Swarm preview: strength in numbers

Hothead revealed Swarm for the first time back at E3. Then, we didn't know much about the game -- it's actually still in pre-Alpha, despite a launch window of "early 2011." We were given a demo of the game at PAX and finally came to understand what we were dealing with.

It's hard to see the game and not compare it to Lemmings. Both games have a seemingly dull-witted cast who have found themselves inexplicably stuck in an incredibly dangerous environment. And both have the same means to persevere: teamwork.
%Gallery-101328% But unlike Lemmings, the player actually takes direct control over the titular swam of 50. Hothead's game is an action-adventure with minor platforming elements and plenty of death. The swarm itself is quite expendable -- being on a planet full of poisonous sulphur pits, spinning saw blades and falling clumps of hot magma means you're bound to lose a few of the little blue things. But they're not without their skills.

The swarm itself is almost like a hive mind, which means that once one swarmite does something, the rest will follow. This allows the player to either bunch the swarmites together (handy for traversing thin passageways above chasms) or spread them out. This simple action lets you limit the effect of whatever deadly obstacle you're facing. For example, when there are a lot of small explosions in an area, spreading out keeps any one explosion from dealing maximum damage to the swarm. But in an area that has several different obstacles spaced out, bunching them together gets them through the gauntlet of death with minimal loss of life.

Swarms can also jump and, once bunched together first, can even jump on top of each other. This turns them into a leaning tower, effective for walking across extra thin bridges or squeezing through other tight spots. The only issue here is that a light touch is essential -- move too fast and the tower will topple.

And if you've lost any swarmites, convenient blue DNA piles will replenish your supply back up to 50. During the brief PAX demo, these DNA piles were beyond convenient, available after almost every few traps. So initially, the game seemed quite easy, but being a pre-Alpha build, we're sure this will continue to be tweaked.

For our first impression of the game, we came away intrigued. It's a neat concept and the swarmites themselves are definitely memorable little characters, but the true test is whether the concept of dodging traps with a pack of dull-witted beings can stay fresh. We were only given the smallest taste and we're definitely interested in seeing more complicated environments and challenges next time around.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.