April 12, 2011

Hothead Games has become one of the few go-to developers for projects that seem similar to something you’ve played before, but offer distinctive takes on that familiarity. Swarm is another example of that, offering gameplay that seems like it might be similar to Lemmings, but with enough variety and (uneven) difficulty to mix things up. 

You control a group of 50 creatures known as swarmites: small blue aliens that are very adorable, but not so adorable that you don’t mind watching them die in horrible ways. They are fairly dumb, so it’s your job to control them as a unit and to get them from one end of the level to the other. The other main goal is to reach a certain score by the end of the level in order to unlock the next one. Seems simple enough, right?

You have two main ways of earning points: killing your swarmites and collecting glowing swarmite food that you’ll find inside of boxes and other destructible objects scattered throughout each level. You also have a multiplier, which will continue to increase the more you pick up food and kill swarmites. You have to do whatever is necessary to get to the end of the level with at least one swarmite in tact while also maintaining your combo to achieve the highest score possible. It can be a bit hectic, to say the least.

The main problem is the difficulty, which reaches such a steep curve by the halfway point that most gamers might want to throw their controllers against the wall in frustration. The gameplay is oddly addictive. This is despite the sadistic nature of the level design and the manner in which you are meant to collect swarmite food while keeping some of your little blue friends alive. The game fails to reach a nice balance between the two, and you’ll find yourself often just achieving one or the other, not both. 

It’s tough. And not in the way that makes you want to keep trying to improve your scores or get better at each level. You’ll reach a point where you’ll probably just stop caring. Each subsequent level requires you to move faster, doing whatever it takes to keep your combo going while the designers throw everything at you to make sure you lose. One of those things is a buggy camera, which will sometimes not follow your swarmites or only follow one or two of them instead of your entire group. This can lead to you running into deathtraps or off the edge of the level without realizing it until it’s too late. 

The checkpoint system goes easy on you, but that doesn’t matter if you can’t finish the level with the necessary score. It works in some of the earlier levels, but others it just becomes tedious. Combine that with the game’s tendency to freeze often, and you have one interesting game in a technically-hampered package.

It’s hard to recommend Swarm. It is a very fun game that is brought down by some poor design choices and uneven difficulty. The core gameplay is functional and it does supply some very addictive gameplay, but it could have been so much better. 

Pros: Solid controls; basic gameplay is functional and, at times, addictive

Cons: The difficulty curve is uneven; camera is unreliable; game locks up regularly

Score: 3/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.