Though it’s a ways out, the base-level pitch of The Darwin Project shows that the game has the potential to be something really cool and really special. The first game by Scavengers Studios, composed of folks who’ve been making AAA and indie games for quite a while, Darwin takes a survival core of something like Rust or Don’t Starve, adds in asymmetrical competitive multiplayer, mixes it with the themes of the fiction of Battle Royale and Hunger Games, and then tosses all of it on its head with the introduction of ostensibly a Dungeon Master, as well as audience participation.
Yep, I agree, all of that sounds cool.
The game takes place in the Northern Canadian Rockies in a world on the verge of an impending ice age. From this, a science experiment/reality TV series is formed that tosses inmates in the frozen tundra, gives them a slim chance at freedom, and is ultimately there to to see how long they can survive both the elements, and each other. Most players assume the role of one of the seven inmates in a match, and have to spend their time gathering resources, managing things like warmth and hunger, and ultimately planning for how they’re going to kill their opponents once they run across them on the play field. Weapons and traps play a big role, and this is all presented form a third-person perspective with visuals similar to the aesthetic of something like Overwatch.
While the main players are running around the map salvaging scraps in order to stay alive, paranoid that the next person who knocks on their door is there to kill them, the camera zooms out quite a bit from there. First, there’s an organizer of the game who acts as a D&D DM that has some control over the narrative beats of any given match. We don’t have concrete details yet, but this was feature that showed a lot of potential in games like Fable Legends, so I’m stoked to see it make a comeback.
The second thing that really excites me about The Darwin Project is its integration with folks viewing a game in-progress. Twitch and YouTube streaming have become ubiquitous in the past few years with hardcore gamers, and Darwin is leaning heavily into that in some really intriguing ways. The idea that folks watching an intense match of Darwin are almost existing inside the fiction of the world, and in turn, participating int he match, is super cool. Again, like the game organizer, Scavengers is currently keeping the specifics of this role close to the vest. But given things like The Hunger Games, the idea of the audience providing perks to fan-favorite players, tossing in new weapons and items into the play field, or straight-up manipulating the rules of the game add a new layer of immersion that could be really cool.
“We wanted to create a game that heightened the tension and engaged players – and the spectators, in a new way,” said Simon Darveau, co-founder of Scavengers Studios. “Our unique gameplay dynamic and addition of a Show Director mode results in a battle royale game closer to the Hunger Games fantasy than ever before. With the Show Director and audience influencing the outcome, it goes well beyond what’s possible with AI alone.”
The Darwin Project will launch later this fall on Steam Greenlight, and we’ll have more on it later this week once we get a chance to go hands-on with it at PAX East 2017.
Marty Sliva is a Senior Editor at IGN. A girl he was dating once stepped on his PlayStation 4, and now he no longer owns PT. But don’t worry, they broke up. Follow him on Twitter @McBiggitty.