Sometimes simple is best. That’s the take-home message from Introversion Software’s Multiwinia, a perfectly distilled (if somewhat quirky) RTS. It’s quick, it’s straightforward, and it’s a blast to play. And while players can master the basics in about the time it takes to read this review, there’s a surprising amount of tactical depth hiding behind those retro stick-figure warriors.
Spinning off from the previous title Darwinia, Multiwinia examines what exactly happens when good computer programs go bad and begin fighting among themselves. That’s really about all the backstory players need before they dive right in. Players take control of a faction of little, flat, digital stick-figures as they try to dominate a polygonal landscape. Actually, “take control” is a bit of a strong word, since there’s not a lot of fine precision available here. Players can quickly round up a group of Multiwinians and send them out to a particular location, but that’s about the extent of the direct control. The Multiwinians are a fairly self-sufficient lot, and they’ll happily attack the enemy whenever they get close, and they’ll attempt to gain control of any crate or special location that they’re near.
Players can automate their Multiwinians’ actions by promoting a few of them to commanders, who can either funnel all newly-arrived soldiers in a particular direction, or they can coordinate the Multiwinians into a military formation for some added attack bonuses. To help the little guys out, there are also some simple vehicles to ferry everyone around and cross otherwise impassible terrain. To spice things up a bit, crates will occasionally fall from the sky. Once claimed by friendly forces, these crates unlock some impressive bonuses, such as gun emplacements, alien air strikes, or even Magical Forests of Doom.
There are six different types of scenarios to choose from when deciding a battle, each with a handful of different maps to try. These scenarios include the typical “destroy the enemy” and “capture the flag (or statue)” missions, some area control maps, and some more intricate undertakings. All of these scenarios seem to fly by quickly, with most of the maps I played clocking in between 10 to 20 minutes. Players can set themselves up against a very capable computer AI (which repeatedly clobbered me at the easiest setting), or they can jump in for some truly frenetic multiplayer action. While I can’t see myself dedicating hours on end, to me Multiwinia is a perfect title for a quick bout between chores or during breaks.
Given the understated graphics and presentation, there’s a surprising amount of charm to Multiwinia. The 2D stick-men charging around the polygonal battlefield, blasting their enemies with lasers or grenades (I still have no idea where they keep them) simply appeals to me on some almost-primitive level. When adding the whacky specials from crates, with Space-Invader-like air strikes or killer ants, Multiwinia achieves something unique and enthralling.
I don’t imagine Multiwinia will appeal to all tastes, but for those willing to take a chance at an offbeat RTS title, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Quick and furious gameplay, simple mechanics, and a slightly-bent charm made finding this title one of the more pleasant surprises I’ve had in a while.