Game

Review: Drone Swarm Never Amounts to More than a Tech Demo

Screenshot: Drone Swarm

When PlayStation 4 debuted almost a decade ago, one of its main features was its ability to handle particle effects. It was something I’ve seen on PC, but games like Knack and Infamous Second Son really leaned on the PS4’s particle capability. While Knack 2 did a better job than its predecessor, I always wanted to see a game that really took the gray goo approach, and had you control swarms of nanobots or other small objects to wreck your enemy in a tide of wanton destruction.  It feels like Drone Swarm was the answer to that prayer—but failed to completely deliver.

Drone Swarm is a real-time strategy game where you’re controlling a mothership called Argo as it looks for a new home. Earth has been destroyed by invading alien forces—swarms of drones that earth had no defense against. Salvation comes when a human with psionic ability transfers his consciousness into this drone swarm. Now these drones are Earth’s last, best chance at finding a planet suitable of sustaining what humans remain. But it’s a race against the clock, as Earth dies  slowly in a haze of radiation. Most defense and weaponry comes in the form of swarms of drones—and it’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen.

Screenshot: Drone Swarm

The sheer number of drones is indescribable—and something I haven’t seen in a video game. I really couldn’t believe it would be this impressive. You can send your drones out to swarm over targets to destroy them. Eventually, you will be able to create shield walls with your drones to stop incoming damage to the Argo, and more, including the ability to push attacking ships into hazardous anomalies, asteroids, and other ships to devastating effect.  My first impressions with Drone Swarm were extremely positive—until I kept playing, and realized there wasn’t much else to it.

While you control the swarms of drones, you don’t really have control over the mothership Argo. It sits stationary on a flat surface. All of the action is stuck to just one dimension. That wouldn’t be so disappointing if it weren’t a space game, and not every space-based real-time strategy has to have the complexity of say, Homeworld.  But the fact that you can’t even reposition Argo is a little disappointing. You only have control over the drones while the Argo stays stationary. It almost feels a little bit more like a tower defense game than real-time strategy. If there was some other type of management aspect—perhaps the drones could get resources, or you can use them to build more permanent defenses—it would have more staying power. But as it is, Drone Swarm doesn’t have much to it.

Screenshot: Drone Swarm

Controlling the drones isn’t as simple as marking a target and attacking, either. Drone Swarm has you use mouse gestures to path your drone’s attack. If you want your drones to swarm over a target, you have to draw a line through that target. The only problem is, the drones take a moment to collect strength, and targets move. It becomes a game of anticipating where the ships are going to be, and watching in frustration as your drones zip by, barely missing their intended target by feet. But with practice, and better drone abilities, taking out your targets with the drone swarm isn’t that difficult—it just becomes a little same-y.

Sure, I really enjoyed using the drones to pick up a ship and smash it into another ship, or use the drone’s ability to become a kinetic ball I can shoot like a bullet. But even as I went through each of the encounters and started unlocking new skills for my drones, I felt like what they were capable of was only slightly tweaked instead of becoming a wholly new skill.

Screenshot: Drone Swarm

In Drone Swarm, you navigate the Argo from system to system with an overhead map. This map shows you potential benefits for conducting a mission, as well as the threat level—with higher threat being a greater challenge. Most missions are all about destroying your enemies, but some missions require you to scan salvage, defend ships, or activate a series of structures to advance. Most of these encounters are over in less than a couple of minutes. Drone Swarm has some of the shortest missions I’ve ever played in a real-time strategy game.

Drone Swarm is a sprawling sci-fi epic that will have you interacting with different alien races as you navigate the Argo in search of a new home. Unfortunately, production values really hurt the storytelling. The voice acting is mediocre, but I feel like the actors were working with what they got, because the writing itself is pedestrian.

Screenshot: Drone Swarm

Drone Swarm is a lot of wasted opportunity. My initial awe wore off quickly, and controlling the drone swarm itself can even be a little frustrating to learn. Having the mothership be completely stationary is a strange decision, and limits a lot of what can be done in Drone Swarm. Encounters are short, the story is dull and badly acted. It’s just a mess of squandered opportunity. But damn does that giant swarm of drones look cool.

 

Drone Swarm is available today for PC on Steam.

 

 

 

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