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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

Xbox One X
Nintendo Switch
PlayStation 4

Game Profile
GENRE: Strategy
December 14, 2005
Not Rated

 Written by Jason Cisarano  on May 11, 2007

Review: Godfather of their souls...

I hover over a digital landscape composed of blocks and triangles in primary colors. There's an island in front of me, a hill jutting out of a digital sea. The world is lit as if by an internal light, a hazy glow that's almost ghostly. The land is like nothing I have ever seen before?it's as if the hill's architecture is on the outside. It's a mound of triangles, molded to create peaks and valleys. The seas glow, the skies glow. It's all so serene it's hard to believe that this is a world in conflict, a world where the locals are under attack and fighting for control of their very souls.

At the base of the hill a handful of green stick figures mill around, going about their business with more than a hint of having their heads in the clouds. These are the Darwinians, the self-aware and overly curious inhabitants of this electronic land. They were born out of experiments by an engineer named Dr. Sepulveda, a man with too many computers and too much time on his hands. He networked together tens of thousands of computers and used their combined power to build the world he called Darwinia. The first Darwinians were simple programs with simple lives, but true to their name, they evolved. A few decades and thousands of generations later, the have become alive. They can celebrate and mourn, live and die. They build and they communicate. And like the human who created them, they have the gift and curse that is the desire to explore. Not long ago, they found a way out of their world and into Dr. Sepulveda's email account, where they stumbled on the viruses that now infect their world. That's where I come in. Sepulveda has closed the link between Darwinia and the open Internet, and now it's up to me to rid the world of the viral infection.

I can't interact directly with the average Darwinian, but I did get one message from them via their creator: ?Save us.?

Higher up on the slope of the hill is a mass of viruses, embodied as a tangle of snakes, red and menacing. There are so many of them that it's hard to tell them apart as they writhe over each other and blot out the ground beneath them. Some of them venture out from the group, searching. One glides down the side of the hill toward a wandering Darwinian, and I watch helplessly as the red serpent grabs the little green body and shreds it, leaving behind nothing but a diamond-shaped Darwinian soul. I notice other green souls scattered across the hillside, other victims of the viral infection. A few have begun to float up toward the sky and the Darwinian ?Heaven? where they'll await reassignment to a new body.

My Engineer is on the way, though, to collect the souls that haven't yet begun the final journey. Unlike the Darwinians themselves, Engineers are a type of program I can create and control. They're useful for reprogramming some types of virus technology and doing research to help me get upgrades for all my units, but right now this Engineer is gathering as many souls as he can before they're lost to us. He's able to grab three of them, and they trail him as he makes his way to the nearest Incubator. He makes his way there on his own, plotting a direct course over the hill and across a small bay.

Not far from the group of Darwinians is my Control Tower, a multipurpose structure in this world. I'm using this one to load a program: a military squad that will soon stand between the Darwinians and the advancing viruses. The squaddies emerge from the Control Tower one at a time?one, two, three, four, five?and I order them toward the nest of viruses. I started this game with just one Control Tower, but I can see others on other islands. If I can capture them using my Engineer, I gain research points and I also get control over any other building connected to that tower.

If my squad can take the high ground, it will have an advantage over the viruses. It's tough going, though, and the squaddies move much slower over the steeper slopes. They get hung up on an incline that's too steep, and we lose precious time as I order them on a new path. The virus scouts have discovered more of my Darwinians and are feasting to their hearts' content. The basic Darwinians are defenseless, but once I earn enough research points, I can buy upgrades to their programs that give them limited weaponry. Those weapons won't be as effective as the squad's, but at least then they wouldn't suffer the same one-sided massacre that's going on now.

Finally the squad has reached the top of the hill, and the squad has a clear field of fire down on the viruses. They begin their attack with a volley of grenades that roll down the hill right into the center of the viruses' nest, where they're the thickest. A series of white-hot explosions devastates the nest, killing at least half of the viruses. A second volley takes out a few more, but by now the viruses are too scattered for the grenades to have the same effect, so it's become a matter of moving closer and hunting down individual viruses with their laser rifles. The squad moves forward as they blast viruses one by one. Their advance is to fast, too aggressive, though and they quickly find themselves flanked by viruses on two sides. The viruses whip in to attack, and the squaddies can't fire fast enough to keep them at bay. One, two, three of them are carried off almost as fast as they were created. I've loaded another squad, though, and the second group arrives on the scene just in time to mop up the remaining viruses.

Meanwhile, the Engineer has arrived at the Incubator and transferred over his three souls. Soon, there are three new Darwinians milling around the Incubator, looking for something to do. I grab one, promote him to officer, and have him order the other Darwinians to the where the first group is congregated. He'll stay there and continue giving the GOTO command, so any Darwinians out of that Incubator will automatically join the main group.

The viruses have souls, just like the Darwinians, and the red diamonds are strewn across the battlefield. My Engineer moves out to harvest them before they drift away. He works quietly and efficiently, but he can't possibly collect all the souls in time, so I end one of the squad programs, the one with only two members remaining, and replace it with another instance of Engineer. Together, the two units collect fifteen or more souls and convert them to friendly Darwinians. One by one, little green figures leave the Incubator, see the Officer and follow his order to trudge over to the main group.

For the first time, I survey the rest of the landscape around this one small island. There are several other islands, each with its structures and virus nests. Solar Panels dot some of the slopes, and I realize it's time to start thinking about larger goals. I need to man these stations with Darwinians in order to start generating power that will get routed to the central generator. It's one of the first steps toward rebuilding the infrastructure destroyed by the Virus Invasion.

I have to move my squads and Darwinians to the next island in order to accomplish this goal. On the back of this island, beyond the destroyed virus nest, is a Radar Dish and Control Tower. Not far away, a corresponding dish and tower stand on the coast of a nearby island. Once my Engineers have collected all the virus souls they can, I order them to reprogram the two Control Towers. By their work, I get control of the Radar Dishes. Once I've gained a toehold on the next island, I'll align the dishes and use it to transport Darwinians to man the Solar Panels.

First, though, there's fighting to do. I can see a nest of viruses on the next island. I can also see a Spider bouncing across the hillside. The Spiders are to be feared: they are immune to the squaddies' laser rifles and can quickly pounce on a group, wreak havoc, and bound away before the squad has the chance to react. Spiders lay eggs that, when fertilized with Darwinian souls, produce massive numbers of viruses. I'll need plenty of healthy squads to take on these new viruses and spiders, so once the Engineers have finished their work, I end their programs and create new squads using the newly-captured Control Tower on the second island.

I assemble the squads for their advance on the nearest virus nexus, but there is no clear best path where they can quickly take the high ground. Several of these squads will be destroyed and rebuilt before the island is safe for the fragile green Darwinians. I glance up a the blocky clouds that hang low in the Darwinian sky. Beyond them is the Darwinian Heaven, the central repository for souls both Darwinian and viral. This is the ultimate nature of the fight in on these islands, these hills outlined by networks of triangles and clothed in pixels. The AI has life, the AI has a soul, but it's a soul that can be bent to two opposing goals. The Darwinians were here first, they are the pets of their Creator, and He wants to return their world to the idyll he created. The viruses want a part of that world, too, and are willing to steal innocent souls to get it. The Darwinians are caught somewhere in between, fodder for viruses and labor for a world they didn't create.

Bottom Line
There's so much to recommend about this game, it's hard to know where to start. It's graphics are unconventional and don't play the max polycount/photorealism game, but they're truly beautiful. The play is very RTS, but the addition of the Darwinian souls in need of protection adds an exciting play mechanic and makes for a stronger connection between the player and the world. The electronic soundtrack by Trash 80 and Dma-Sc is nothing short of brilliant in its evocation of the retro feel of a world built in 8 bits. It's a whole lot of fun to build the units, beef them up and send them out into the world to protect the Darwinians. If there's one criticism that has to be leveled at the game, it's that it's somewhat limited in size and scope. There aren't too many different unit types, so you'll have seen most of them early in the game. This also means that some of the play might feel repetitive as you employ the same units and tactics on different maps. A few minor quibbles that shouldn't stop anyone who's thinking about traveling to Darwinia.

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