Multiwinia: Survival of the Flattest
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Being Something Of an antimodernist aesthete, 8-bit games have as much charm to me as Christopher Biggins in a fat suit, but I can understand their appeal. Almost in the same way I can see why pseudocannibals worshipping a 2,000 year-old Jewish zombie-god in the hope of immortality believe what they do -I just happen to disagree.
Let's be honest: though yesteryear's games were sometimes beautiful due to the efficiency of form that limited computing forced upon them, often they were ugly and limited. Multiwinia very much relies on turning those misremembered flaws into nostalgic charm, which is a clever move from a small developer with similarly limited resources. It's one that has already produced a success in the cleverly crafted world of Darwinia, a strategy title where you had to struggle against a strange control system and some evil email spam to save a race of crudely-iconic virtual lifeforms.
Multiwinia is simply the multiplayer mode of Darwinia, a cut-down blast that grinds Introversion's Defcon into the mix.
So the highly-representational graphics of older games are again recreated with affection here. A surprising amount of gaming power is required to create the flashback feel, but then there are hundreds if not thousands of wobbling Multiwinians on the screen at once, getting minced up in all sorts of interesting ways by turrets, explosions and weird alien monsters. If you're one of those people who yearns for the days of sprites, voxels, EGA and the simplified world of the past, then you'll love this. However, a lot of the game's charm is in its looks - if the screenshots leave you cold, you should try the demo first, as these pixels might not be for you.
Of course, it's not just the graphics that are retro; Introversion pack the limited language (limited in that it's plot-free) with references to other, mostly older, games and their own too. This will elicit love from Jeff Minter's folk. There are Space Invaders doing a bombing run, the nuke prompts a range of Defcon submarine icons to slowly (far too slowly) fire off their ICBMs, and there's even a Portal cube in there, somewhere. The game nods its head so often it appears to have referential Alzheimer's. It's retro homage for retro homage's sake, but it will charm a lot of people.
The last of the retro triumvirate is the most important the gameplay. Do you think Chaos and Robotron are the best strategy games of all time? If that's the case then you really should be put back in a box in the attic with all the other dusty relics, and I'm not even sure why you're still buying games rather than gibbering over your collection of 5.25in floppy discs.
But in the meantime, you'll love the simplicity of this game. It's a pure multiplayer blast with each side controlling rival Darwinian tribes in short-short combat. There are eight game modes, with around 50 maps all told, and the range of weapon drops and landscapes gives the game good variety.
This is a purely multiplayer game allowing up to four players, or AIs, to battle. Sad then, that this is somewhat undermined by the repetitive gameplay, a control system that's arbitrarily different from any other RTS, unreliable pathfinding and crazy superweapons (that can, admittedly, be turned off). Whatever the mode, you're mainly taking large gangs of Multiwinians, using officers to either direct them or form phalanxes to kill the enemy faster than they kill you, and hoping that you manage to grab any of the over-powered weapon drops first. Overall, it's a pity that with so much emphasis being placed on making something simultaneously originallooking and that alludes so heavily to past innovative grants, the gameplay doesn't have more original elements to it.
If you honestly don't like things that are retro or prefer your games to have complexity of gameplay, appearance and story, then you're going to hate this. Multiwinic's not really a strategy game, it's a po-faced version of Worms that you can have a blast at in your lunch-break. But, if you want a simple game that doesn't require you to devote the whole of your brain or your evenings, can buy into the game's modem-retro visuals, and can forgive a few flaws; it's undeniably worth a spin.