The Coolest Games of PAX East

The Boston-based fan event plays host to one of the most impressive lineups of indie games in the world

Scavengers Studio

The Darwin Project

There was a moment during my time with The Darwin Project where I felt truly, uniquely fucked. Stranded in a frozen wasteland, body temperature dropping precipitously, a trail of blood in the snow making me an easy mark for the guy who stuck an arrow in my side a few moments ago – the best I could do was build a makeshift fire and hold my own in a dilapidated cabin. It was terrifying. It was thrilling.

The Darwin Project is the first game from Scavengers Studio, a sort of supergroup of ex-Triple A guys from the potent Montreal games scene (home to big studios like EA and Ubisoft). The genre term they’re using to describe the game is “battle royale,” a reference to the infamous Japanese film of the same name in which teens fight to be the last kid standing. More broadly, it’s a competitive adaptation of The Hunger Games (a comparison the studio happily embraces.) You all spawn in different corners of an icy, dystopian wilderness with an axe and a bow. You harvest leather, cut down trees, and do your best to stay warm… all the while hunting each other down. The last person alive wins the round.

So, it’s similar to zombie survival stuff like DayZ and H1Z1, but with a delightfully primitive bent. You are not pulling assault rifles off of corpses, instead you’re firing (and missing) all three arrows in your backpack and running for your life. There’s a machiavellian, player-controlled director at the heart of the drama who can do things like shut down certain sectors of the map or put a spotlight on a player who’s turtling. This happened to me, when the guy behind the control panel didn’t like how long I was spending in my cabin.

This works really well thematically, because every post-apocalyptic deathmatch needs an unfair villain running the show, but it also encourages players to interact with the mechanics. Nothing ruins a game of DayZ quicker than someone trying to break the game. A neutral authority who can punish any weaseling seems like a pretty elegant solution.