This article originally appeared in Dev.Mag Issue 27, released in November 2008.
Anybody who’s played Introversion’s seminal strategy/action game Darwinia will know the joys of having thousands of little flat men marching across the map in a long green column, leaving the glittering red digital souls of dead virii in their wake. It probably occurred to you that two or more such armies colliding would make for one epic battle. Well, it seems that Introversion agrees with you on that one, because (as our preview two issues ago revealed) they’ve been hard at work on Multiwinia, a brand new stand-alone multiplayer pseudo-sequel to Darwinia. So now that it’s finally been released, how does it measure up? Read on.
The premise behind the game is fairly simple. The Darwinians, a race of self-improving virtual beings created by Dr. Sepulveda, have evolved even further since the events of Darwinia. Unfortunately, dwindling resources have led them to go the way of all supposedly intelligent beings: they’ve split up into differently-coloured factions of “Multiwinians” and have started blowing each other into pixellated chunklets. It’s up to you to take control and lead your group of Multiwinians to victory, either against friends on the Internet or against the AI in single-player.
The game is broken up into six different modes, each with varying objectives. These consist of Domination (where your objective is to capture the most spawn points across the map), King of the Hill (where you must hold circular control areas on the map to rack up points), Capture the Statue (a CTF variant using giant statues that require multiple Multiwinians to transport), Blitzkrieg (where each team must sequentially capture and hold a series of flags leading to each others’ bases), Assault (where teams must alternately attack and defend an objective on the map), and a unique mode, Rocket Riot (capture and hold solar panels across the map until your giant rocket is fueled, then fill it with one hundred Multiwinians to launch it before your opponents can launch theirs). As you can see, there’s plenty of variety in the game modes to cater for any player, from simple kill ’em all slaughterfests to more complex challenges. All game modes are time-limited, meaning that from the moment a match begins it’s a frenetic all-out race to complete your objectives, or at least get ahead of your opponents, before the clock hits zero.
Multiwinians are used to accomplish pretty much everything in the game world. They are injected onto the map at set intervals, either via large stationary portals, or at player-captured spawn points scattered across the level. Capturing and holding additional spawn points on maps that have them is vital to your success, as the more spawn points you control, the more reinforcements you’ll receive each spawn cycle.
Your control of the Multiwinians extends exclusively to movement orders. Don’t despair over this supposedly limited control, however. The Multiwinians themselves are fairly autonomous, and once in position will automatically and intelligently attack enemies, man machines, open crates, and generally interact with anything of interest within close proximity. Multiwinians can be manipulated individually, in small groups (using an expanding selection circle), or can be guided en masse by converting a single Multiwinian into an Officer through a simple right-click. Officers, in turn, have two functions: they can act as non-mobile pointers, directing any nearby Multiwinians to a location, or they can gather Multiwinians into a mobile squad, which will follow the officer around the map in tight formation. Squads allow more concentrated firepower and better coordination, but also move more slowly, are less autonomous, and are highly vulnerable to rear and flank attacks. Their tightly-packed configuration also makes them prime targets for the grenades of non-squad Multiwinians. All in all, control is tight and effective, allowing you to quickly get massive hordes of Multiwinians to where you need them to be, while still allowing precision tactical control where necessary.
At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking that Multiwinia is nothing but a game of logistics – capturing spawn points and setting up Officer-driven “supply routes” to your front lines in such a way that your enemy is eventually overwhelmed. While the game is primarily based on that concept, Introversion has decided to throw in a little something extra to spice things up: supply crates. Not unlike the classic Worms, these crates are paradropped randomly around the map as the match progresses. Once opened by a group of Multiwinians (the larger the group, the faster they open), crates provide the player with one of a vast selection of randomized powerups that can easily turn the tide of battle if used correctly. These can be anything from stationary gun turrets, APCs and personal shields, to a nuclear missile barrage which, hilariously, makes direct reference to Introversion’s own DEFCON. Unfortunately, crates can also contain nastier surprises such as virii or other more elaborate hindrances to your war effort. Some may complain that the crates unbalance the game, but the dynamism and unpredictability they add lends a unique flavour to each match, forcing players to adapt their strategies and think on their feet every time they play. The game also provides the option for crate drop locations and spawn quantities to be balanced in favour of the underdog, meaning that losing players can be given a fighting chance should they find themselves the victim of one too many meteor showers.
Asides from one or two minor pathfinding issues with squads, the only major criticism that can be levelled at Multiwinia, oddly enough, has nothing to do with any of the usual suspects. It’s the lobby system for multiplayer. While setting up games is dirt simple, the lobby system lacks any form of chat or password protection. Not only does this mean that random people tend to unintentionally blunder into a game intended to be private, but you’re unable to tell them so. We were forced to discuss game settings over IRC, or else via the in-game chat (yes, there is in-game chat, mercifully) once each match had ended. We also found that people with more unorthodox network setups were unable to connect to multiplayer games at all, which was somewhat unfortunate. Fortunately, Introversion has confirmed that they’re working on these niggles, and that they’ll be fixed in an upcoming patch.
Lobby hassles aside, Multiwinia is exactly the kind of enjoyable yet unorthodox experience we’ve come to expect from Introversion. Hardcore players of strategy games may scoff at the supposed imbalances produced by the supply crates, but those willing to accept Multiwinia for the casual arcade-y romp it is will reap hours of enjoyment from it. Multiwinia is slick, polished, quirky, and above all, enormous fun. Highly recommended.