Well, the game doesn't take itself seriously, so why should I?
...actually, the game takes itself very seriously... without, uh... taking itself... serious?
The game is hard to explain... only it's not.
You see, everything about the game is so simple and cliche, that's it's hard to describe, because it all comes together to create something complex and new. Allow me to try:
The levels look like something right out of "Computer Game World Design For Dummies." Just a giant array of triangles with evenly spaced x & y coordinates, and seemingly random heights. There's no textures to speak of. Just yellow-green lines with black in the middle. It looks like a Linux screen saver.
The units are just... polygons. Shapes with... shapes coming out of them. Some are shaped like people, some are shaped like... not... people...
This is not easy to do. I want to say nothing more than "it looks like a Junior year Computer Science major's homework assignment" and be done with it, but I can't. Well... I guess I could... but I wouldn't be doing the game any justice. You see, Darwinia has taken simplicity, and added layers upon layers of subtle complexity, to further accentuate the simplity. Confusing, I know, but it's really the best anyone could do.
The sprites are intentionally blocky. The characters are intentionally "fuzzed", to make their detial and resolution look even lower than it already is. Everything is designed to look like the game is intended to run on a Commodore64, but there's so much going on behind the scenes, that the Nintendo Wii couldn't hope to support it.
The game turns simple visuals into an art. An art worth staring at for hours on end, as well. The same can be said for the controls, and the overall game experience as well. In the end, the only time I really feel comfortable using the word "simple" when describing Darwinia, is when I say "It's simply a blast to play."
The challenges of each level are never more complex than "escort X number of Darwinians to the the finish", "kill everything", or "capture all points", yet the game somehow never really becomes tedious. The complexity of the terrains keep fresh challenges coming from start to finish, never becoming too simple for the gamer elite, while still never becoming too complex for the casual adventurer.
Despite the goofy graphics and the stereotypical sound effects, the game is mezmerising. The spacey music, evolving storyline, and unique dialog really pull you into this digital world. You find yourself believing in this world inside your computer. You develop a compassion for the self-aware AI beings. You also find yourself staying up past your bedtime.
Darwinia takes the genre of strategy games (like Cannon Fodder or Ground Control), breaks it down to its most basic elements, and polishes it to a mirror shine.
If I were reviewing this game a year ago, I would have said the game was barely worth it's bargain bin price. To a Computer Science major like myself, the game's charm was well worth the $16 I pre-paid for it, but I could tell that most of my friends didn't have the same level of appreication for it that I did, and never really had the patience or desire to see the game through to its ending. Truth be told, to the average gamer, Darwinia was probably only worth about $10, and even then it was a close call.
But now, with the recent release of the new multi-player version of Darwinia, titled "Multiwinia", I have to revise that opinion. You see, what Darwinia lacked more than anything was replay value. Once you beat the game, there was really no point in ever playing again. There was nothing new to obtain, nothing worth upgrading or building up, and no more storyline or new challenges worth spending your time fighting through.
With the introduction of multiplayer, however, Darwinia is without any clear faults. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying the game is perfect, there's just very little to complain about. The game has become a shining example of well-rounded design.
My final verdict on Darwinia/Multiwinia comes down to what you, the buyer, can appreciate in a game. A vast majority of Darwinia's charm relies on the gamer to recognize gaming & programming cliches. If you're still in high school, odds are the game will just come off as plain. If you're into more fast-paced online action like Starcraft or Counter-Strike, Multiwinia my come off as a bit tedious.
I say the next time you find yourself with 30 minutes free, go ahead an download the Darwina demo. If by the end of it you're still able to appreciate its charm, I say get it - it only get's better as you go. However, if you feel like the charm is starting to wear off by the end of the demo, I say go buy World of Goo instead.