Remember when real-time strategy games were the big thing? Eventually they kind of morphed into MOBAs to a large degree, with some holdouts like StarCraft II sticking around, but there was a period around when WarCraft was still an RTS where it’s like we saw a new one coming out every week. Those days are long gone, of course, and we rarely see RTS games in the modern era. That doesn’t mean the genre’s dead, though. If we look at Drone Swarm, in fact, maybe it’s just trying to reinvent itself a little.
Tell me if you’ve heard this one: Earth has been destroyed! It was aliens! Specifically, it was the titular swarm of alien drones…but humanity has turned the tables yet again, since a select group of psychics are able to take command of the drones and bend them to their will. The tables weren’t turned especially fast, unfortunately, so Earth’s still in a bad way. It comes down to those psychics, their drones, and their mothership the Argo to explore the galaxy and find a new home for mankind, dealing with any other alien opposition on the way. Drone Swarm’s story is told via cutscenes that nail the corny 90s-era sci-fi concept they’re going for. One wonders if they could have signed on Rob Liefeld or something.
It might sound like pretty typical RTS fare, but Drone Swarm stands out by focusing on the physical nature of your minions. Rather than, say, sending out a cloud of drones that blast away at enemies with lasers, in Drone Swarm you’re drawing paths that your drones will follow, sawing through opposing ships as they go. When you want to defend the Argo, you’ll draw a wall and your drones will form the shield you’ve created. These are just your most basic options, as well, with more advanced abilities like slamming a solid ball of drones at enemies unlocking later. The Argo itself also has attack options and you’ll collect upgrades as you go, but the basic gameplay is all about interacting with the drone swarm and appreciating it for the impressive force of destruction it is.
This all feels a little unusual at first since there’s not a lot like it; in particular, there’s a degree of timing involved in all this, since you have to wait for your drones to actually go and do whatever you’ve ordered. This means that rather than just drawing death-paths where enemies are, you’ll have to learn how they move and aim for where they’ll be once your drones finally get moving. Guarding the Argo, in particular, isn’t nearly as easy as “draw a line between the ship and the incoming attack” might sound.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of Drone Swarm’s unique gameplay, though, it’s a fascinating idea that works well. You end up feeling a lot more connected to the welfare of the Argo than you might in a situation where you’re just crafting units and telling them to go zap things. Drone Swarm would probably feel even better in a situation with a touchscreen, and I found myself wondering if this was a mobile game or at least had a port – it’s not available on mobile, for the record. This came as a surprise given the bite-sized nature of the missions, which tend to last around five minutes each, and the touch-friendly concept.
Silly-looking comic book plot segments aside, Drone Swarm’s presentation is pretty impressive. That’s because the drones are put up front and center. You’re sending waves of mechanical death forward to shred your enemies, after all, and it looks and feels about as satisfying as one might hope. Somebody’s going to pick up the tech used in this game and toss it into a more fully-fleshed RTS one day. That’ll be glorious.
Not to say that Drone Swarm itself isn’t worth a look, of course. It’s not going to be the next big thing in real-time strategy, but it’s a quirky twist on the concept that feels and plays in a fashion all its own. From that perspective it’s probably worth a look from fans of the genre who’d like to try something new.