Byte sized reviews

When you think about the array of XBLA games available for download, hardcore, detailed, real-time strategy probably doesn’t necessarily come to mind. If that’s the case (which it probably is), Darwinia+ isn’t going to change your mind.

Darwinia+, XBLA

When you think about the array of XBLA games available for download, hardcore, detailed, real-time strategy probably doesn’t necessarily come to mind. If that’s the case (which it probably is), Darwinia+ isn’t going to change your mind.

Yeah, it might technically be an RTS, but it’s a very, very simplistic take on the genre. Set in Darwinia, the world’s first digital ecosystem, you’re tasked with the eradication of a computer virus that’s overtaken the simulated land and is threatening the Darwinians, native AI who the world was created for.

In order to stop the virus, which is manifesting itself as insidious spiders, centipedes, egg-laying octopi-type creatures, you have a few different unit types. Primarily you’ll be using your squad of digital soldiers, armed with lasers and grenades (with an ability to call in an air strike later).

On the mechanical side, you have engineers, who can repair Darwinian bases that have been corrupted by the virus (used to create more units), as well as adjust radar dishes (for transport of troops) and open ports to get the machinery of Darwinia working again.

Finally you have the Darwinians themselves, who, much like the eponymous lemmings in Lemmings, have very little intelligence of their own. By appointing a Darwinian as a commanding officer, they can direct the other hapless Darwinians, which are created at unit bases after engineers convert enemy souls into the little guys, to various points on the map.

However, Darwinians are so stupid that they can’t do much more than walk in a straight line, meaning you’re going to have to appoint a lot of COs to a group of Darwinians in order to get them to safe ground.

Also unique to RTS is the fact that you manually control your squad like a dual-stick arcade shooter. This might seem interesting at first, but once you realize how little there is in unit and weapon variation, combat quickly devolves into a tedious slogfest where the most “strategy” is aiming your reticle at hordes of (respawning, even) virus “bugs.”

To make matters worse, your squad moves slowly—almost unbearably so. Traversing the large maps of the game is not only a chore, but thanks to a limited number of sparsely-placed unit bases, if they die in combat, the march to get back to the frontlines can take a maddeningly long time.
You might think that Darwinia+ is neat because of its concept, or its interesting 3-D take on retro aesthetic and architecture. But unless you’re really hard up for an RTS, the snail’s pace of this one makes it hard to recommend.

Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Crime Scene, Nintendo DS

The DS is good for many, many different styles and genres of games of all types, but forensics aren’t necessarily a big selling point for the handheld. However, Crime Scene eschews this thought, offering what’s basically a full-fledged criminal forensics simulator.

The game casts you as a detective just promoted to a forensic investigation team (involving homicide) in a crime-ridden city, and unlike, say, CSI (the TV show, not any game-related tie-ins) it makes you get your hands dirty. Gameplay, more or less set up like a point-and-click adventure, is more or less broken down into three categories: survey, collect and analyze.

When first arriving on a crime scene, your first order of business is to look around, get the information from any police officers on the scene and interview witnesses. Next comes the process of examining the scene.
This is a detailed set of steps involving (this isn’t a full list) photographing evidence (bodies), taking blood or biological samples (like hair), cataloging evidence like murder weapons, bullets and the like, collecting fingerprints and other related activities. These are all handled by a series of stylus-based actions (whose controls can be a little finicky at times), which are then analyzed in the police lab.

After recording everything from a murder scene, it’s time to analyze it in a lab. You’ll need to run ballistics to identify bullet calibers and match their marks with murder weapons, examine fluid samples under a microscope and comb the police database for vital info like filed fingerprints and photographs (again, not an exhaustive list).
As a case evolves, you’ll often learn new information while doing lab work, meaning you’ll have to go back to a crime scene, re-interview witnesses, question suspects and the like (much like real police work, I would imagine). With the game’s stringent attention to detail, Crime Scene seems to be a pretty accurate simulation of the subject matter (albeit a pretty goddamn graphic one—the crime scenes can be gruesome).

With the added educational component of learning how procedural police work is actually carried out, it’s also very interesting, particularly if you’re a fan of old-school point-and-click adventure game design. If you like games with a more deliberate pace and an interesting conceit, Crime Scene comes recommended.

Score: 4 out of 5 stars