and The Culling when it launches in the spring of 2018, and it'll be interesting to see how Scavenger Games differentiates itself from the competition.
One way The Darwin Project will attempt to stand out from the crowd is with spectator participation. A single player in a Darwin Project match will be able to inject all sorts of hazards into the game, including air strikes, zone closures, and they can even reveal players' locations to other combatants. Additionally, spectators on Mixer streams will be able to interfere during matches, leveraging Mixer's interactive API for developers.
One to watch
The Darwin Project is certainly a game that's worth watching, and it exemplifies ID@Xbox's commitment to having a diverse lineup of independent games on the Xbox platform.
The Darwin Project is expected to hit Xbox One and Windows 10 as a Play Anywhere title in spring 2018.
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Jez Corden a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!