The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful, as long as you don’t attract other inmates with arrows and axes vying for your gear. This weekend was the Alpha Test of Darwin Project, an arena survival game by Scavengers Studios. Darwin Project is a peculiar survival title. The premise of the game is, with an impending ice age coming, an experiment turned entertainment enterprise drops “inmates” into harsh conditions to try and survive against both the environment and other players.
As this was only an alpha test, the character creation was touched on but lacking, with only a few options to choose from on the cartoony models that are preselected. I actually liked the visuals of the game. While it isn’t cutting edge, the models were colorful and interesting to the point where I expect in the live game there will be dozens of alluring options for players that put in the time to achieve them.
The gameplay, however, left a little to be desired for me. Gathering was quick and easy, although there were few different available items to gather, it doesn’t seem like there is much necessity for more than a few sources of wood and leather. There are quite a few crafting options available from necessities like building a fire, to items that will help you in combat such as sharpening your axe or crafting armor. You also have the option to craft traps and skills. At one point I was able to craft a camouflage skill which allowed me to go stealth for a period of time, and afterwards it would go on a 60 second cooldown. The skills and the crafting seemed fine, although I don’t think I’ve ever had a trap work successfully, but where I wasn’t enamored with the game was in the clunky combat.
While I was able to get a few shots off with my bow, I found it extremely hard to wield my axe for combat. Swing times felt off between when I clicked and when the swing would actually be performed making it tough to time attacks. Granted I only played a handful of games due to the length of each match and how long queuing in the lobby could take, the one and done nature of survival games doesn’t lend itself to practicing for extended periods in short arena matches. Couple that with large multi-tiered arenas where at times I would run around for several minutes without seeing another person, the actual action portions of the game were infrequent to say the least. In Darwin Projects defense, they do this to give players ample time to stock up on materials and craft what they feel they need, and slowly close off the zones of the map to bring players together as the match progresses. They’ve also given you a way to “track” players by finding trees they’ve cut down along their path which is a great way to get a jump on unsuspecting players.
For an Alpha Test this is one of the more successful alphas I’ve seen for an arena game. The bugs were low, it was largely playable, and despite combat sorely needed refinement, it achieves a good mix of ephemerality and adventitiousness that will appeal to most action survival fans. Will Scavengers Studios distill my fears on the combat in further tests? Only time will tell.