The Swarm PreviewBy Matt Keil - Posted Sep 17, 2010
Swarm comes to us from Hothead Games, perhaps best known as the developers behind the Penny Arcade Adventures: On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness titles. This is an action platformer distinguished by the fact that instead of controlling one main character, you control fifty. Well, technically fifty at one time, as over the course of the game you'll burn through a massive number of squishy little blue creatures called Swarmites.
The Swarmites have become stranded on the worst planet a squishy blue thing could imagine. It's a burned out industrial wasteland full of sharp edges, pointy objects, environmental hazards, and other lethal items. They aren't too bright, but they do teamwork like nobody else. At first glance, Swarm looks like it may be related to Pikmin, but it soon becomes clear there's a lot more going on under the hood.
Advanced swarming AI lets the Swarmites move as a group under your control, as well as perform individual actions based on your commands. Your directional input is followed by the group of fifty Swarmites en masse, with stragglers doing their best to obey. Likewise, commands to take specific actions are followed as best the little guys can manage given their dim bulbs and the materials at hand. For instance, should you command them to pick up a bomb and toss it at an obstacle, some Swarmites will undoubtedly do so. Others will pick up bombs and throw them at anything nearby that looks like the obstacle you have indicated. The more challenged of the group may simply pick up other Swarmites, as their round bodies are the only thing the can find resembling a bomb. Watching and imitating is Swarmite behavioral bread and butter, and learning how to predict their actions is key to success. Watching them fail horribly is part of the fun, too.
The Swarmites are certainly appealing and likeable characters, but it's best to not get too attached to individuals. Similar to Lemmings, the world the Swarmites traverse is incredibly dangerous to them. At any moment, explosive traps, poisonous vents, and bottomless gaps can decimate your little troop, also resulting in horrible and occasionally hilarious death animations. Numerous puzzles exploit the concept of the Swarmites in clever ways, often involving the voluntary sacrifice of a few members. Run out of Swarmites, and that's the end of your journey. Luckily, you can repopulate your swarm at regeneration points, even if you're down to just one Swarmite remaining.
To get past all these obstacles, you have to learn how to manipulate the swarm mentality. They have no offensive capability, but that doesn't mean they're defenseless. You can command them to spread out or to clump together in a huddle, depending on what is most advantageous at the time. Releasing the Swarmites from their huddle results in a burst of speed, handy for traversing gaps. They can also stack up in a Swarmite tower by standing on each other's shoulders, and even move around like that, albeit in a very unstable fashion. A leaping tower of Swarmites can be a handy thing, indeed.
Swarm is a digital download title, scheduled for release on Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, and PC in early 2011.