And then there are the airstrikes, which can easily sway the course of the game. From swooping Space Invader style bombers to devastating meteor and nuke drops, it's these attacks which really show off just how epic this apparently simplistic visual style can be. The sight of dozens of angular people screaming in terror as they run around and slowly cook to death in a radioactive sunburst is both hilarious and haunting.
Everything is controlled with the mouse, while the WASD keys move your viewpoint around. The only other keys you need are the space bar to deselect a unit, and Ctrl-C to disband a platoon of Darwinians. Scrolling feels a little sluggish, given that the game is so reliant on quick decisions, and it still feels a little odd that the mouse wheel controls the camera's vertical movement rather than zooming in and out - but it's an otherwise elegant system that suits the game's fat-free approach to strategy.
As someone who firmly believes that Julian Gollop's Chaos is the best game ever I've always clung to the notion that strategy games are best served by simplicity rather than clutter. As Chaos was one the acknowledged influences on Darwinia it's no surprise that Introversion's output continues to explore the myriad possibilities that can be thrown up by a relatively small number of carefully chosen variables.
I'd rather play a strategy game like this, where depth comes from a focussed and fluid challenge within tightly controlled parameters, than plough through a deluge of sprawling drop-down menus and constant resource grinding. Multiwinia, thankfully, continues to bang the drum for microcosmic strategy, and in fine style.
If the game has one flaw it's that the stringent time limits don't give you much time to find your bearings when playing offline. Computer-controlled players can spawn and swarm with overwhelming speed, even on the easier difficulty settings, which can make for a frustrating experience for all the but the strategy hardcore.
This really is a multiplayer game, where playing against fallible human opponents results in a much more interesting experience. The single-player mode feels included out of habit rather than any driving need. The rather small number of maps is also a shame, even though the modding community will no doubt address that problem soon enough.
As such, the rather clumsily titled Multiwinia sometimes feels more like a long lost multiplayer mode for the original Darwinia than a standalone game in its own right. This is, after all, how the project began (and how it will eventually appear on XBLA when the two games are merged into Darwinia+) but at budget price this is a minor quibble rather than a serious complaint.
Click into its leftfield groove and Multiwinia provides a quirky but devilishly compelling distillation of all that strategy games can be - rich, deep and compressed into intense digestible chunks. Yummy.
8 / 10