For years, cartoons and videogames have delved into age-old interspecies relations, such as Tom and Jerry (cat vs. mouse), Sylvester and Tweety (cat vs. bird), or even bird vs. coyote in Roadrunner conflicts. S.W.I.N.E., the RTS offering from Fishtank, continues the tradition, exploring the tongue-in-cheek war between pigs and rabbits, a hitherto unexplored realm of barnyard animal mayhem. While the porcine are portrayed as the evil empire against the fun loving flop ears, the game's real culprits are the bugs, mostly of the graphical and AI genus.
On August 3rd, National Pig Army leader, General Iron Tusk, mobilizes his military and swarms over the Carrotland border. The pigs use columns of artillery, tanks, and supply trailers to capture the rabbit's capital. The bunnies, for their part, are armed to their buckteeth with similar weaponry and stand poised to liberate their beloved land. In single player campaigns, you can wallow in evilness or hop to victory as either side. Multiplayer action is available via GameSpy, but S.W.I.N.E. lacks a skirmish mode, normally standard on almost all comparable RTS titles.
S.W.I.N.E.'s gameplay is a bit like Ground Control with no buildings to erect or resources to fight for. You start with resource points and use them to purchase weapons, modifications, and supply units. While both sides have a scant selection of ten vehicles, two air machines, and three supply trailers from which to choose, the nine load outs, including extra ammo, turbo boost, and armor, somewhat vary the forces. Additional units can be purchased during the mission and leftover points used to purchase crucial air strikes.
After forming your army, focus turns solely to tactical maneuvers, which demand extensive use of line of sight and cover. Forces are balanced fairly well, with pigs sacrificing speed for armor. Vehicles have a limited supply of ammo, fuel, and armor to monitor, and maintaining a tight formation helps protect your supply lines as in real life conflicts. Units that survive battles gain experience and are promoted with new performance bonuses.
S.W.I.N.E.'s dedication to humor makes it unique. Pigs, featuring really bad German accents, waging war against rabbits with really bad French accents in towns reminiscent of WWII villages, is inherently funny, at least initially. The game box boasts more than 6,000 humorous dialog animations during battle, but they're largely hit and miss. Usually, the raging battle is too hotly contested for distractions from the popup windows. Sounds, other than the odd voiceovers, are well done; every tread clank and barrel blast is fully realized, and even background noises are nicely done.
Ironically, graphics represent the best and worst aspects of S.W.I.N.E.. When running smoothly, the 3D landscape is gorgeous with nicely detailed building that can be destroyed by errant shells, resulting in an explosion of splinters and bricks. The vehicles are appropriately cartoon-like, with sleek lines for the rabbits and squat ugliness for the swine. However, even with the newest nVidia drivers and the latest S.W.I.N.E. patch, the program occasionally has major graphical glitches. Jumping lines and multiple redrawing of buildings is simply nauseating, and the official site's forum is rife with similar complaints about these and other issues, such as frequent crashes.
Graphics aside, the game has criminally stupid AI, especially path finding. Tow trucks used for hauling all-important supply trailers weave like drunken Driver's Ed students. Perhaps it's the driver's lack of opposable thumbs, but the tow truck can't turn with a trailer in tow to save its life, literally. It simply backs up and tries again and again while the animal in the opposing tank plugs away, laughing. Granted, path finding in a 3D world might be more difficult to accurately program, but the roads are clearly marked in the towns and the wilderness has plenty of open areas. There's really no excuse. This, factored with the computer's lackluster hunting AI, makes the end result very disappointing -- maybe skirmish mode was overlooked for a reason.
The game feels only half-finished, though graphics and sound, when in working order, are superb. The quirky concept may appeal to gamers burnt out on the ultra serious fights in games like Age of Empire II: Age of Kings. However, too many bugs crawl into gameplay to consider this a final effort worth its weight in "carrots," not to mention the "hare-pulling" path finding algorithms. If and when a patch clearing up these issues becomes available, S.W.I.N.E. will be a pleasant RTS alternative; otherwise, find a Porky Pig/ Bugs Bunny cartoon for your swine vs. rabbit entertainment.
Graphics: Graphics are cute and highly detailed, but prone to headache inducing bouts of glitches. Rendered beautifully, but bugs can render it unplayable.
Sound: The accents are unique and funny compared to the normally serious face of RTS games, even if the quotes aren't always humorous. Other sounds of battle will keep you squealing or hopping with delight.
Enjoyment: Features like supply trailers that must be towed about and heavy use of line of sight make the game a unique RTS experience. Laughable AI patterns and mind-boggling path finding issues tarnish overall effectiveness.
Replay Value: While single player campaigns cover 22 missions, there's no skirmish mode to extend game life, though LAN and Internet multiplayer modes are available.
People who downloaded S.W.I.N.E. (a.k.a. Strategic Warfare In a Nifty Environment) have also downloaded:
Sacrifice, Sid Meier's Pirates!, Seven Kingdoms 2: The Fryhtan Wars, Myth 3: The Wolf Age, Romance of The Three Kingdoms 4: Walls of Fire, Shogun: Total War, Sid Meier's Gettysburg!, Myth: The Fallen Lords
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