Reviewed: November 1, 2008
Released: September 19, 2008
Do you remember as a kid how much fun you had making army men and tanks out of blocks? One thing's for certain – the developers of Multiwinia: Survival of the Flattest do. In this sequel to 2005's cult classic Darwinia, you seek to conquer a pixilated world with square tanks, "Space Invaders" style bombers, laser cannons, and hordes of stick men.
The biggest new feature in Multiwinia is you can now join four other players in scenarios like Blitzkrieg, Rocket Riot, and Assault. Otherwise, developers Introversion Software have made very few changes to the quirky play style and simplified graphics of Darwinia. The back story for the series is a mad scientist named Dr Sepulveda created the perfect digital world and populated it with a new race of online beings called Darwinians. Of course, it wasn't long before the Darwinians divided into warring factions and began shooting each other.
Multiwinia is a strange but addicting combo of old school arcade action and real time strategy. Each player starts off with a small group of stick men who come equipped with lasers and the occasional grenade. Multiwinians tend to mob up as you move them around the board, but you can create officers who will then organize your Multiwinians into ranks, increasing their firepower. It's important to capture spawn points to increase your army's size. The controls are obviously borrowed from the Xbox 360 version.
For example, you must first hold down the mouse key and form a circle around your troops before issuing a move order. This may feel a little clunky to RTS fans, because you can't drag a box around a group of Multiwinians to form a unit or assign hot keys. The good news is officers can automatically create units for you. For defense, you have laser turrets that you can control just like in classic arcade games. Personally, I found the laser cannon controls gimmicky because who has time to micromanage a single turret in the middle of a multiplayer match?
The goal of the game depends on what scenario you're playing. The first game I played was a King of the Hill scenario, where four players scrambled to capture the giant glowing tree in the center of the board. The action was fast and frantic as I flung troops at the tree while diverting a small force to capture spawn points. I ended up fighting a two-front war the entire game and eventually lost to the combined efforts of the Blue and Red players. I also played the Capture the Statue scenario, where I had to capture giant statues shaped like tea kettles and dumb-bells. The game turned into a giant tug-of-war match, as whichever player had the most Multiwinians nearby a statue could start moving it back to base.
More advanced scenarios include "Rocket Riot," where you race around the board capturing energy pods to refuel your spaceship, and "Assault," where one player must break through the defender's fortress to stop a giant weapon of mass destruction from launching. For the most part, the scenarios seemed balanced, although Assault seemed to give a significant edge to the defender. Part of the problem is laser turrets are too powerful against base troops, and the best way to take them out is through capturing crate power-ups that randomly drop around the battlefield.
Each crate has a random power-up such as tanks, air strikes, engineers (who allow Multiwinians to re-spawn more quickly), and extra gun turrets. The game had gone to sudden death and my opponent was a bout to steal the last statue from me. Fortunately, I unlocked a turret from a crate and dropped it next to the statue, where it proceeded to blast the other guy's stick men to smithareens. But not all crates will benefit you. Some create random terrain features that do nothing, while the "randomizer" crate actually drops reinforcements for your enemy. In one game I was stuck with several randomizer crates in a row, while my opponent unlocked a nuke attack in his crate.
My main complaint about Multiwinia is the game could use a lot more polish, especially when compared to more traditional real-time strategy games. The path finding can be horrible, especially when trying to move troops over hills or when using transporters to beam troops to different islands. For that reason, I dreaded island scenarios. I would have liked to see more specialized troop types, or the chance to actually control fighters and bombers instead of relying on a crate drop to call in an air strike. The sheer randomness of crate drops also makes it hard to plan an overall strategy. But Multiwinia works perfectly if you look at it as a fast-paced arcade game with plenty of frenzied action. Games last between 10-15 minutes, which makes this a great game to play on your lunch break or when you need to take a break from Fallout 3 or Crysis.
On one hand, the Multiwinians and their tanks and bombers look like they belong on the Atari 2600. But if you look closely, you'll see plenty of cool background details, including colorful mountains, shimmering water, and glowing digital trees. The developers have done a great job of making you feel as if you're actually battling for supremacy of a virtual Eden.
I especially appreciated the pop culture references. For example, if you launch a nuke strike, digital submarines appear and launch bright red missiles that slowly fall to earth. This is obviously pays homage to the 1980s film "War Games." Other units look like they would belong in arcade classics such as "Space Invaders" or "Galaxian."
Truth be told, the sound effects in Multiwinia are annoying. It's fun to listen to the digital explosions and laser fire for about 10 minutes, but then the "pew pew" sounds get old. What's truly disturbing are the digital screams of the Multiwinians as they die. On the plus side, the musical score is well done, provided that you like brooding electronica. I would have personally chosen a more light-hearted arcade sound, but the music goes well with the game's theme of a doomed race of online beings fighting for their survival.
My biggest fear for Multiwinia was that finding an online game would be a complete hassle. After all, the Xbox version has a built-in matchmaking system thanks to Xbox Live. I'm pleased to report that it's extremely easy to log in and launch a game with your friends or random online opponents. The bad news is the online community is extremely small, and on off-hours you may only find less than 10 players on the servers. Hopefully this will change when the developers launch an online ladder system. If you prefer playing solo games, the computer AI presents a good challenge.
You can currently download Multiwinia for around $16 on the Introversion site, and $10 on Steam. Quite frankly, $10 is a steal for this game and well worth the money.
While it certainly lacks the complexity of most RTS titles, Multiwinia still strikes a good balance between strategy and arcade action. It's time to embrace your inner mad scientist in the digital world of Multiwinia.