|System: Xbox 360, PS3|
|Dev: Hothead Games|
|Pub: Ignition Entertainment|
|Release: March 22, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Animated Blood, Cartoon Violence|
by Steve Haske
There are few games I've played in recent memory that tackle their subject matter with such nihilistic glee the way that Swarm does. Rockstar's original Manhunt presented murder as a conceptual snuff film in a similar way, and the indie flash game Every Day the Same Dream and Suda 51's Flower, Sun and Rain also spring to mind. But Swarm is different. It's not supposed to necessarily be taken seriously, for one. The developers at Hothead also clearly have a sick sense of humor, as the swarmites you'll spend the duration of the game killing off (either by accident or as sacrificial lambs to the slaughter for the game's bizarre alien higher consciousness "Momma") don't just die without pity or dignity, but are actually victims of a game-long joke on the part of the dev team.
These cute little critters, reminiscent of cartoony goblins or lower level minion-types that made their way out of the confines of a stereotypical-if-stylized RPG, will be killed by the thousands. And you'll probably at least smile when it happens. The game demands it—Swarm revolves around a combo-based structure that necessitates swarmites sacrificing themselves for Momma in order to keep a point chain going, while the cartoony look and somewhat darkly comical presentation on existence in willing slavery is necessary for the game to remain both morally presentable and enjoyable. That way it's okay to grimly chuckle when a screaming few are sent splattering into the lens of the camera, or the decimated remains of a herd of the blue-blooded little guys are walking around confusedly without limbs, looking vaguely miserable and perhaps a little confused over why they suddenly are in their death throes. PTSD, indeed.
The world, too, is as uncaring and merciless as your concern over the swarmites' well-being. A twisted junkyard wasteland, the hard terrain the swarmite masses must traverse throughout the game's cruel setting is a bitter, rusty no-man's land where death is never more than a few seconds away. Traps are not infrequent. Rotating blades, pits of fire, seemingly organic metal tendrils ready to impale any wayward swarmite, even the strange inhabitants of whatever planet Momma is trying so hard to occupy are hellbent on murdering you. The art direction here is great. Both mature and silly at once, Swarm takes the best and most bizarre parts of Earthworm Jim and Limbo—think Silent Hill's Hell as a Saturday morning cartoon, as drawn by Jonen Vasquez.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Swarm is the way the game simply dumps you off in its world with absolutely no explanation. You control your cluster of swarmites, which maxes out at fifty, and are told that Momma needs x number of points to reach her goal for the level. The willing swarmites are mute, and there's no story to speak of, allowing your imagination to construct your own backstory as to the strange things you will encounter, or simply sit back and just take in the game's wealth of weird imagery. Your sole goal is to obey Momma and get whatever point values she needs. The way this is handled is through the rapid, yet careful control of your swarmite horde, who are tasked with essentially racing to the proverbial finish line—in this case a massive genetic tube that Momma absorbs her following through—collecting as many DNA fragments as possible to feed her.