Sometimes a game has such a cool premise that it turns heads with its hook alone. Drone Swarm by Stillalive studios GmbH is one of those games. The look and feel of this space based action/strategy game is striking even if the story itself does not meet the same high standards.
Set in 2118, Drone Swarm has a Homeworld vibe focusing on a shattered remnant of humanity trying to find a new Earth. This game centers around a swarm of 32,000 individual drones inhabited by the minds of some of Earth’s survivors. These are all controlled by a latent psychic human called Captain Carter, the commander of the Argo, mankind’s only FTL ship.
This premise is a lot to take in but it does introduce the gameplay mechanic of remotely controlled drones and the result is crazy, challenging and fun. As the explorers travel from system to system, they encounter aliens, hostile environments and derelict stations.
Often battle is engaged as the creatures are all in a warlike state with each other and do not ask questions before firing. This is when Drone Swarm starts to shine, as the group of drones can be directed in truly cool ways.
At the start a shield-like barrier and slashing attacks of drones can be called on to help the survivors, but new abilities are discovered often. The ability to add effects to attacks, knock enemies away, capture enemies and much more make the action dynamic and exciting.
The missions, as mentioned, generally become a battleground but often result in both experience points and upgrades for the swarm. Upgrades are not always new powers, though those are nice, but often come as enhancements to the existing powers.
Things like changing how long barriers stay up, or slowing enemies that pass through them, make a big difference to how battles unfold. The battles can be intense, and at times frustrating, which is what RTS games are frankly known for and we love it.
Some battles are straightforward: kill everything that moves. Others are defensive battles. The tools at the swarm’s disposal help greatly but quick reflexes and area awareness are key to surviving.
Often there are different ship types engaging, some stationary or slow and others fast and mobile. This requires split tactics that seems simple at first but get complex as the fragile Argo starts taking a beating.
Throwing up barriers, batting away laser-emitting ships and slashing at fast attackers is frantic and fun. Often there are layers of enemies popping in to the battle and switching up tactics mid-stride is key to survival in Drone Swarm.
When a truly challenging scenario was completed I felt that familiar rush of a job well done that was not quite matched by the story beats. While the gameplay is fun and inspired, the story is Sci-Fi 101 and delivered in a very bland way.
This does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the game, but some enhanced story delivery could have truly gone a long way. Drone Swarm is available on Steam and small faults aside it is a game that is beautiful in its aesthetic delivery with a gameplay hook that is unique and refreshing.