Anyone familiar with the casual sadism of recent entries in the Saw franchise will instantly recognise the doomed challenge of Swarm; flense away the sugary exterior and you’ll find a caustic iron heart – a world ready to bludgeon the unsuspecting, allowing you mere seconds to sidestep oblivion.
You have 50 blue Swarmites to frantically herd through each level, rapidly collecting DNA to feed a central blob and maintain and increase your score multiplier. Although comprised of individuals, the swarm is controlled as one; you mould it like genetic putty, altering its shape to meet whatever murderous obstacle is in your path. While it initially resembles the strategic herding of Pikmin, Swarm is far less cerebral, more race for survival than measured exploration.
Only by amassing a high enough score can you progress to the next stage, and losing your multiplier will often force a restart. As your multiplier slips through your fingers, the temptation is to push blindly onward and pile further misery upon your minions. This is both Swarm’s cleverest and most frustrating conceit: plunging your hand into the unknown is exhilarating, but rarely do you have time to analyse what’s ahead, waiting for you in the darkness. The game’s challenges aren’t signposted well enough to be avoided the first time, and it becomes more like racing blind. Until you’re familiar with the track, there’s a limited chance that you’ll succeed first time – or indeed the third or fourth time, given the surgically sharp learning curve. The fact that your swarm is largely expendable provides little relief.
Although your flock can be respawned at various nodes that pulsate throughout each stage, you’ll need to keep most of them alive to activate the higher multipliers. For a game drenched in blue blood, the end of each level can seem completely unwelcome if your score isn’t high enough, and unless you’re prepared to repeatedly rerun this slapstick gauntlet, Swarm will provide a stern test of both skill and patience.