Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Release Date: November 25, 2008
In the future of Darwinia, there is only war.
There's your premise. Take that odd little indie classic, Darwinia, and add "40,000" to the end of it. The Darwinians have split into colored tribes and developed a hatred for each other that has them fighting one another in pointless, simplistically rendered conflicts, without end or reason. Some games really don't want to bother with too much plot, or telling of the plot.
Instead, Multiwinia: Survival of the Flattest gets right to the point. You open the game, register your copy, and you can choose to play single-player, online multiplayer, or a simple set of tutorials. Gameplay begins, and then ends, in mere minutes. Unfortunately, the problems will have already shown up in those minutes, turning this game toward a highly specific niche in the RTS market, one that I didn't quite get in with.
Right off the bat, Multiwinia's tutorial introduces the basics and shows how this title differs from most real-time strategy games, giving you the best camera angles that the genre has managed to churn out. WASD-based camera controls combine with a mouse that automatically rotates your view to let you move and get the perfect angle on the environments in mere seconds. The controls are similarly streamlined to handle entire armies at once; you click on a point and then hold it to increase the circle and select everything within it. Let go, move to where you want them to move and right-click, and they will move, automatically attacking anything they see. With just a few clicks, you can also turn units into officers that automatically send nearby armies to a specified point, or into organized, powerful platoons.
That's it. In terms of controls, the only extra element you need is crates, which drop at random and offer random power-ups. Multiwinia abstracts resources and buildings for the simplicity of spawn points that you take control of, and objective points that you capture by having the most units within it. That's about it. By abstracting units into one type, buildings into one type that need no construction and an occasional play-specific type, and power-ups that are simply picked up on the field, the developers manage to transform the real-time strategy genre into a distillation of itself.
Unfortunately, that's also where the problem lies. Reduced to the core, there are only reflexes to guide players, with strategy basically boiling down to how many platoons you send and where you send them. The only real variation is that a platoon can stop more than its numbers, but will be positively murdered from the sides or back by even a tiny force. Everyone moves at the same plodding pace, meaning even reflexes become abstracted out into a contest of who gets to the most spawn points first. Play once, and you have the core of what there is to Multiwinia on most all play levels. Only two major subtleties affect play after the basics. First, the high ground matters in this game, far more than in many other examples of the genre, and using bombs to shift the territory even a little can give you a massive advantage in defending a point. Water also affects you, and only special vehicles that have been acquired from the crates can be used to get past it. Teleport satellites can help you once you reach the other side.
With an admittedly deceptively weak gameplay core, the game relies on multiplayer to make up the difference (thus the name Multiwinia). The single-player component consists solely of the multiplayer scenarios, except they're run against bots. Following the standards, the game implements a large variety of styles and objectives to help add variation and create some interesting challenges. For example, one objective pits three players against a single, heavily defended opponent, another one has you controlling score points, and yet another is a good, old-fashioned simple annihilation game. The rounds I played typically put me up against friendly, but skilled, opponents, who completely and utterly dominated me every time well before the game's intentionally short time limit. The results were nonetheless enjoyable, and the distilled attitude of the game actually offered me more of a chance than I would've had in most games of this genre, letting me quickly imagine and test new strategies that were specific to the play mode, with at least marginal success each time.
The game also helps make up the difference in its sheer style. An ambient soundtrack and simple lasers and screeches from the Multiwinians make an effective soundtrack, and the visual style logically follows up from Darwinia, using simple polygons to create simple, but punchy styles — a digital representation of reality that, while obviously unrealistic, is somehow eerie against the backdrops, deforming in reaction to larger incidents, and offering a good amount of added tactical detail during play. The environments, being true 3-D, support and explain the need for the fully rotational camera controls, tightly integrating graphics and gameplay.
There isn't all that much to Multiwinia: Survival of the Flattest, unfortunately. The gameplay is short, and necessarily so, because any single match can drag on very quickly, and once a clear lead is established, it is quite difficult to break. A good multiplayer environment helps the game last somewhat longer, and the unique style that made Darwinia a hit remains in force, but it really does not work very well as a separate game. Treat it as a Darwinia expansion more than a true sequel, and consider accordingly. At the least the demo is free, so it might be worth a try for those looking for more streamlined tactics.
More articles about Multiwinia: Survival of the Flattest