Everyone loves a surprise, don’t they? Not the tax reminder kind, more the unexpected gift-wrapped present or kind gesture. The same goes for videogames, where good surprises are quite often the realm of indie titles. Just look at projects like Paper Beast or Cubism as prime examples. When it comes to virtual reality (VR) this can be down to screenshots and even video struggling to portray the gameplay, so that first step inside feels very fresh and astonishing. And that sums up the review of Swarm…or if you want to know more then read on.
It used to be the case that intense speeds and sharp directional changes were a no go area for VR gameplay, especially if it involved swinging. As most are probably aware now this thought process has very much been thrown in the bin, with recent titles such as Tarzan VR or Yupitergrad proving what can be achieved by grappling and swinging between platforms. Swarm well and truly takes grappling to another level with action-focused gameplay that never lets up until the level is complete.
On the surface Swarm is a classic wave shooter, where you have a selection of light, medium and heavy-duty enemies to get rid of. You’ll get combo scores for quickly dispatching hordes, with the smaller insectoids bundled in swarms whilst the larger enemies tend to be singular, defending themselves with force fields or firing homing rockets at you. Nothing too unusual on that front, you’ve all played videogames with this type of enemy setup requiring you to vary strategies on the fly.
Quite often though you’ll get a little breather or be able to hide behind a wall to regain some composure. Yeah…there’s none of that in Swarm, it’s adrenaline central. Because, as mentioned, movement in Swarm relies on swinging between platforms, with a grappling hook embedded in each of the pistols you hold. The important factor to note is that there’s no floor as such, so you can’t simply hop down reorientate and jump back in Spider-Man style. Get too low and it’s instant death. The first level, for example, is above water so if you suddenly find yourself submerged then you’ll get eaten by a shark, restarting the stage all over again.
Developer Greensky Games definitely seems to be weaving some VR hocus pocus with Swarm as gameplay this manic shouldn’t be this comfortable. Each stage has a selection of platforms you can grapple to, swinging around to your heart’s desire. But grappling means you can’t shoot your gun. So you can choose to get some awesome height with a double grapple and then rein fire down upon enemies or stay mobile continually swinging with one hand whilst the other dishes out the pain – albeit with less damage. The former method quickly became the standard, it’s a great way of scoping out the level when filled with hostiles plus the bonuses are easier to spot.
Even with the general comfort factor, there are options to tweak should you need them. Various degrees of vignette are available, switch to lefty, or select between snap and smooth turning. Swarm is best played standing so you can naturally turn around without using the stick controls but it equally works seated with a spinning chair.
As an arcade-action videogame Swarm needed and provides plenty of little goodies to spice up the experience. You start with some bog-standard, pistols no matter the level. As the action hots up new upgrades will appear providing limited extra firepower like the handy, lock-on rocket launcher, great for boss weak points or groups for multi-kills. Health pickups are also available but it’s the two charge up features that add an extra level of tactical advantage. These are Slowmo and Zip. Slowmo is fairly self-explanatory and useful for hitting those weak points, whilst Zip can launch you to a platform, avoiding incoming fire or floor death. Swarm doesn’t stop there either. Mods such as low gravity, unlimited rapid-fire and unlimited slowmo can be activated before each level – of which there are 25 across 5 zones – although they halt progression. Green shards appear to up the multiplier and then there are side objectives to complete. For an arcade shooter, there’s a lot going on and plenty to keep you coming back for more.
And that’s the most important factor, is it fun enough that you’ll want to keep playing considering this is a single-player game with global leaderboards? That’s a firm “heck yes!” Swarm’s gameplay is as bold as its visuals, and even in the casual setting provides a decent challenge that is instantly addictive. Make no mistake Swarm is intense and possibly not recommended for those new to VR. If you’re a VR veteran then definitely give this a try, just make sure you’ve got plenty of space to swing those arms around!