It's been a while since I've posted anything. But Christmas is a wonderful time for video games, namely because of the holiday deals that Steam offers. I picked up Swarm: Arena through Steam for $2.50, and I find myself playing it over other major titles that I've purchased (eg. Mass Effect 2). This won't be so much of a review as it will be an explanation and a recommendation. I'll jump right in.
Swarm: Arena is a simple, arcade style 'shoot em up' game without any literal shooting. Each player is a simple circular object in a rectangular arena, and the object is to kill your opponent. Each player begins with a number of 'drones' orbiting around their ship (for lack of a better word to describe a flying circle). These drones are essentially armies; when two opposing drones touch, they kill each other and disappear. If one player's drone touches the other player's ship, that player either loses a power level, or dies if they have no powers.
There are only two powers: 'Shoot' and 'Circulate'. Using the Shoot power accelerates drones in their current direction, which tends to have the effect that they launch outwards from a player. If used correctly, they can be launched directly at the opponent. The Circulate power causes nearby drones to orbit the ship. This can mainly be used defensively, as a player can create a wall of drones surrounding themselves.
Lastly, there are powerups to get these powers, as well as powerups to get more drones. There are also force fields which randomly enter the battlefield and allow for a temporary safe place to hide.
This game is simply awesome. Although I've dabbled in the genre forever, I've never really sunk my teeth into a game the way I am with this one. For starters, the single player is addictive and challenging. In fact, the game includes an AI that learns from its successes and mistakes and grows along with the player. You can even set the AI to try crazier strategies, play against it for a while, and then set it back to normal to see what it's decided on. There is also an AI that I have only been able to beat twice in at least 30 games. It's hard; trust me on that.
I've never been a big fan of achievements in games, but Swarm: Arena only has 15 of them, and they all seem to actually be indicative of skill (instead of an "I've played 500 hours of this game" badge). They are also pretty interesting. In one of them, the player has to train the Pandora AI (the one that learns) to be able to beat Genesis (the really hard AI). I think this is just downright cool.
The game has a surprising amount of depth, as far as skill levels go. There is an obvious element of dexterity; if you can dodge almost anything, you'll survive almost anything. However, there is also a major strategic element. If you can force your opponent to one third of the arena, say, then you're more likely to be able to pick up the next powerups that show up. Using these powerups, you can continue to press an advantage, instead of going all out for the kill.
I also failed to mention that each player only has a finite area of influence over their own drones, which shrinks as they use powers. Drones outside of this area become inactive and will not hurt the opponent or his/her drones. It also disappears temporarily if you hit an opponent. Thus, a smart player will notice when their opponent has a small area of influence, and can cut that player off from their own drones.
Lastly, there is both local multiplayer and an online ladder! I'm a sucker for competition, and I find this game to be quite thrilling when facing a human opponent. This greatly adds to replayability.
Get this game, especially if it's on sale! It's fun, fast, and nicely tactical/strategic. I've already got my $2.50 out of it, and I imagine I'll play the game a whole lot more. Until Mass Effect 2 becomes impossible to ignore, that is...