Multiwinia - Survival of the Flattest

Introversion have quite the cult following amongst gamers, having started as an independent studio-without-studio straight out of university and made popular games without ever surrendering editorial control to publishers. Their previous games have always been completely seperate and original, from hacker pulse-beater Uplink, to atmospheric Tron-aping strategy fighter Darwinia, to the Wargames-inspired thermonuclear pile-on of Defcon. These have all been slow-burners with continued success thanks to a firm fan-followng and distribution from Valve's Steam network, allowing IV to continue developing their stand alone titles. But amongst their roadmap, Multiwinia has emerged as an initially strange beast, a result of their signing of Darwinia to Xbox Live Arcade. Multiplayer content was an obvious requirement of this deal, and after some soulsearching over how to meet this brief, the team realised that a whole new multiplayer game based on Darwinia was required rather than just a roughly realised additional section.

What they came up with was inspired. The original game focused on how the artificial world of Darwinia, created by the Sinclair-esque Dr Sepulveda as a combined AI experiment and internet theme park, had been corrupted by a virus that infested the cyberspace landscape in the form of malignant bugs and ultimately corrupted the DNA of the Darwinians to form a mutant faction. The original Green family hence found themelves at war with the nascent Reds, and under your control both the opposing race and the virus had to be excised so that the intended order could be restored to the system. In Multiwinia, the elements of this story and world have been brought on to their sad conclusion, in that there are several antagonistic factions of Darwinians (now called Multiwinians, since nobody can agree on what a true Darwinian is any more), and chaos reigns as the factions battle it out for territory.

You can control your troops directly by clicking on them or drag-selecting a huddle of them and sending them to a location, but the majority of the control mechanic is the Officer that was a feature of the previous game. This allows you to set up perpetual lines of marching Multiwinians a la Lemmings, and also to form slow-marching fighting formations which allow you to storm and surgically outflank each other's positions. Loose stick men not under the influence of an officer will fire the occasional grenade, while those in formation won't but display better skill with their ray guns. The virus and many other elements of the previous game (and other games!) are represented by the inclusion of crates, which unlock an array of hilarious powerups, creating an imaginative set of positive and negative effects, including troop carriers, gun and flame turrets and even rival AI superfactions that are capable of taking over and winning the game by themselves!

There is a good selection of game modes, mostly based on gaining spawn points to build your population of Multiwinian stick fighters then battling either for territory or for other objectives. The classic CTF pattern gets a particularly amusing twist in the form of Capture the Statue, in which huge gold monoliths are dragged painfully back to your base by huddles of Multiwinians. There is also a great attack/defend mode in Assault, which eschews the spawn point strategy in favour of beach head and fort scenarios and affords some terrific moments of bleak humour as a successfully defending team gets to unleash a doomsday weapon whose sci-fi blast wave instantly murders every enemy on the map.

The pace of Multiwinia is truly frenetic, as the 10 or 15-minute chaotic slugfests make for a true party game compared to the pensive and attrition-based game of Darwinia. The atmosphere is importantly still there; the stunning Tron-esque landscape remains intact from the previous game, as does the fantastic plot device of every dying creature leaving a soul which can either be reclaimed or lost to the skies. The game is arguably filled with a lot more black humour, with set pieces such as a forcefield that incinerates every spawning attacking unit until it can be shut down by the attacking side, and a great deal of fighters running around screaming and on fire in general. But as these atrocities are all visited on stick figures, this is all acceptable and U-rated stuff, and as the lines of solders march to their death it can be hoisted as a lesson on the futile side of warfare. Or, stepping back from pretentious trappings, it's just a bunch of pal-blasting online fun.

The release version lacks a few nicities such as lobby chat and server password/kick functionality, but these are to be addressed in an imminent patch. The deployment of updates is all automatic, both on the stand-alone and Steam versions of the game, and best of all the online play will be interoperable with the forthcoming Linux and Mac ports. The developers are also promising a user-friendly custom map sharing function a la Halo/Half Life soon.

This game deserves to thrive; for $19.99 on Steam or a little more for a stand-alone download and boxed copy (or a stunningly realised tin edition bundled with Darwinia and a few extras), it offers a great deal more bang for your buck than many titles made by studios that dwarf the self-styled 'last of the bedroom programmers'.

The XBLA package containing both games, Darwinia+, will be out next year.

Recommendation: Buy it.

Bootnote: I am a fanboy, not affiliated with Introversion except for being on the closed beta test group. This isn't the first time I've waxed online at length concerning an Introversion game just to further their cause, and it probably won't be the last. I regret nothing :)

Hmm a good review but I think it could have done with a bit of paragraphing so it doesn't look like such an intimidating wall of text. Also I feel a reveiw is often percieved better if it starts with some sort of joke but other than that well done you've actualy got me wanting too look into darwinia+ further (couldnt run it on my laptop but if its out on xbox soon i'll definately look into it).

Scorched_Cascade:
Hmm a good review but I think it could have done with a bit of paragraphing so it doesn't look like such an intimidating wall of text. Also I feel a reveiw is often percieved better if it starts with some sort of joke but other than that well done you've actualy got me wnating too look into darwinia+ further (couldnt run it on my laptop but if its out on xbox soon i'll definately look into it).

Cheers, have taken your advice and added some more line breaks. I agree that the game isn't necessarily too laptop-friendly, but it does play on fairly modest desktop PCs; a pal of mine has my hand-me-down graphics card and a PC that are both a few years old, and he enjoyed a good online sesh with me a few days ago.

Edit: Added the 'recommendation' as per the guidance thread which I hadn't read when I posted!

Update: Patch 1.1 has now been released, including the promised lobby functionality and a few bugfixes and optimisations.

Well you captured the essence of it.

I only have the demo, but I'm getting it soonish. It really did leave me begging for assault mode at least.

I'd say this was a top notch review, and made me want to play it again.

Update Again: Patch 1.2 has now enabled players of the demo to try a couple of the maps in online multiplayer, and to play the whole game in LAN parties with owners of the full version.

Whoa, there is a weekend offer on for Darwinia & Multiwinia together for $9.99! That would explain the sudden surge in players...

Greeba:
not affiliated with Introversion

Are you sure? Your last few posts certainly suggest otherwise...

Fair comment, but I'm just pimping the cause for the community. I've tried making the odd post here or there elsewhere so I'm not just a one-thread-wonder, but it's not been easy the last couple of weeks as I've been either offline or out of the country on business.

Um... accidental post, and I can't figure out how to delete it?

 

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