With Multiwinia, Introversion Software takes us back to the glowing virtual landscape of Darwinia in a multiplayer context. The Darwinian race perseveres following its 2005 battles with a computer virus, but some of that virus rages on in the newly dubbed Multiwinians. These more aggressive virtual soldiers are now at war with one another as tribes for digital superiority. But is this multiplayer component of a game we have already played worthy of a standalone release?
Gameplay and Presentation
Those looking for an RTS heavy on micromanagement, upgrades, and class depth will likely be left wanting by Multiwinia. But this game wasn't made for that strain of player. Instead, it focuses on the high-level action and objective aspects of RTS gameplay. Fights are fierce and exciting, but even a novice to the genre can jump in and make a solid stand. This is made possible by the simplicity of Multiwinia's user interface and the clearly defined goals of its six modes of gameplay. Though some of the game types are classic RTS fare (Domination, King of the Hill), there are some unique modes achieved through a combination of existing mechanics (Capture the Statue, Rocket Riot). These modes should feel familiar to veterans of Darwinia.
As mentioned, micromanagement is nonexistent. And even though each Darwinian is selectable individually, unit movement is executed in broad strokes through the use of officers. Officers can be used to gather battalions under their standards or to direct traffic as a sort of waypoint. A well placed series of officers takes some of the burder away from back field operations so the player's focus can remain on the battlefront. While all the game types can be played solo against a middling AI, Multiwinia shines in its multiplayer modes with easy setup for 1-4 players (This sentiment is reflected in our Gameplay vs Multiplayer score). Within each game mode, a list of maps is presented, each with recommendations for an appropriate number of players. 4-player matches can allow for alliances, breaking the battle into 2 teams of 2 players each. And when all players have clicked Ready, it's time to rumble.
The combat of Multiwinia goes from zero to furious in under 60 seconds. Laser blasts and rockets fly among the Multiwinian soldiers as they move about the landscape. And even though the first combat encounters are simple, it's not long before you can "Look! Up in the sky!" Periodically, crates fall from the sky and can contain an array of power-ups, equipment, and units. The items found in crates give Multiwinia a great deal of its flair with abilities like nuclear strikes (with a brilliant nod to Introversion's Defcon), meteor showers, and flame turrets. Much like Defcon, the casualties are horrendous, but you can't help laughing your way through the mayhem.
Multiwinia did not stray from the "virtual reality meets cel shading" stylistic choices of its predecessor and this is a Good Thing. Both Darwinia and Multiwinia feature landscapes that are lush and alive, drawing frequent comparison to and undoubtedly inspired by the movie Tron. A soft neon glow emanates from all visual aspects of the game and seemingly low-poly figures and environments reveal themselves to be organic and at times even beautiful. The particle effects associated with power-ups are not overly complex, but they capture the attention of all players when deployed.
Sound & Music
The audio is other-worldly to say the least, with environmental sounds buzzing, humming, throbbing, and drawing the player into the digital landscape. There are musical elements in the game that combine with the environmental audio to create a soothing ambient wash. More than once have I left the main menu running on my computer while relaxing with a good read. Unit sounds are simple and appropriate without becoming overly repetitive.
Multiwinia is a superb showing from the developers at Introversion with approachable, entertaining RTS gameplay and style to spare. It readily earns its standalone status and hopefully paves the way for continued development of the Darwinia universe.