Real-time strategy games can daunt anyone who's new to the genre, or simply impatient. That leaves an opening for Multiwinia, an arcade-paced, stripped-down, capricious indie from Britain's Introversion. The tiny, antenna-like stick figures of the company's earlier hit, Darwinia, are back, but this time they're locked in war with each other. Fragmentary loading-screen blurbs explain how the Multiwinians mutated and picked fights with each other, but history is beside the point: Each tribe of Multiwinians simply hates any Multiwinian that's a different color, and they head into battle on a variety of stark vector-graphic maps and in six different modes, from wars of attrition to king-of-the-hill and capture-the-flag.
One match takes just 10 to 15 minutes. The AI is tough enough to practice against before trying the online multiplayer, though at press time, few live people were competing. Players may start with a strategy, but any time the armies start to dig into position, another wave of "crates" drop, delivering random super-weapons like nukes, rocket troops, and ant infections, which can almost instantly turn the tide. Multiwinia isn't a deep game: It's more about winning skirmishes than plotting campaigns, but it's a thrill in short, chaotic bursts.
Beyond the game: Multiwinia bears all the stylistic hallmarks of an Introversion game, from the stark, lonely landscapes to the digitized death cries of the fallen Multiwinians. Anyone who played last year's DEFCON will smile when that game's two-dimensional nuclear subs rise from the waters, and the sight of a Multiwinian rocket launching toward a grid-like sky is almost breathtaking.
Worth playing for: Simple controls and sudden setbacks make this a great complement to Left 4 Dead.
Frustration sets in when: The Multiwinians are sometimes skittish, lazy, and tough to corral, especially when you're trying to form and lead a squadron.
Final judgment: A fast, frenzied trip back to the world that Tron forgot.