Ever seen one of those nature documentaries that’s essentially a series of rodents being torn to meaty pieces by predators? Swarm is the videogame equivalent, played like a race against your own mortality.
You control a group of 50 swarmites: blobby blue ovoids trapped on a planet constructed entirely out of whirring death-engines. It begins with you being spewed forth from the quivering mound of flesh you call mamma. From there, it’s a race through the level to collect as many blobs of DNA as possible, racking up a score multiplier high enough to let you progress to the next level.
The good news is that no matter how many of your gormless swarmites get mashed, crushed, stabbed and roasted, as long as you have one left you can respawn them at the pulsating nodes that mamma has helpfully left on each stage.
The bad news is that for a game that gives you a potentially limitless army of minions, this is still more hard than squishy. The swarmites are expendable, but keeping them alive reaps additional score multipliers from pressure pads that activate big DNA bonuses, often tantalisingly placed after a particularly perilous section. It never misses an opportunity to mistreat you.
Swarm might be disguised as a puzzler, with the cartoony aliens working together to overcome obstacles, but the emphasis is on speed. If you make a mistake and lose your multiplier, the only option is to hit restart and try again.
It’s frustrating, until you realise that Swarm has to be played like a murderous, sprinting time trial, with every action executed perfectly. Even then it’s an unrelenting alien genocide simulator, but the punishing difficulty will tickle the one-more-try gland of anyone who appreciates a challenge.
It’s presented in the sort of irreverent package you’d expect from the team that made Deathspank, but at times the distant camera makes things even more difficult. You’ll spend more time gnawing your cheeks in anger than laughing. Natural selection has rarely felt crueller.