Swarm 2 is full-360 VR action done right

Sometimes when genres evolve it’s through new features or concepts coming to them, in the case of Swarm 2 it’s through new technology. Notably, Swarm 2 feels like a successor to some sort of arcade shooter or shmup. Interestingly, it might be more of an evolution to that than it is to its own predecessor.

I’ve not played the first game, but our reviewer Alex was enamoured with it when he reviewed the first Swarm three years back. The first was a sequence of levels flush with surfaces, however there were limitations on where and how you could grapple — it had all of the core gameplay ingredients that make Swarm 2 great, but the team completely reinvented the structure this time around.

Swarm 2 is, for the most part, a modern, action-arcade roguelite complete with persisting upgrades, an expansive libary of unlockable perks and mutators and a mass of different levels designs. Gameplay is now run-based, with you punching, shooting, grappling and surging through a sequence of levels to try and gather shards and rack up high scores. On failure, which is inevitable, you return to the menu, view the upgrades and perks you’ve unlocked and get the chance to permanantly upgrade your character using the shards you gathered.

VR is a really, really interesting way to play games (I’m sure you probably agree, as you likely have one if you’re reading this) as it changes the normal dynamic between controller, camera and player to one closer to ‘Workman and his tools’. The frustration of a learning curve is felt more intensely, the shifting from one game’s reaction times and responsiveness to another’s is more intense, but the payoff and rush that comes with a successful reaction is almost unmatchable.

Swarm 2‘s tutorial then, is never going to actually ready you for playing it. Neither is messing around for twenty–thiry minutes. In fact, it was only after binning off my playstyle for the third or fourth time that suddenly things began to sing. Don’t swing around like Spiderman, pull yourself up like you’re doing a tug-of-war; Don’t cross the middle of the arena to throw of your enemies, go high or wide and take them out with strafing bullets. Will this be the same for you? Almost certainly not, but once you find your own groove then it becomes an entirely different game… something really special.

On the subject of ‘Something really special’. I am incredibly confused at how, despite the fact that I was spinning on the spot — watching my own back, while also watching out for things above and below me — I didn’t even get a hint of motion-sickness. I have zero idea how this works, and can only assume that it’s something to do with refresh rate, clear art design and maybe one of those little white dots that Mirror’s Edge used to stop people from redecorating their controller with their lunch.

As I said, Swarm 2 is a roguelite. That is, you unlock more perks and elements as you progress through the game, those are then fed back into future runs and you get the chance to bolt them on between levels. The progression and unlocks feel well implemented, it’s rare that you’ll come out of a run and not have something pop. Notably, they make it feel like you’re getting better even when you’re actually flooding the game with more and more perks and weapons… while you’re doing this you’re also spending your shards on stat upgrades, which are genuinely the main source of progression as they bump up your health and shield, helping you survive just that little bit longer.

That first time you punch through the first level, the second level, and the first boss… it feels great, and that’s — frankly — because of the upgrading. In fact, my main frustration came from the fact that there are green bots which fly at you and detonate. It’s an obvious enemy type, sure, but you can only take a couple of these when you first start out, which makes the learning curve (and the race to the first health/armour upgrade) a little steeper.

Swarm 2 Boss Fight

Anyway, anyway, anyway, I’ve prattled on a lot about progression, but even without that Swarm 2 is an improvement on the first due to the fact that you can grapple on basically any object in the game. Want to grapple onto an enemy? Great, do it. Want to grapple onto the cool, spinning turbine and launch yourself around the map? Better get to it. The variety of levels keeps things fresh (even when they feel familiar after a few dozen runs) and mean that you’ve always got traversal options… and if you really want to mix things up then the surge-dash or analogue-stick dashes can really, really mix things up.

I really don’t think there are many negatives here, but if I had to list them it would be that there should perhaps be an encouragement to explore the free roam mode first (perhaps through races?), that the little green kamikase robots come in slightly later (or you get a view of the arena before first entering), and that the bosses had a bit more variety. As it stands, the big every-five-levels bosses in the runs are all large bipedal mechs, they look almost identical (colour swaps) which means they don’t really indicate their different moves. I was also surprised that the mid-bosses didn’t have more variety to them, however their increasing frequency (especially alongside bosses) and the space they take up in the regular sized arenas excuses that a bit.

You can always tell that a game is good when the negatives list sounds like a designer’s fix or future-features list. Swarm 2 is an excellent VR shooter with a great roguelite core all wrapped around a central, fantastic traversal system that could only work on VR.

Swarm 2 is available now on the Meta Quest III via the Meta Quest Store.

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