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Multiwinia: Survival of the Flattest

Our primary aim for multiplayer Darwinia,” says lead designer Chris Delay, “was to satisfy Microsoft’s requirements enough to get Darwinia onto their service and gamer dollars into our accounts.” Wait, what? Chris is alarmingly honest about the game Multiwinia nearly became: they only started work on it because they wanted to get their superb action-strategy game Darwinia onto Xbox Live Arcade, and Microsoft dictate that all Live Arcade games must have a multiplayer component.

“There had been no one single moment when we’d consciously decided to ‘sell out’, and yet here we found ourselves, knowingly producing one turd game to pay the bills...” Don’t worry: the game Chris is talking about isn’t the Multiwinia you see here. Introversion aborted their cash-in botch job and started again: Multiwinia had to be a completely new game. It was a huge amount of work for such a small company to scrap, and an even larger amount of work to take on, and all at a time when the company had been expecting a nice big payout from releasing their first console game. Now that we’ve played Multiwinia, we’re extremely glad they did it. It’s very much a new game: you control your little stick-men directly this time, instead of the disposable squads of Darwinia. That’s essential, because each of Multiwinia’s six game modes requires you to rapidly split your forces between several different objectives.

The modes themselves are diverse, but all unfold within a tight (but adjustable) time limit. If you’re eliminated before the time is up, the game still lets you wreak havoc on the surviving players by giving you the occasional power from beyond the grave. With no objective of your own, you can concentrate solely on griefing whoever bumped you out of the game: it’s called Retribution mode. Capture the Statue is our current favourite mode: lifting up huge monuments from wherever they spawn on the map, and trundling back to your base with them before the enemy catch up with you. Assault mode is more complex: one player starts with his Multiwinians in a heavily fortified... fortification, with gun turrets under his control, and the other has to try and take it over. In Rocket Riot, meanwhile, each player is trying to launch his own space shuttle first by taking over solar panels to power it – or destroying everyone else’s.

All the modes we’ve played have what we call the Introversion “Aargh!” factor: they ask you to make maddeningly hard decisions with frightening risks very quickly. Can you afford to split some guys off to go and capture that Spawn point, or do you need them all to secure the statue they’re heading for? Should you hole up and defend the control zones you’ve got, even though the scoreboard predicts the Yellows will win at this rate? Around the time Darwinia came out, slightly tipsy Introversion director Mark Morris confided to us that “We want to be a company who, if you see our logo on a game box in a shop, you can just buy it on the spot and know it’ll be great.” They came close to losing that with Multiwinia, but we’re happy to say it looks set to hold true for some years to come.

Aug 15, 2008