Platform: Windows PC
Multiwinia is a multiplayer-focused sequel to Darwinia, the surprise PC hit from Introversion Software in 2005. The plot continues the story of Dr. Sepulveda, who created a digital world for artificial intelligent life. These creatures, called Darwinians, have been infected with a virus that has made them hostile, now going by the name Multiwinians. At first glance, Multiwinia looks like it could have been released with relatively few changes on PCs 15 years ago. By making no effort whatsoever to hide the game’s graphical inadequacies, Introversion has elevated them to a nostalgic and charming level. The Multiwinians are 2d sprites that march around the (barely) 3d world, which looks right out of Tron. Tanks, bases, and turrets appear to be made out of twenty or so polygons each, and the most detailed objects in the game still pale in comparison to the graphics on Star Fox for the SNES (now with the Super FX chip!). The particle effects and explosions, on the other hand, are generally well rendered, and the entire presentation has a remarkably unique style.
The game’s actual mechanics should be familiar to anyone who has ever played a Real-Time-Strategy title, though Multiwinia is more about organization and planning than it is about micro management. Different spawn points around the map are captured by ordering Multiwinians to stand near them, and the each of the six game modes (which can be played by two-eight players) provide different experiences, with varying degrees of complexity. The numerous maps are all wholly unique, and while each shares similarities with the others, there are different strategies employed in playing either the Assault Mode or Capture the Statue. Item Crates will occasionally drop from the sky and can be captured, leading to numerous different results. One crate may give a player an air strike, while another a tank, and a third a turret. On the other hand, that crate could also unleash corrupted Multiwinians, or a plague, or simply spawn giant spiders that attack everything in sight. These seem somewhat out of place at times, but add to the mystique of the world of Multiwinia, as well as giving more complexity to the gameplay.
Multiwinia’s real stand-out portion is in the multiplayer, which is a shame; because the game’s online population is scarce at best. Multiwinia is, after all, made for multiplayer, and the game’s various modes can lead to fantastic multiplayer matches. Sadly, the servers usually only have two or three active games, and, tragically, it feels as though this side of the game might be on its last legs. Fortunately, the game is only $25 and it shouldn’t be hard to convince a few friends with able computers to pick it up after they get a chance to play it. Then again, you might be more interested in the $50 collectors edition once you hear it comes with Foam Darwinians (which would make for great holiday giveaways, hint hint).
Multiwinia is a waste as a PC exclusive, and it makes me happy that an Xbox Live Arcade version of Darwinia is in the works that will include this multiplayer expansion. Hell, the mechanics are so simplistic the title could, and should, be ported to handhelds as well. For fans of Darwinia, this game is an instant purchase, but I’d recommend waiting on the Arcade version for online play. For anyone on the fence, pick up the demo, and here’s hoping it gets the reaction on consoles it deserves.