While evolution was already an observable phenomenon long before Charles Darwin began his studies on the subject, the scientist was the first to develop a coherent theory to explain how life adapts and keeps surviving through the ages. While Darwin’s theory of evolution has its flaws, 163 years after the original publishing of On the Origin of Species, we are still using his work as an outline for contemporary research. It’s no wonder, then, that Darwin Day, February 12th – the scientist’s birthday – became a yearly celebration of the power of the human mind to understand the world around it.
While the scientific community once disputed the concept of evolution, the phenomenon now is part of everyday life. And evolution became so popular that even video games started to take it as inspiration for specific mechanics. Yes, most games are entirely wrong about their depictions of evolution. But that doesn’t make them any less fun! So, to celebrate this year’s Darwin Day, we are putting together a list of five games that revolve around the concept of evolution. Let’s celebrate the popularity of an impactful scientist by playing games that completely missed the point of his research!
Maneater puts you in control of a baby shark that needs to eat, grow and get new abilities, while it explores an open world filled with tasty humans to seek revenge against the shark hunter who killed your family. It’s a wacky concept, for sure, but a fun one, allowing the player to find new and gruesome ways to devour every unlucky swimmer on their way. At the core of the Maneater’s progression system is an upgrade tree inspired by the concept of evolution and mutations. By controlling your shark’s mutations, players can turn it into the ultimate alpha-predator, allowing it to survive longer outside water and even giving the shark the ability to produce electricity. No need to wait for generations to see the result of natural selection, Maneater will deliver you new mutations with a click of a button.
Available on: Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and Microsoft Windows
Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey
Taking Darwin’s teachings more seriously than other games, Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey gives players the goal to make their primate clan survive for millions of years. While the core gameplay is based on survival mechanics, with players controlling a primate to explore the world around them, there’s no unique player character in Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey. Instead, players can take control of different members of a primate clan while they try to gather food and survivors deadly encounters with predators. As time goes by, new generations of the clan are born, each featuring new mutations that could grant them some advantage against the harsh environment. So, by playing Ancestors: The Humankind Odyssey, you can watch as small changes can add up, turning your primates into whole new species in thousands and even millions of years.
Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Spore gives players God-like powers when controlling microscopic species’ evolution until it becomes complex enough to create civilizations and conquer the universe. Instead of leaving things to luck, as nature does, in Spore, players can choose which mutations their creatures will inherit, defining the evolutionary path that will ensure their survival. Since there are so many choices to make, it is possible to replay Spore and end up with a whole different civilization at the end. While the game doesn’t reflect the randomness of evolution, it’s still an exciting God-simulator that allows the player to see how small changes in a unicellular organism can lead to beings who are able to walk, talk, and build spaceships.
Available on: Mac OS, Microsoft Windows
Self-defined as a “reverse-horror game”, Carrion puts you in control of a creature escaping a secret lab and killing every human in your way. Instead of containing a biological trap, you are the result of an experiment gone wrong. To survive the guards who try desperately to stop it, the shapeless creature you control needs to ingest flesh and grow larger, while also evolving and learning new tricks. The creature can mutate and gain new abilities by absorbing DNA material, such as infecting humans and turning invisible. So, by learning to adapt to the environment around itself, the creature becomes more lethal, and players gain access to new areas they can explore while looking for more biological material to consume. It’s a unique kind of horror game that shows how lucky we are that natural evolution works at a slower pace.
Available on: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac OS, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Nintendo Switch
Pokémon (the entire franchise)
The franchise that comes to everyone’s mind when discussing evolution-themed games is, without question, Pokémon. In more than 25 years, dozens of Pokémon games flooded the market with cute creatures you can capture, train, and evolve into more powerful species. While Pokémon’s evolution system ignores the real-life rules of the process, the franchise has already developed many different ways to turn creatures into new species. While leveling up Pokémon is still the primary tool at trainers disposals, some creatures will only evolve when touching a specific item, reaching a certain level of happiness, or getting traded with another player. More recent generations of games also add learning specific moves or standing on particular locations to the mix of different ways to evolve Pokémon, adding a puzzle layer to the training of your creatures.
Since Pokémon is the world’s biggest (and most profitable) game franchise, everybody knows it and even understands how basic evolution works in the games (and anime, manga, movies, trading cards…). While a far cry from natural evolution, Pokémon shows how the concept became so popular that even major games can be inspired by it.
Available on: Every Nintendo console
Evolve (Honorable Mention)
The reason why Evolve is not on the official recommendation list is that the game is no longer playable. While you can still play Evolve if you bought the game, official servers were shut down in 2018, making it harder to play the game with your friends. And since Evolve was a multiplayer-only experience, there’s no longer a legal and straightforward way to play it. However, Evolve’s core concept is so great that it deserves to be remembered.
In this asymmetrical competitive game, a group of four human players must hunt down a creature. A fifth player controls the creature, trying to avoid the hunters while feeding, growing, and getting new abilities. So, while the hunters’ goal is to kill the creature as fast as possible, the player who controls the creature must avoid conflict until they evolve enough to take down the hunters. Unfortunately, Evolve was so badly balanced and so filled with microtransactions that the game became a complete failure. The core evolution concept is excellent, though, and we can only hope other developers will give it another try in the future.
One for each of the Nine Realms.
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