Although it’s not as famous as some other rivalries out there -- like, say, the one between army and navy -- I’m guessing most people know that pigs just don’t like rabbits, and vice versa. I mean, who could forget the way Bugs Bunny used to glare at Porky Pig during the Looney Tunes cartoons, or the way Babe refused to even let a rabbit onto the set during his two movies? Sure, pigs and rabbits are subtle enough that their rivalry doesn’t get publicized much, but developer Stormregion has finally put the rivalry into a game, and it’s the premise behind S.W.I.N.E., a funny but repetitive (and eventually tedious) real-time strategy game based on a recent war between the two species.
Humorous real-time strategy games are few and far between, but Stormregion goes all out with S.W.I.N.E. Battles occur in places like Pigsburgh and Rabbipolis, at one point the rabbits have to liberate their “hareport” so they can receive airdrops, and, if a pig kills a rabbit in a particularly messy way, it might say something like, “Who wants a 100-piece rabbit jigsaw puzzle?” In fact, rabbits and pigs are the biggest trash-talking creatures around, and they spend as much time taunting and insulting each other as they do fighting. But it works to good effect, and S.W.I.N.E. has a lot of charm.
Unfortunately, Stormregion didn’t take the premise as far as they could have. Once you take control of the rabbits or pigs and start fighting battles, you find that the animals use a variety of tanks and vehicles for their fighting needs, and that their mission objectives are things like capturing oil derricks or defending water holes or ransacking cities. That is, aside from the comments made by the pigs and rabbits during gameplay, S.W.I.N.E. isn’t much different from dozens of other real-time strategy games on the market. I think Stormregion would have been better off if they had used units that actually look like rabbits and pigs instead of anonymous tanks (how about a rabbit infantry unit with a carrot-tipped spear?) and if the territory in the game had been something like a farm instead of the standard real-time strategy locales.
But, given the choices Stormregion made, how well does the game work? Not very well, and I think the main problem is with the units. S.W.I.N.E. doesn’t include bases or resources, which means the units are the only things that effect gameplay, and so the units have to be varied and interesting for the game to be successful. But S.W.I.N.E. only has tanks and slight variations on tanks, and while both sides get 10 units, those units include things like machine gun vehicles (which aren’t very useful since there aren’t any infantry units), artillery units (which wouldn’t be useful except the AI is bad enough that the computer will often let its units get bombarded from afar) and mine layers (which sound useful, except that units are so durable that it takes about 5 mines to kill even a measly scout unit). And so there are only a few useful units per side, they’re all tank-like vehicles, and the rabbit units are almost identical to the pig units, so there isn’t much variety to the game.
Then Stormregion exacerbated the problem with the two campaigns that come with the game. They decided to have continuity between the missions, and so units carry over from one mission to the next. That sounds fine, and it’s worked in other games, but in S.W.I.N.E. it’s a problem. Why? Because there aren’t any resources, and you can (essentially) only add one unit to your army before each mission. That means you’re always using the same mix of units, and it means you can’t afford to lose a unit -- ever. Plus, the missions are overly long (usually two hours or more), and you have to fight similar battle after similar battle to get through them. And since the units are so similar, the similar battles in one mission are similar to the similar battles in the other missions, and so everything is just similar and repetitive. S.W.I.N.E. probably takes upwards of 40 hours to play, but it only has about 10-20 hours of content.
And if that wasn’t enough, Stormregion decided to add some realism to the game, and so units need to be supplied with ammunition and fuel. But unlike, say, Earth 2150, where a helicopter automatically supplies units with their needs, in S.W.I.N.E. everything is manual, and you either have to bring the unit to a fuel / ammunition / repair trailer, or tow the trailer to the unit. Luckily, S.W.I.N.E. uses a smaller scale than most other real-time strategy games, and so you’ll only end up with about a dozen units by the end of the game, but still, all that manual repairing, refueling, and rearming is seriously tedious. And if ever a game didn’t need to be especially realistic, it’s S.W.I.N.E.
On a brighter note, the graphics for S.W.I.N.E. are pretty good. Stormregion did an excellent job with the mission maps. The maps are structured well, there is nice variety to the terrain, and there is lots of good eyecandy sprinkled about, from different looking buildings and houses in the cities, to odd looking skeletons in the deserts, to funny billboards making fun of the pigs’ General Iron Tusk in one of the later missions. Plus, the units are modeled well, and even though they’re all tank-like vehicles, they look different enough so they’re easy to tell apart. And Stormregion put in a lot of nice details with the units. Vehicles look more battle worn as they gain experience, when a unit is killed a ghost image of the driver appears over it, and sometimes a rocket launcher shoots a carrot instead of a rocket (but it does the same damage). Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, even with the attention to detail, and even with polygon counts around 100,000, the 3D engine ran well on my machine, even though it’s under the recommended system requirements.
Lastly, Stormregion did a nice job with the sounds, and they paid as much attention to detail here as they did with the graphics. So, for example, when you select a unit, the acknowledgement you hear is random based on things like the time of day, the health of the unit, and even the terrain for the map. Plus, there is a large variety of taunts and jibes that the rabbits and pigs say to each other, and the voice acting is surprisingly good (and it might interest you to know that rabbits speak with a French accent while pigs speak with something resembling a Russian accent). There is even some nice, upbeat music included with the game, but it is only heard between missions, not during them.
Overall, my feeling towards S.W.I.N.E. are a lot like my feelings towards Battle Realms. That is, I like everything about the game... except for the gameplay. But while I was critical towards Battle Realms because I didn’t think it offered enough in the way of strategy, S.W.I.N.E. doesn’t even have close to as many strategic options as Battle Realms does, and it’s one of those games where it might be worthwhile to try out once it finds its way into the bargain bin, but not until then, and not if the premise of pigs fighting rabbits doesn’t sound appealing.