Thoughts: Swords And Sworcery.

Hate. Let me tell you how much I’ve come to hate you since I began to play. There are over a billion miles of DNA in microscopic cells that fill my body. If the word ‘hate’ was engraved on every chromosome of those hundreds of miles it would not equal one one-billionth of the hate I feel for videogames at this micro-instant. For you, Swords and Sworcery. Hate. Hate.

God. This game. I don’t even know where to start. It’s like Satan looked up from his eternal mastication and said “You know what, Hentzau, you’re having too much fun with computer games,” and vomited forth a game so foul and meaningless that I am aghast anyone even had the gall to market it as an entertainment product. I honestly can’t remember the last time I was this enraged by a game. LIMBO? Hack Slash Loot? These were bad games, yes, but they were at least games which made a cogent statement. That the statement in both cases was “We fucking hate your guts and we want you to die, die, die,” doesn’t matter; the fact is the statement was at least there. These were games with coherent design goals. By contrast, Swords and Sworcery is an amorphous mass of nothing, a spectacularly pointless experience that leaves a bitter taste in the mouth akin to what I imagine eating a jellyfish would be like.

In retrospect the name should have been a dead giveway. “Swords and Sworcery” is so horrifyingly twee it makes me want to strangle whoever came up with it. I can just picture him now – a smug Canadian hipster ensconced within his minimalist Toronto apartment who saw a video of Zelda on the internet one fateful evening and was “inspired” to code this unholy abomination of a game for the only gaming platform he understands: iOS. The end product is much as you’d expect. Swords and Sworcery is a game which focuses on three things:

1)      The music. Contrary to what the game’s Steam page may tell you this is nothing special, although it is by far the least offensive part of the game.

2)      Social media. The characters in the game all communicate in short 140 character bursts which are formatted just like a Twitter account, and I was presented with an option to let the game spam followers of my Twitter account with inane summaries of what I’d just found in the game. I declined.

3)      Childish internet humour and injokes. The game has been written by somebody who thinks using the word “amirite” ironically is funny.

You will note that nowhere in this list do “gameplay” or “design” feature, and that’s because they are two things Swords and Sworcery is spectacularly unconcerned with. Why would it be? It’s far too busy patting itself on the back for being smart enough to use alliteration, thus putting it on the same intellectual level as a thirteen year-old Key Stage Three English student. There’s this awful air of unjustified self-congratulation that permeates the entire thing, like said thirteen year-old made a game in Adventure Game Studio and thinks it’s the best thing ever and they’re ever so pleased with themselves. Except that would be something of an achievement for a thirteen year-old. The developers of Swords and Sworcery are presumably adult human beings, although I’m still not discounting the possibility that the game may in fact be the physical manifestation of an ancient demonic entity ripped from the bowels of the netherworld and dumped onto my hard drive.

Vitriolic invective aside, though, what do you actually do in this game? The answer is, not a huge amount. It’s built around horrible, horrible touchscreen controls that I’m sure are a really big deal for tiny-minded iPad users but which are somewhat redundant on PC when we’ve had mouse control for the last thirty years. Double click to make your character – the Scythian – walk somewhere, and then sit back as she takes thirty seconds to get to the other side of the screen. Double click on a thing to interact with it in some way, or else get a description of it no longer than 140 characters (because the entire world needs to know about that well you just found). Sometimes you will have to fight a thing, but this is handled in possibly the least exciting way possible; you wait for the thing to attack, and then you click on the sword to hit it, and you repeat this three or four times. The worst part of the game by far, though, is the eponymous sworcery (ugh).

Hold down the mouse button over the Scythian and she kneels down and puts her hands in the air. You then click all over the screen looking for something to do. Often there is nothing to do. Other times what you can do is purely cosmetic. Occasionally – just occasionally – a prompt will come up when you hit something interesting telling you to rub the rainbow or whatever, and then a thing happens. This is literally the most interesting thing the game does, and it’s awful. Swords is a pretty shameless direct port over from iOS so I suppose I am expected to feel like moving my mouse up and down really quickly and then getting some kind of visual reward is new and revolutionary gameplay, but what I actually felt like was a dog. A dog who had learned a new trick, and whom the game was trying to condition to repeat the trick in future using a poorly-animated shiny thing. Yes, it’s only a less-camouflaged version of the way most games teach you how to play them, but the difference here is that there’s no playing involved. There are no tests of skill or wits involved in this game, just a series of pointless, repetitive tasks to fill out according to the instructions of the developer.

The thing that gets me about Sword and Sworcery isn’t that the simians who made it have no talent for involving game design. If that were the case it would merely join the serried ranks of the Bad and the Terrible and there would be nothing particularly remarkable about it. No, the problem here is far far worse: they simply had no interest in it. It is the first thing I have bought that said “game” on the front that didn’t even try to be a game. Even Battlefield 3 made an attempt to save itself from dull oblivion with the Spetznaz levels, and I may have thought LIMBO and Hack Slash Loot were terrible games but there was the possibility that there existed somewhere out there some sick individual who enjoyed having the game kick them in the nuts at every opportunity. They had the capacity for people to enjoy them, even if I didn’t. Not so with Swords and Sworcery. I refuse to accept there is anyone who could possibly be entertained by this, because it’s not a game. And not in the way that WoW isn’t a game either, because Swords isn’t even engaging the neurons at the subconscious level. It’s just not bothering in any way at all to entertain, and so I can’t be bothered in any way to play it. Most other games I’d feel guilty about abandoning after an hour. Not this one. All I feel is a distinct regret that there’s no way to forcibly exorcise the damn thing from my Steam account.

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10 thoughts on “Thoughts: Swords And Sworcery.

  1. innokenti says:

    I am still surprised you bought it.

    On the other hand it has produced this enormously entertaining review. Woo.

  2. Reference to ‘I Have No Mouth…’ = 1 more follower on your blog.

    I’m so happy to have read this review because I was tempted to buy this on Steam and now, I won’t! Ha!

    • hentzau says:

      My reaction to it was rather visceral and personal, but no matter what your particular gaming tastes are I can pretty much guarantee you can find dozens — if not hundreds — of games in the sub-£4 bracket on Steam that are more worthy of your time and your money.

  3. C-Dave says:

    I saw on Steam that you’d been playing this and having played it on the iPhone, thought to myself “He’s really going to hate this – I wonder how long before the rant?” I thought this mainly because the game is rubbish. (I think I played about 20-30 minutes on the iPhone before giving up.

  4. jiiiiim says:

    Man I quite liked LIMBO. Yet another reason we can’t start that café in Devon.

  5. null@null says:

    I liked LIMBO for what it was. I’m the kind of person who can enjoy a game as an ‘experience’, as a kind of a story that plays out with a little interaction to provoke it onwards. Yet even I found Swords & Sworcery completely hollow. It had no soul, but it liked to pretend it did. The hand-holding. The sudden empty stonewalling of the moon mechanic. The hollow attempt at advertisement through twitter. The complete lack of choice or even enjoyable feedback for menial steps in the story.

    I bought the thing expecting some kind of awesome retro pixelcore adventure-story. If the game was lacking, I felt I could enjoy the story. If the story was lacking, I felt I could enjoy the game. There was no real game to speak of, and the story was akin to a stick figure drawing being submitted as an essay. I even completed the game, hoping all the way that it would suddenly start to get enjoyable. I paid for the damn thing so I was going to finish it, grasping desperately at the hope that some surprise twist would cause the story to be a giant mindfuck warranting a second playthrough to ‘get it’.

    No dice.
    Just a hollow experience, that really felt like a distraction tacked on to an mp3 album as a way to keep people listening until it got stuck in their heads. Given the full title of the ‘game’, that seems to have been their aim.
    =/

    • null@null says:

      The most baffling part, I think, is how it is getting such globally positive reception amongst all kinds of gamers. I really can’t fathom this out.

  6. Tom says:

    In a way I’m not at all surprised that you hate Sword and Sworcery. This is, after all, the Scientific Gamer, and Sworcery is more of art/literature game. I’ll hazard that you also care little for the likes of Myst, Mechanarium, and Botanicula, which Sworcery has far more in common with than (say) Zelda.

  7. Anonymous says:

    In a way, I’m not surprised at all this guy feels like defending SnS. His hobby, after all, is producing visual concoctions and behaving pretentiously. I’ll hazard he wouldn’t feel so much affinity with this hollow experience if he did not also enjoy wrapping his persona in layers of meaningless style. Source: his homepage.

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