Swarm, by Greensky Games, was released in April and is a fast-paced arcade-style shooter. In it, Marv, the hero, uses grappling guns to navigate his way around each zone while shooting at almost everything that moves. While I was initially concerned about the sheer amount of character movement, I quickly forgot about it as I swung from one platform to another. Does it have long-term appeal, or is the game flash in the pan? This is our review of Swarm, a VR game on the Oculus platform.
Straight out of the gate, the first thing to talk about is movement and combat. Swarm does a phenomenal job of connecting the two almost seamlessly. Many have described the game as Spiderman with guns. But in my opinion, Swarm is an experience all its own. If I had to compare it to another game, at least in concept, Bionic Commando comes to mind because of the grapple used by the main character.
The player navigates around zones by leashing onto platforms with one or both weapons. If you need more height, pump your arms mid-swing. I know it sounds silly, but at times I found myself bending at the knees, trying to gain more height without realizing it. The game gets you moving as you stretch to fire the grapple at odd angles, are firing off a few shots at random enemies, or turning/twisting to get other targets in view.
The developers also provide a couple of extra tools to help players get out of difficult situations. One is a zip ability that pulls Marv towards a platform. The second is slow-motion to help easily target enemy vulnerable spots or hit fast-moving targets.
Initially, as I reach the apex of swings, I could feel a touch of vertigo. But with the constant action, I quickly forgot about the possibility of being motion sick and just started blasting enemies. Unlike some other games, other than that initial touch of vertigo, I experienced no other motion sickness symptoms playing the game.
Environments in Swarm are simple but well designed and bright. They are pleasant to look at and don’t take away from the action or obscure enemies. Zones are not large, but they do have a feeling of height to them as I swing up enough to receive the Icarus bonus. There were many times where I found myself bouncing off the invisible walls as I turned to try and take a pot shot. If I were a better player, I would most likely incorporate my bouncing off the walls into my strategy.Enemies are colorful, distinct in shape, and, at times, annoying little b!#&$^ds, but in a good way. Each enemy is identifiable with a glance, which is useful when swinging through the air at high speed. As a player, I can prioritize my targets quickly and swear to myself when certain ones appear. Enemies appear in a pattern during each level, allowing players to plan/practice when trying to beat levels and maximize their score.
Two enemies I loath to see are Zombies and Twisters. Zombies will move around the arena and resurrect their little zombie buddies, who are ever so helpful in getting yet more of them up and running to overwhelm me. Twisters are snake-like enemies that will charge you, especially once you take out their vulnerable spots, which causes them to enrage.
Combat sound effects are spot on, guns sound great, and the enemy explosions have a great feel. The sound effect I found the most fun was in the second zone, a loud gong whenever your hero gets hit by the large bell swinging through the middle of the map. Music also deserves a special note here as it supports the combat perfectly. The music’s beat also ramps up with each zone completed to help keep the energy level high.
While playing the campaign, I found the casual difficulty relaxing until you get into later levels, and while normal is a bit more challenging, it wasn’t too bad until you hit zone 4. When I am stuck dying a lot on a level, I can try changing tactics, practice more, or adjust the difficulty setting if I am truly stuck. I have not braved playing on extreme yet.
There is a lot of replay value in Swarm, even though the campaign is a bit short. While the levels are static in several ways, your ability to swing around the map can lead to varying situations. Just completing a given level is also not the end. There are achievements, a personal score to improve on, and a leaderboard to see how you stack up against other players.
Now comes the part where I bring up the bad. Well… I don’t have any that are the fault of the game itself. The targeting is sometimes a little off when trying to pinpoint certain enemies, but you are firing like a maniac most of the time anyway, which is half the fun.
I also noticed that when turning my head quickly, you sometimes get a momentary black bar appearing. The Quest 2 reaches its limits in rendering the graphics outside the FoV (Field of View), especially if left turned on for an extended period. I tested this as well on the Oculus Rift version and had no issues. So, it is a hardware problem. To help limit/correct it, I restarted the Quest 2 as a temporary fix.Between the constant action, visuals, great supporting music, and fantastic gameplay. Swarm is a fun and unique VR experience. The story, while limited, also provides a bit of a laugh and is presented in a styled comic format with decent voiceovers.
The only folks I would not recommend picking up this title, those that don’t like arcade-style shooters or who are worried about the constant movement mechanic. I wasn’t sure myself about having to swing around the map constantly. It seemed like a lot, but wow, does it add to the game.
For $24.99 US, if you already enjoy VR, there is no reason not to pick it up, and I can’t wait to see what else Greensky Games have in store for this game or a sequel in the future. Swarm is currently available on the Oculus platform as a cross-buy title and is coming to Steam VR later this summer.
Copy provided for purpose of review.