REVIEW: S.W.I.N.E. HD Remaster

Oct
02

REVIEW: S.W.I.N.E. HD Remaster

Did anyone ask for this?

Released: Steam, GOG
Type: Singleplayer, Multiplayer
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Kite Games
Publisher: Assemble Entertainment
Release date: 23 May, 2019

S.W.I.N.E. was first released in 2001, to mixed reviews. That was a game released into a flooded market though, and there were supposedly technical issues. Then the game faded into obscurity, overshadowed by other contemporary RTS/RTTs like Ground Control, StarCraft and even Warzone 2100. Then, nearly 2 decades after its initial release, it made a surprise return, with remastered version being released on Steam and GOG.

S.W.I.N.E. is a real time tactics game where you fight for one of two sides, the pigs or the rabbits. There’s no base-building and your ability to call in new units during a level is highly limited, so you need to take good care of them. Units also stay with you between levels, and get better over time as they level up.

The pig army is marching on a rabbit convoy. The red units are not part of your regular army, but are allied units that you get temporary control of

Story & Setting

The pigs & the rabbits have been at peace for some time, and even worked together, but one day General Irontusk, a pig, stages a military coup in the land of the pigs. While there’s some resistance to him at first, he’s able to win over the people by claiming that the rabbits have taken all the good food and fertile land, and that it’s the pig’s rightful place to rule. And so they launch a surprise attack on the unprepared rabbits, in an attempt to take their land and carrots.

If you think that that sounds like a slightly sanitized version of the events leading up to WW2, then you’re not alone. This WW2 comparisons don’t end there though, with the pigs speaking with (bad) German accents and have slightly boxy looking vehicles, while the rabbits speak with (terrible) French accents and have more rounded vehicles. Neither side are perfect fits for their real world counterparts, but there’s traces of their historical designs in their vehicles, although with comedically oversized turrets.

Before each mission there’s also a short introduction to what’s going on, often with some bad puns thrown in, like the rabbits don’t have an airport, they have a hareport. There’s not much depth to the story, but it’s there. The cutscenes that are sometimes shown between levels don’t add much to the story either, but are usually played for laughs. At best they give a better feel for the different sides, but they’re a bit amusing at least, and feel like a nice reward for beating a level.

Vehicles explode in an oddly satisfying way

Presentation

The first thing that really sticks out with this remaster is how surprisingly good looking it is. This is not a remake, they did not create a lot of new assets from scratch, but rather they increased the resolution and made some new textures. There might be some other improvements here and there, but this is still mostly just a nearly 20 year old game with a fresh coat of paint applied on top of it, but the result is still surprisingly good. Some of the level geometry can look a bit dated, and the models themselves do, when being inspected more closely, make it clear that this is not a game released in the last 10 years, but the new textures do a good job at hiding many of those flaws.

The games sound design is more mixed though. There are some really nice touches here and there, like if you move the camera closer to certain buildings, you’ll hear appropriate sound effects being played, and they’re not just simple sounds, move the camera close to a church and you’ll hear music being played from inside it. Most of the games sound effects are also pretty good. The cannons on tanks have a satisfying bang to them, while the machine guns on the scout vehicles have a distinct smattering sound. But where the game falters is with its voice clips. There’s an option to turn these off, and for good reason, they quickly get annoying. But without them, it feels like the game does not give enough feedback when selecting and moving units.

Most units have their own unique voice clips, and both sides sound vastly different, with either German or French comedy accents. The problem is that these voice clips very quickly get grating, particularly on the rabbit side. Many of them sound like they’re meant to be funny, but hearing the same joke repeatedly makes it annoying, and with some units, like mine layers, you’ll end up repeatedly giving the same command, which means that the same voice clip will get repeated over and over and over again. There’s also a very short cooldown on when often they can be played. For an example, there’s a voice clip for when a unit gets attacked by something that it can’t see, but the cooldown on it is so short that they can just about overlap.

The cutscene show their age, but they’re not unwatchable

Gameplay

S.W.I.N.E is a real time tactics game, and that means that unlike a strategy game, you’ll not be building units during the missions, but rather you’ll have a set of units that will have to last you through the mission. This makes it more similar to Ground Control, or the more recent Sudden Strike 4, than Command & Conquer.

In the game you play as either the pigs or the rabbits, and both have their own campaigns with a unique set of levels. Both start small, with you leading a force consisting of just a handful of units, but as the game progresses, your army will grow bigger and more diverse. Early on you just have light tanks, scout vehicles, trucks and a few other basic types, but later on in the campaign you’ll get access to missile launchers, heavy howitzers and other more advanced unit types. Between every level you can buy new units, and upgrade or sell old ones. The upgrades are things like better armour, more fuel, the ability to detect mines and so on, they don’t radically change the units function (other than possibly the mine detection upgrade).

Units change the way they look as they level up

During battle you control your units similar to how you would in an RTS, giving simple move and attack orders. Once an order has been given, your units will do their best to follow it. Many, but not all, units also have secondary abilities. Your missile launchers might be told to unload several missiles at once into the enemy instead of just shooting one, and your light tanks might burry into the ground and receive extra protection. These abilities combined with the fact that armour depends on location (so a unit will have weaker armour in the rear than in the front) gives the combat a bit more depth than what is first apparent.

Units that fight will of course take damage, and to deal with this you’ve got repair trailers. Trucks, that are unarmed and lightly armoured (although they can get the mine detection upgrade), can tow these trailers and bring them to your units. Apart from repair trailers there are also ammunition and fuel trailers, that do exactly what you would expect them to do, that is bring fuel and ammunition to your units. If the enemy is so careless that they leave trailers just sitting around, you can “borrow” them, and in longer levels, this is necessary.

Crossing the river here might in retrospect have been a mistake

While the fundamentals of S.W.I.N.E. are solid, the game is let down by three major shortcomings: Its pathfinding, AI and level design. The pathfinding is quite bad, and units will regularly get stuck in each other. For a game that values unit preservation as highly as this one, that’s a pretty serious issue. You can work around it by carefully moving each individual unit in a way that will allow your more damaged units to get out of the way, but in the middle of a hectic fight, that’s easier said than done.

The AI is dumb. It will attack you head on if it sees your units, and won’t really try to use any tactics beyond that. So it’s entirely at the mercy of the level designer, and where they’ve placed any units and triggers. Having a dumb AI is in itself not enough to kill a tactics game, and many games have an AI that’s made intentionally easy to exploit, in order to allow the player to go up against superior numbers, but then the level design needs to carry the AI.

Finally there’s the level design, which is spotty. Some levels are pretty well made, with several different routes to take, and enough room to outflank and out-maneuver the enemy, but often you’re lead down a linear path, with artillery placed above you on either side, forcing you to just endure the artillery barrage until you’re able to get to the other side. The enemy placement can also at times feel rather spammy.

Why is there an egg the size of a car here?

Closing Thoughts

I honestly don’t think anyone saw this remaster coming. S.W.I.N.E. was not a particularly well received game at launch, and it’s a game that did not seem to leave much of a lasting impact. But this is a quality remaster, the people who worked on it did an excellent job updating the graphics, and making it run well on modern machines. During my time with the game I had no crashes, slowdown, or any other technical issues.

The big question is though, was this a game worth remastering? And the answer to that is probably not. S.W.I.N.E. is not a terrible game, but it has some glaring issues, without being exceptional in any way to make up for that. People who grew up with this game will probably find it a pleasant trip down memory lane, but people who had never heard of it are likely to be far less impressed by it. At the low price of 10€, it’s not particularly expensive, and if you’re starved for real time tactics games, it might be worth looking into, just don’t expect anything spectacular, the people who reviewed it back when it was first released were right to give it a middling score.

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