Multiwinia is the most recent game from independent developers Introversion and the mutiplayer follow up to one of their previous games, Darwinia (which we rather liked). Time has moved on since the time of Darwinia, and the Darwinians - the virtual inhabitants of the game -have mutated into different colours, formed tribes and gone to war over the limited resources left in the world of Darwinia.
Mutiwinia does a neat trick of keeping the setting and artwork of Darwinia but takes the actual gameplay in a new direction. You control your army of Multiwinians directly, ordering them to move around, capture important points and attack enemy Multiwinians in order to meet the map objectives faster than your opponents. I use the word "faster" deliberately here; Multiwinia is a fast game with most game types being played with a default time limit of 10 or 15 minutes. Seconds wasted can result in missed opportunities as your opponent manages to take control of a vital spawn point, sending you down the long and twisted path towards losing the game. Or possibly not; perhaps letting him have that spawn point was a strategic decision on your part, which in turn will allow you to move more quickly across the other side of the map to take control of another point from which you can launch a stronger offensive.
The control scheme in Multiwinia is excellent. Left clicking and holding creates an expanding circle with which you can select your troops, a mechanic which feels designed with a console port in mind but which is very intuitive on a PC. You can promote Multiwinians to Officers who can then either order Multiwinians around them to go to a specific area, or they can lead a battle formation. Multiwinians in formation stand in regimented lines and march together as a group. In formation, they have greater range and don't cowardly run away from battle when outnumbered, but they are also more vulnerable from the sides or behind, and can't use grenades. The camera can be moved around freely, allowing you to view the battle from any perspective without disorienting you.
In Darwinia you could create and destroy special units at will after you'd discovered them in the game. In Multiwinia you must direct your Multiwinians to collect crates containing power-ups which may help you turn the game around or strengthen your defence. Alternatively, if you're unlucky, it could also be a plague that turns your Multiwinians evil. These crates do add a lot of variety and to the game but if you want a more predictable experience you can turn off the more unbalanced ones (such as the plague and the nukes) or disable crates altogether.
As is expected of a primarily multiplayer game you can change some of the rules of the game such as the time limit, sudden death mode, how often crates drop, and whether the game should give an advantage to any players doing badly. Being able to disable most of the random aspects of the game should keep competitive players happy while still keeping the game varied.
There are just a few things in Multiwinia that irk me somewhat. There's no way to tell Multiwinians what to attack (you can only direct where they should go) and there's no way to tell them when to use grenades. Several times when confronted with a large enemy formation which could be wiped out with a few well placed grenades my Multiwinians would stand and shoot and then run away. Random crate pickups are both a blessing and a curse, you can feel quite hard done by when you fight hard for a crate only for it to turn out to contain an ants nest which then destroys half your troops. Multiwinians don't seem to understand about hills and somehow can completely fail to hit any enemies when they're both on the side of a steep hill. Also, the gently undulating terrain found in some of the maps makes it difficult to know what your Multiwinians can see and what they can't.
Despite these relatively minor niggles, Multiwinia remains a great game. It's very easy to get into but has enough depth and complexity to allow you to come up with different strategies to use against the AI or against the other players you'll meet online.
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