The Battle Royale genre didn't slowly expand onto the scene. It exploded thanks to the success of Player Unknown's Battlegrounds and Fortnite: Battle Royale. Both games have been atop the Twitch most-watched list and feature concurrent player counts in the millions. The two juggernauts have also recently released mobile versions, ensuring that no matter where you are, you're never far away from your next battle royale. Though the two games certainly have their fair share of similarities, PUBG has a more simulated combat aspect to set it apart from Fortnite's arcadey, crafting fun.
Taking these kinds of massively popular games into account, you've got to have a special hook to attract new players if you're going to stand out in this emerging genre. Fortunately, Scavengers Studio has just the thing that could help its title, The Darwin Project, stand out from these titans.
Rather than relying on the massive 100-person conflicts of PUBG or Fortnite, Darwin Project takes a more intimate approach. Just 10 different players battle for dominance in the game's post-apocalyptic Canadian wilds. All crimes in this dystopia are punishable by entrance into the "Darwin Project," an arena wherein opponents aren't just fighting for their lives, they're also fighting for fame and freedom. Combining elements of The Hunger Games and The Running Man, along with the more limited amount of entrants, gives the game a more personal feeling. But that's not what makes The Darwin Project special.
Where The Darwin Project draws its line in the Battle Royale sand is with the Director. The 10 people duking it out in the frigid arena are always joined by an all-powerful host, who guides the action with a simple press of a button. Okay, the Director isn't all-powerful; they're limited in scope to select amounts of power the developers have granted, but those powers can make every single moment of a match that much more interesting.
Weaponry is limited to an axe (or shovel) and a bow with some arrows, keeping everyone on a relatively even playing field. Not that battles in Darwin Project aren't entertaining — these limitations actually help make every face-off tense, as no one player ever gets an overpowered advantage. Special electronic weapons can be hunted down in the arena, bolstering any inventory with a shield or a turret, but the fights here are designed to be more even than in other games.
There are no guns. There are no grenades. It's just you, your wits, and sometimes the Director's whims.
Flying around the arena to observe all the contenders is easy enough on either PC or Xbox One, but finding the right angles and fights to focus on is where good directing truly begins. Cutting your teeth learning how to navigate between people lumbering around and trying to stay away from the fray, and those looking to cause as much punishment as possible is tantamount to putting on a good show for when streaming as the Director on Twitch or Mixer. Not everyone occupying the role of the observant host will be streaming, but those moments offline can be used to get a grasp on the right time to break out Low Gravity (never during the final fight) or when to hit someone with a bonus bit of health.
The Director has great influence on a given battle royale when the role is executed properly, and that alone makes it a dynamic role in the scheme of the game. Players may not be able to chat with one another in-game, but the Director can chat with anyone and everyone involved to taunt or commentate on what's happening. As the host, you can even set in-game stakes to earn something like a limited invincibility buff. To make matters more interesting, streamers playing in this role can also invite their viewers to take part in any decisions made with regard to the use of powers.
As much as Fortnite and PUBG dominate the charts on those platforms, they don't offer this kind of impact for fans and viewers interacting with the stream. Additionally, it's not just the people tuned into Director streams that have a say in what could potentially happen in a match. Anyone watching a stream of a contestant in the match can take part in the Director's votes, giving up to 11 different channels a chance to take part with the "Darwin Project," even if they aren't actively playing.
It's that kind of social integration that makes the game more than just another battle royale. Though fans can't quite send their tributes special items in the arena as we saw in the Hunger Games, streamers can rally their viewers to vote in their favors. The same can be said for players who have been eliminated but are still streaming the rest of the match. There's no better way to get revenge from beyond the grave than by inspiring your fans to actively vote for a "Manhunt" against the player that offed you. Ultimately though, everything that happens in the arena has the Director's touch all over it, making them the person you least want to offend.
The Battle Royale genre is only going to get more crowded as the successes of PUBG and Fortnite continue. Though The Darwin Project is still just in Early Access on Steam (and in Game Preview on Xbox One), it's already gotten a swell of support thanks to unique elements like the Director role. As the game evolves and adds more features (like the new Duos, where two-player teams compete), so too will Directors have to adjust their skills in covering the action. Every addition Scavengers makes elevates not just the core game, but the viewing experience, too. That kind of forward thinking should keep The Darwin Project part of the Battle Royale conversation well into the future.