The sequel to Darwinia, Multiwinia is a 3-D real-time strategy (RTS) game unlike any other. You play in a computer mainframe against your fellow 2-D digital life forms (Darwinians) in a pixilated war for supremacy. Cheeky, oddly adorable, and very fun to play, Multiwinia is a strong (if flat) RTS game recently ported to the Mac.
The world of Multiwinia is strange. Each mission reveals a bit more about the infection that plagued the Darwinians and the subsequent wars that followed, but the plot doesn't unspool conventionally-nor do any of the other elements, really. Your units are brightly colored 2-D figures that resemble paper dolls. Holding down the left click button will gather a number of them to command, and right clicking on a single one will promote the single Multiwinian to an officer. You can personally command your troops to attack or delegate to your officers. In addition to Multiwinians, you'll gain command of turrets, troop transports, radar dishes, and spawning points.
Unlike many RTS games, Multiwinia doesn't have resource gathering, tech trees, or base construction. Instead, there are six different mission types: domination, king of the hill, capture the statue, assault, rocket riot, and blitzkrieg. Each map has multiplayer support up to four players, unlike Darwinia.
In each mission, you gain reinforcements every few minutes or by capturing spawn points, flags, or enemy territory. The winner is often determined by who has the most points at the end of the time limit (calculated by how much of the mission objective you've accomplished) or if you've successfully eliminated all of the opposing forces. Each mission takes between 10 and 15 minutes to complete.
I recommend the domination scenario maps and competing against three other computer players. The artificial intelligence can be challenging and there are a number of creative solutions to cross over land and conquer your opponents. It's a real thrill to throw a couple transports on your enemy's unprotected flank or drop a monster on their spawn point. The chaotic pace ensures you'll always be watching for enemy movements, air strikes, or sneak attacks.
The other element of chaos in the game is the crate drops. Crates can be captured to give the player powerups. I've been playing with the "powerups=crates" concept since Command and Conquer: Red Alert, but I've never seen crates impact your overall strategy to such a high degree as they do in Multiwinia. Quite simply, certain powerups are so overpowered as to completely swing the battle in the favor of the crate's user. The powerups range from the useful but pedestrian (like speeding up your troops, giving them temporary shields) to the overpowered superweapons (nukes, airstrikes, and ant hills). Some of the creates are humorous (eggs will sprout monsters that will disrupt enemy troops and ant hills create a mutually antagonistic army anywhere on the map) but their power undercuts the strategy of the game.
When defending on one of the assault maps, I watched as the enemy established a beachhead beneath my fortifications. I wanted to use "infiltration" on their spawn point, but the game wouldn't allow the action, and the upgrade (which I received three times from various crates) was useless. In contrast, when I got the air strike ability, I just repeatedly bombed their landing area and watched as the helpless enemy Multiwinians were blown to pieces. The mission went from being frustrating and impossible to super easy in seconds.
Due to the unique art style and context of the game, the graphics are intentionally 80's retro. But when four armies are colliding, bombs are exploding, and flames are sprouting around an epicenter of combat, the game provides some unique and stunning visions of war. It looks terrific on the 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro I tested on, with no slow down even when four large armies were on the move.
Macworld's buying advice
I've seen better real time strategy games, but few with such an original look and so easy to just pop in and play. Multiwinia is light, humorous, and not particularly deep strategically, but its price and status as an independently developed game helps me justify its recommendation. The story could be better incorporated in the overall arc of the game and hopefuly future update addresses the crates. Overall, this is one of the most memorable strategy games I've played in a while.
[Chris Holt is an assistant editor for Macworld.]