Hunting a 32,000 strong swarm of drones simultaneously and simulated in real time through space not only sounds exciting, but is also very innovative in this form. The Austrian indie studio Stillalive Studios is working on a unique real-time sci-fi strategy game that uses exciting technology and extensive campaign points.
Drone Swarm is in an early stage of development, nevertheless the demo provided to me looks very mature. The term vertical slice, which is commonly used in the games industry, is used here. This is the version of a game that usually contains all important features to be able to demonstrate all planned features to potential stakeholders such as investors, publishers or the press. So I could get a good first impression of Drone Swarm.
Why do drones float here in space?
The call “Earth is dying – Find a new home for mankind!” which is briefly described on the start screen is our only story reference for the time being. The earth is dying and it is up to me to find a new homeworld for humanity. The spaceship called Argo is the last hope to ensure the survival of the Earth’s population by bringing it safely and unharmed to its destination or rather to its target solar system. The Argo is only protected by drones, the spaceship itself has no active weapons. But we have a lot of such unmanned aerial vehicles: A 32,000 strong drones swarm!
Where do they come from now, who attacked Earth and why was the Argo built around a luminous sphere? To answer these questions we will have to wait until the game is finished. But I can confirm at this point that Stillalive takes the story part very seriously and works with Michael Bay’s production company “451 Media Group” to offer an interesting world with a great story. In addition, a graphic novel will be released shortly after the release, which will immerse you even deeper in the background story.
Follow my path little drones
At the beginning of the demo the game surprises me with its innovative controls. To maneuver a swarm of drones from point A to point B, it would not be credible to send them straight through space on a given path. So the path for the swarm can be drawn by the player with the mouse, so that the drones then follow the manually created path. This allows some interesting new gameplay options. Stillalive Studios has obviously invested a lot of time and brain fat to teach the drone swarm as credible a behavior as possible. The path given by the player also influences the attack effectiveness on enemy vehicles. But more about that later. For now, we learn how our little helpers can procure resources. This is done by the swarm drilling through rocks in space to extract minerals and crystals. The former can be used to repair the Argo as well as your accompanying flying objects. Crystals can be used to explore improvements or new abilities.
As commander of the Argo it is my job to bring the spaceship across different solar systems to our target destination. In addition to collecting resources, researching, repairing drones and spaceships, diplomacy is also one of my tasks. In the demo, this element was hardly used yet, but should play a bigger role in the finished game, because in the vastness of space different alien factions are waiting to contact you. My first encounter with the alien race called Voohr wasn’t quite so diplomatic. Here a dialog window was used, which let me try out different answer possibilities. The first contact with the unknown aliens was the same every time, despite my different reactions. But no matter if the Voohr didn’t want to or couldn’t understand me, in the end they got to know my drones a bit better.
Don’t mess with the Swarm
When it comes to combat, it is advisable to keep both attack and defense in mind. Thus the swarm can be formed into a protective shield against enemy attacks. Rocket attacks crash into the shield until it shatters at some point. Laser attacks can be reflected by the skillful use of this ability until the enemy shoots himself into doom. To use drones offensively and defensively at the same time, the swarm can be divided into several subgroups to significantly expand your tactical repertoire. While attacks are fended off by a shimmering blue wall of small helpers, enemy squadrons can be dismantled with the detached part of your AI friends. Swarm movements are also taken into account in combat. If I draw the attack path in the middle of an aggressor, little damage is done. So I quickly learned to change my tactics. A path with strong curves that leads several times through the same destination also multiplies the destruction caused. However, if the swarm of drones is divided into two, the strength of each group is halved. This affects both the attack power and the durability of the wall. Even the density of the shield wall changes its effectiveness. So a long wall can protect a larger area, but will break through quickly.
Since battles are fought in real time, the player is not only required to act quickly, but also to maintain a constant balance between attack and defense. At the beginning I was able to decide most battles for myself with an aggressive attack strategy, for example by quickly deconstructing opponents with most of the swarm. In later arguments, my lack of strategy was quickly punished. Keeping my own offensive advance away from the enemy’s defensive fire at all times and not neglecting my defensive at the same time made me sweat at times. In order not to lose track of all the tasks, the game speed can be slowed down considerably using the space bar to adapt the tactics to the rapidly changing challenges at any time. This was also very helpful a few times during the demo.
In battle different types of enemies await you. My drones drilled their way through automatic turrets and small and large Voohr spaceships. Two more alien factions have already been confirmed, so I expect to be able to fight some other battleships in the final version. In addition to the already mentioned abilities, a third possible use of the swarm can be unlocked in the research menu. Objects such as asteroids or spaceships can be hurled in the direction specified by the player by means of a pressure wave. This causes enemy ships to collide and both suffer high damage. This maneuver has not only once put a big grin on my face. The skills of the drones and their realistic behaviour create a whole host of interesting tactical opportunities that encourage and reward creativity.
Light years far away
After the fight is before the fight, so it is important to use the travel time to the next solar system reasonably. Through the use of the collected minerals, my fallen little heroes can be replaced and the Argo brought back to shape. With the Galaxy Card you can choose your next destination yourself. This freedom of choice is deepened by the fact that systems can be visited in any order and frequency. The further the path, the longer it can be screwed and researched. So it may make sense to take a detour to the destination to spend more time on other activities.
Sun systems should be inhabited by different alien races in the finished game. In addition to the diplomacy already mentioned, a trading system should also make it into the final version, even if the people in the demo didn’t feel too much like exchanging goods. But you shouldn’t take too much time, because a “time left” countdown constantly reminds you not to fly through the universe for fun. Unfortunately I can hardly tell you anything about the galaxy and its solar systems. The areas traveled so far did not differ much in their appearance and were either equipped with enemy Voohr or only with resources. Here I wish me even more variety!
as a result
Drone Swarm convinces with unique technology and great gameplay. A varied campaign with an interesting story is to follow. The demo is first and foremost a thriller with innovative swarm skills and challenging combat scenarios. The already existing skills invite you to experiment and are definitely fun. The mix of real-time strategy and survival elements already works very well and makes you want more. But genre-typical features like galaxy map, resource management and research tree have been taken over from similar games without adding new features. The one or other unique selling point is still missing here. With Drone Swarm Stillalive Studios has created one thing above all else: A game with enormous potential. If we build on the interesting foundation, we have a fascinating game ahead of us.
- What is Drone Swarm? A real-time sci-fi strategy game where the player can take control of a swarm of drones.
- Platforms: PC
- Played: PC
- Tested: Intel Core i7-7700K, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 1080
- Developer / Publisher: Stillalive-Studios