Darwin Project is the latest game riding the battle royale wave. It takes its inspiration from The Hunger Games series and turns every match into a game show where the audience can help determine who lives and who dies.
Ten players fight to be the last one standing in a frozen landscape full of lava pits, ghost towns and intricate walkways high up in the trees. In order to survive, you need to find materials and items to keep you warm or defend yourself. Your main weapons consist of an ax and a bow and arrow, so if you're used to the quick-paced methodical nature of other shooters, Darwin Project's combat may take a bit of getting used to. Every encounter with an enemy player can feel like a long slug fest rather than a quick firefight.
What makes Darwin Project unique is the "show director" feature, which enables one player to spectate the match and make decisions that impact the game. A show director can heal players, keep them warm or or nuke zones to push players out into adjacent sections.
Their job is to control the flow of the game and nudge players into one another. Showmanship isn't required, but it certainly heightens the experience. If you've got a decent Mixer or Twitch following, you can stream a match and have the audience decide on things too. Can't choose which player gets a precious electronic drop? Just have your audience pick their favourite.
Combat takes a while to get used to given the floaty movement and axe swing, but when you get the hang of it, you can be a part of some pretty exciting duels.
Some elements of the game could stand to be tweaked a bit; for example, the gravity storm, which literally throws final battles up in the air by lowering the gravity of a zone. Since one lucky shot can send you into a closed zone or outside of the shrinking safe zone, the gravity storm can feel anticlimactic if you've come this far based on skill and planning.
With the show director and audience interactivity, Darwin Project embraces the silly premise of battle royale in a way that makes total sense in the streaming era. I've definitely lost track of time booting up round after round hunting down a victory. It's a welcome twist on a style of game I've grown to love.
Darwin Project is available now for PC and Xbox One in Early Access, and Scavengers Studio says they're aiming for a winter 2018 launch.