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RPS Exclusive: Multiwinia Hands-on

I've been in the possession of Multiwinia preview code for the last month or so. It's a slice of the game, playable against bots, and is the first anyone outside of the Beta have really had a chance to play. Which means I'm going to yabber on at length as I Know Things You Don't Know. It's fundamentally multiplayer Darwinia, returning to the Future War idea which set Introversion along the road to what remains their award-winning opus. And I thought the best way to introduce the world to it would be to take a casual stroll through a game I've just played, introducing features as they appear and talking about what sort of tactical gubbins are firing through my noggin at every step. And writing a straight preview is boring.

So that and a load of grabs - including big'uns - beneath the cut.

The map I'm going to play is called the Holy Tree, and it's a four way scrap around a - er - Holy Tree. Like, obv. Here it is, displaying its obvious holiness.

I'm green. The computer is taking up red, yellow and blue. Four teams! It's as if it's made for RPS. Let's pretend that Alec is controlling the blue, Jim the yellow and Walker the red, just to make it a little more human. The aim of King of the Hill is to capture various zones in the map, with you earning points for each second you possess a zone. You can change the rules of King of the Hill to a number of other types - like, say, you gain a point for each Darwinian you have in a zone each second, which changes the strategic demands considerably.

Anyway - this map has five main zones. There's one in each corner of the map, and a larger one in the centre around the aforementioned Holy Tree. The computer's also pointing out the second strategic consideration - the Darwinian generators. There's one in each corner, plus two more in the center. Capture these, and they generate more Darwinians to throw forwards in a Haigian manner.

(In the preview mode, there's also a Statue capture mode, which involves getting your Darwinians to grab the big fellas in a CTF way. The non-preview-code modes are Domination, Assault, Rocket Riot and Blitzkrieg. The first is wipe out everyone. The second is piling into a defended structure, and then swapping to defend when you succeed - presumably with comparisons between the time to decide the victor. Thirdly, you have to protect solar arrays to refuel your rocket, and whoever launches first, wins. The fourth is a territorial control based around grabbing areas around maps. The fifth doesn't exist - you fail list reading class. All the mode have the little tweaky things.)

Anyway. 10 minutes. King of the Hill. Against four hard AI. Go!

First things first - where to send men? I'm decide to go left as it's Red. Clearly, thinking it's Walker, thus weakest. You'll note one Darwinian near my generator holding a flag. He's directing any of my Darwinians who approach to head off in THAT direction, to a set waypoint. You'll note Red has one too, and it looks as if they're heading to grab the zone first. I'm not even trying. I'm going to secure the generator. Sure, I'm giving up initial points, but I figure I can overwhelm him in a minute and get the score ticking.

And it plays out like that - you can see that my Darwinians take up their positions around the base, and start to generate reinforcements. Meanwhile, in the background, there's the red's secure and earning points. Note the top left, which lists the current scores - as well as the predicted scores at the final time if the current territorial control stays the same. Yellow will win with over 2000 points, followed by Blue, Red and finally yours truly, who'll have earned zero points. This isn't going to happen, obv, because I'm going to annihilate them with the power of my mighty strategic brain. And clicking.

Darwinians close in from both sides, and we take them out with superior numbers. I choose to set up another general, sending the troops straight into the battlezone, while readjusting my other commander back at the original base to march to the capture point. I could do this manually - by holding down LMB, a selection area expands out to manually order en masse, but this is neater and means I can pay attention to other things, like, say noticing if Red is going to bomb me or something.


The basts.

Yeah, I wasn't expecting that. Your armies are primarily Darwinians, shooting, but you're able to supplement them with heavy-hardware via to drops. Parcels fall from the heavens sporadically. If you grab hold of one, you get a random gift. He got bombers, which is an ideal way to send people running. It's in this way which the other iconic characters of Darwinia make their appearance. Such semi-random elements bring Multiwinia a few inches closer to its arcade-cousins than most RTS - this is, basically, how Bomberman treats its power-ups.

Did I mention Jim and I once lost a game of bomberman to a man who was passed out? Another time.

I haven't been ignoring these boxes though. I've actually picked up one - as well as this attack on my left, a parcel dropped on my lap, which I diverted some troops to secure. Oh - and I did another quick thrust to the right, where I repeated my grab-production-unit-then-engage tactic. It's not going as well as the battle on the left, as they don't have the support from my centre, but I'm still edging a victory and all-important points.

My power up is the armoued transport unit. It's able to move a group of Darwinians from one area of the map to the other. A Glance to the centre shows that while the yellows have taken control of the tree, they haven't grabbed the nearest production centre yet. A mob pile on to the truck and drive off...

And disembark to grab everything, including another bonus...

Which turns out to be an engineer, which - if you remember from the original game - gather the fallen souls of the combatants, and allow you to recycle them into fresh Darwinians. So I need a properly aged battlefield to deploy them. Luckily...

I'm dominating the left of the battlefield, and there's plenty of computer-guy-corpses to recycle. You'll note the Darwinians aren't in the mob which you've seen so far. Blame the commander, who's getting all militaristic. As well as being able to set a destination, they're alternatively able to organise Darwinians in a regimented fashion. While you lose speed - they can't move as quick - you gain a considerable combat punch. Out of formation, Darwinians are cowards, running away as soon as fight, in a skirmishing manner. Lined up, they're vicious, as those mass of red souls show.

Terribly vulnerable to area effect weapons, of course, but you can't have everything.

But I need more everything than I've currently got. Note the scores. We're reaching the half-way mark, and I'm going to top out at 1600 at the final bell while Yellow's going to hit a heftier 2700. Need to do something sharpish.

I see that the yellow are mainly attacking the blue from their central generator - meaning there's not many Darwinians there to defend both the tree and their production unit. Loading up my tank again, I send a group to capture it. It works, and suddenly I've got two generators churning out cannon-fodder, allowing me to send waves of Darwinians - arranged into armed-ranks - towards the tree. Now, I'm playing a little risky here - there's something you can do (I haven't worked out exactly what yet) which can ignite the holy relic, which sets fire to everyone in the are as it burns down. Which creates the somewhat disturbing image of Darwinians running around screaming as they suffer the AI-equivalent of being napalmed alive.

But at the moment it's working - Yellow is countering, but I'll now win as long as everything else stays constant. And I'm doing as much as I can to make that true. For a start, I'm grabbing another box, and I'm...

Well, I'm locking down the areas of movement across the map with ranks of Darwinians. Reds can't really get sufficient numbers through the choke-points. And, handily, there's plenty of more souls for my Engineer to collect in the carnage. You'll notice the explosions here - Darwinians lob the occasional grenade on their lonesome. Which is pretty neat, but to get really vicious you'll need to get a Squad pick-up, and I haven't been that lucky.

Fuck and, indeed, yeah.

You'll note the sixty second limitation. That's because, if they're manually controlled, they're a game winner. If your attention wanders away, they'll get mown down like every other Darwinian troop. However, if you're nursing them, you can alternate dashes forward and back with right clicks to send a grenade to shatter rank after rank.

Now, with claiming the centre-ground, I've already won. Winning isn't enough. I want to suitably humiliate the opposition. I look for an opportunity...

On the right, the Yellows have been dragged down to a single generator. But for the audacity of actually winning earlier in the game, I'm going to mash them up a little more. My transporter moves a mass of troops to try and snatch a pick-up right on his digital doorstep. However, if that Captain in the background has anything to say about it, they're all going to die in the progress.

So I spawn my squad, send it forward and start throwing grenades in the manner of an early twentieth-century anarchist at a bourgeois ball. And things get messy.

Well, not as messy as the 1000 kills suggests. That's the total in the match rather than a single mentalist grenade attack.

The counter ticks down and...

Well, it's easy enough to beat against the AI in the preview build, once you've got a hand of the basics. The real question is what it'll be against human opposition, which I'm looking forward to trying. Worth nothing that Red got a pathetic score, and since Walker was red for the purposes of my thinking, it's a fairly accurate simulation of his tactical abilities.

What's it like? I've enjoyed it enough to be playing these three skirmish maps across the last few weeks. It's an RTS cut back to its core essentials - you can file it next to World in Conflict, but even pacier. The very precise nature of the score certainly adds a tension to the game - you play the maths as hard as you can, working out how long you can afford to build forces without actually gaining points. And despite being quite brutal, it's still got a lot of Darwinia's retro-charm. Problems? The control system, while really elegant, isn't an RTS-standard one, so there's going to be a learning curve. Also, in the preview version, the code for the Darwinians bringing your statue back home is completely haywire. There's a question of depth, but the variety of modes and modifers to each of those games will shake it up a little - you suspect it'll end up being a sister game to Defcon in this manner.

We'll have more on Multiwinia: Survival of the Flattest as we get closer to its September release. Until then, here's some pretty extra screenshots which you can click to increase biggitude.

Predictions? It's going to get an extra 5-10% for the "Survival of the Flattest" subtitle alone.

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