We thought it was a preview, but then we learned the game had been released on the weekend of the Showdown. But it’s close enough for jazz, so read on for our not-quite exclusive thoughts on Multiwinia.
From Introversion, the self styled ‘last of the bedroom coders’ comes the multiplayer iteration of Darwinia. But don’t be fooled, despite surface appearances it plays completely differently to the inspired strategy game that saw you guiding the angular but strangely lovable Darwinians in a quest to defeat the omnipresent threat of invading computer viruses. In fact, if I was pushed to make a comparison, I’d say that Multiwinia, in some respects, is a lot more like pinball.
Why? Find out beneath the cut.
Ok, in several very important ways it has nothing to do with pinball. You won’t find any physic’s based ball bearing action here, instead you’ll be leading your chosen colour of Darwinian to dominance against the other pesky colours vying for the same territory. You’ll have direct control over your Darwinians this time around, and you’ll even be able to form them into organised units, where they’ll gain Rourke’s Drift level effectiveness with their lazers, but leave themselves vulnerable to a well tossed grenade.
Even though you direct your Darwinians instead of gently herding them, they still act like a rowdy and adorable rabble, even as they toddle towards certain death. Introversion have worked hard to retain the wonderful sense of personality and self-awareness we loved in Darwinia. As well as the Darwinians themselves, and the unerringly gorgeous environments, there are plenty of cheeky gaming references hidden away within the game too. We’ll leave you to discover those for yourself.
Depending on the game mode you select you’ll be taking and holding capture points or escorting gigantic statues back to your base, either way there will be pitched battles on the beautiful polygonal plains as you fight to secure territory, or to capture the gamechanging special weapons boxes that fall gracefully from the sky.
Ah yes, the upgrades. They descend upon random parts of the map, and could contain anything from rocket turrets that sprout twenty feet tall at a location of your choosing and nuke any approaching enemy darwinians, to the scary and Borg-like Futurewinians, who, as Introversion dev Ash demonstrated, spend a few minutes buzzing about the map in a massive UFO abducting helpless Darwinians before eventually invading. They’re little grey Darwinians with tiny horns, and whenever they shoot a Darwinian that Darwinian instantly becomes a Futurewinian. If not stopped quickly, they can assimilate the entire map in minutes.
There are many more, you can call in Defcon style nuclear strikes, or call in a dangerous ‘Squad’, as seen in Darwinia, Or you can summon a colony of minute ants to bother your enemy forces and clog up their spawn points.
All of this makes for a completely nuts gaming experience, which is where the pinball reference comes in. It’s that ‘multiball’ feeling, where suddenly all the basic rules of the game go out of the window and you’re left desperately slapping the flippers in hope as the chaos unfolds in front of you. You’ll be swarming in on a poorly defended capture point only to see a huge turret sprout in front, mowing down your forces with aplomb. Sometimes words will appear on the screen and mad things will happen. At one point a message appeared announcing ‘Ultra Death!’, at which point all Darwinians went turbo and began firing at twice the speed, utterly wiping each other out.
It’s about as long as a game of pinball as well. An average match will normally be wrapped up in about ten minutes. The controls feel slightly odd, being co-developed for the 360 means you’ll be doing some unusual mousework. You can’t select units by drawing boxes, you’ll be holding LMB to catch them in an expanding ring. There’s no cursor to speak of either, your mouse movements guide you around the map. Once you get used to this it soon begins to feel fairly intuitive.
It’s fast and accessible strategy, and as such not something which PC gamers are going to be entirely used to. There’s no base building, only one unit, and no number crunching or health bars. It’s not about turtling and overwhelming your enemy forces, it’s about snap decisions and making the best of your upgrades. Most importantly: it’s about fun. Gleaming, explosive, pixellated fun. Sometimes it’s hard to ask for much more than that.