Swarm Universe is a new top-down shooter, developed by Dedication Games, as a spiritual successor their 2010 game Swarm Arena. In a style reminiscent of Asteroids, Swarm Universe has you control an orb whose main form of attack and defence is several small drones. Motion and movement are at the forefront of gameplay, relying on the tracking of your drones to follow your movement before being released at your enemies or blocking other drones.
The game starts off rather slow, with you being introduced to Bot-7, a Whatley wannabe, who goes into the controls of the game. As you finish up the tutorial missions, Bot-7 will relay the information that the game lacks any sort of “story”, saying he will ask the developers for one to entertain us. Tossing on a wig, Bot-7 portrays the cliché story of a Princess in trouble and an evil mastermind who kidnaps her. This storyline is quickly dropped, to both the unenthusiastic response of Bot-7 and the player.
The story mode of Swarm Universe is pretty quick to get through, though the game isn’t truly designed for a story mode. A lot of your game time will be taken up in the level editor, which can look daunting on start-up, as well as playing the multiplayer maps on the workshop. Taking user-generated-content to the next level, the game heavily relies on the community to make up its game length and longevity.
Controlling your character is simple, the left Thumbstick for movement, RB to hurl your drones and LB to dash. You will also make use of the A button to select menus and continue text. To kill your enemies you will need to create motion, moving forward will have your drones follow behind and stopping will cause them to move ahead of you, pressing RB will then shoot the drones in the direction they are moving.
While simple, the movement controls and motion mechanics can become quite in-depth and unique, though frustrating at times. You will need to master motion to properly utilise your drones, who only come back when you approach them or overtime. When these drones make contract with an enemy, the enemy dies and the drones stay in that place until picked up. You will have a good number of drones on you, over 20 at most of the time which even more being added from killing enemies or obtaining powerups.
In the games story mode you will be tasked with making your way through “caves”, essentially setting themselves up as long winding corridors full of enemies, traps and the main goal of reaching the end. After the caves you will enter a survival or point mission, requiring you to survive a certain amount of time or gaining enough points within a set time. Sadly, the repetition of these concepts does effect the player, after 2 chapters of the story you will come bored at having to repeat the same mission again with a new slap of paint.
The developers have made some standard maps for single player and multiplayer, forcing all players to download from the workshop if they want access to multiplayer. You start off with 0 maps, only able to fill that void with player-made ones, which often are restricted to simple game modes like capture the flag or Deathmatch. While creators have a wide-range of tools at hand, all the levels blend into one another due to the design of Swarm Universe and player imagination.
Overall thoughts and feelings
Swarm Universe started off with a great soundtrack, full of trance and dance tracks. However, these tracks are often looped short songs, the first hearing of them gives the sense of greatness but that fades as you follow the rabbit hole. With a single track per mission, chosen from what seems like 6 different tracks which are repeated to no end, the music becomes another annoyance as the maps turn into a bullet hell where your movement is constrained by the graphics on screen.
Starting up Swarm Universe, I had high hopes, the beginning segments and unique spin on gameplay had me hooked. That sensation quickly went away though, with some great upfront work on display that is repeated over and over again. Repeating missions, music and mechanics lead to a game that looks pretty but plays ugly. The difficulty has a steady increase, one that is very welcome, with survival missions taking a lot of concentration and memory of spawns but a lack of variety holds them back.
Overall Swarm Universe gets a 6/10, it can be a great game to kill some boredom for a few minutes at a time but the enjoyment quickly falls of a cliff. The reliance on the community is felt too harshly with maps by creators not meeting a high enough standard or merely feeling too similar to one another. The multiplayer right now is too barren, the story mode feels like an afterthought, Bot-7 lacking a voice dampens any comedy he would have and the overall experience becomes repetitive and boring. Fans of Swarm Arena should love this game as it improves a lot on the previous, but fans of bullet hell or top-down shooters might feel disappointed. I’d suggest waiting for the game to have more workshop content created before a purchase.