If there's one thing that makes me happy about 2008 as a year for PC games, it's that it's going to be really diverse. There's not going to be anything else much like Multiwinia ("Survival Of The Flattest"), the multiplayer wargame that indie-chums Introversion are currently developing. It's based on retro-sweetheart Darwinia, which stole our hearts away in 2005, but there are some pretty significant differences: not least of which is that the previously passive Darwinian nation has now fractured into a bunch of warring tribes, battling for resources and control of key locations.
Things are not as we left them...
One of the immediate reactions to Darwinia was that it might make an entertaining multiplayer game. Introversion, stretched for time and resources, had expressed their intention to create a multiplayer aspect, but needed to get the game finished. With continued interest in the multiplayer concept they concluded that rather than simply making a multiplayer add on for the original game, a totally new game was required. Hence: Multiwinia.
This means it's quite different to the Darwinia we know and love. You're now at war not with the virus, but with evolved, angry Darwinians. Introversion have created units, maps and game modes designed for competitive multiplayer games, and even pumped up the visuals a little to make that iconic look come to life in online battles. You just have to look at the screenshots we've seen so far to get a taste for that: explosions, plumes of polygons, tiny green men, shrinking, dying... oh the humanity. The strongest influence, perhaps, as you might infer from these screenshots, is that of the Total War games, with ranked, flag-bearing lines of Darwinians marching around the map.
Anyway, it's two to four players, with various map sizes, objectives and play styles. It's hard to say just how it's going to compete with the multiplayer strategies that we're used to, but with Introversion quoting anything from five minutes to half an hour for a game we can assume it's going to be even faster paced than the single player game.
Interestingly, there could be some random elements finding their way into the fray. While the virus infestation from the original game has been defeated it hasn't gone entirely, and might well crop up during your game. Introversion have said that their might well be third-party forces on the battlefield, but they're not keen to unveil them just yet.
Introversion seem to have learned a great deal from contending with mutiplayer issues with Defcon, so I can see their work on Multiwinia benefiting enormously. It's was definitely worth the wait to get a full game, rather than simply expecting Darwinia to be modded into a multi-user state. (And yeah, let's have a co-op Darwninia now...) Anyway, I've actually convinced myself to get excited by writing this preview. I've realised can't wait for Multiwinia: get on with it, Introverts!