Darwin Project is (also) the best 100 bucks you’ll spend this year

I know, I get it – if you hear about another Battle Royale game you’re going to live in the woods with nothing but a sharpened spoon.

Hear me out though, because Darwin Project is something a little special. An indie studio has managed to create something that feels fresh, interesting and, dare I say, more intimate than your standard “jump out of a plane and beat people to death with cookware” fare.

Don’t turn back yet – this may (also) be the best 100 bucks you spend this year.

Darwin Project is, at its core, relatively simple. Each player has an axe and a bow, and they run around crafting tools and supplies while trying to survive. It’s more a pure Hunger Games-esque experience, and rather uniquely only has 10 players per game.

On top of this tried-and-true formula, however, are some interesting wrinkles. One player takes on the role of show director – their sole job to make the game as interesting as possible for an imagined (or real) audience.

They’re a god of sorts – able to heal injured players, close off sections of the map, spawn powerful crafting materials and even drop a nuke on a single area. They can also communicate with you, and the better ones will even commentate the game.

Players can rate show directors after each game to keep the trolls out, and for the most part the system works well. You may not always agree with a show director’s decision, but they’re not omnipotent and it can be difficult for them to outright ruin a game.

Essentially they’re trying to force action all the time, funneling players towards each other or creating points of contention. They may even get on the mic and notify you that an enemy is just ahead – but you can be sure they’ll be telling that enemy the same thing.

The Show Director is always watching.

There’s also integration with Twitch into the game itself, players watching a stream can vote on things that will affect what happens. The show director can call a vote on which zones to close, who the crowd favourite is and even who to call a manhunt on – which reveals that player for everyone on the map and offers a reward for their death. Of course, should the hunted player survive, the reward is theirs.

Interaction is the name of the game, and fights are constantly encouraged. Players leave footprints behind. Any tools crafted or resources harvested can be tracked by other players, revealing your location for 15 seconds. There are even cabins dotted around the battleground that have a live map inside, showing every player’s location.

While this wouldn’t work at all in something like PUBG, where you can get picked off in seconds by an unseen enemy, it’s great in Darwin because fights are always somewhat prolonged. You’ll need to land about 4-5 arrows/axe hits to take someone down, which means even if you get taken totally by surprise, you’ll have plenty of health to fight back with.

The combat system is beautifully elegant. While it’s just arrows and axes, it feels incredibly nuanced in terms of your timing, movement and aim. Every hit is superbly satisfying, and besting someone in an axe exchange requires some clever stepping in and out.

It seems simple, but fighting against someone who vastly outmatches you in skill feels like a one-sided affair, and will be a nasty lesson in just how deep the combat really is.

Let’s get to the meat and potatoes here, though – the game costs 100 bucks. In spite of being Early Access, its very polished, and the low player count ensures everything runs smoothly (unlike the troubles PUBG has had). You can play it solo or with a friend.

It’s unique, it’s an indie studio, and it’s a fresh take on a hot genre. I know I’m punting this pretty hard here, but I’ve had a ton of fun with this game. If you like competitive multiplayer stuff in general, I think this game is definitely worth your R100 investment.

Steam, developed by Valve Corporation, is a digital distribution platform for games
Steam’s Popular Upcoming list exploited by delinquent devs