REVIEW: Xenominer Swarm

Though some would classify the original Xenominer as a ‘sci-fi Minecraft‘ and nothing more on sight alone, it’s heavy emphasis on survival on a harsh planet made it much more than a simple clone. It’s one of the few games I’ve played on XBLIG where I was actively brainstorming ideas for a potential sequel, so sure of its fun and success. For its second game, developer Gristmill Studios took a step back, to put out a multiplayer FPS set in the same universe. DownGate Deathmatch tried, but it was not a very good game. Now, the team is back with another attempt, hoping to expand the universe yet again.

Enter Xenominer Swarm ($1.00), which keeps a lot of the same gameplay systems and options from DownGate Deathmatch intact, and seems no less ambitious. The big change to the format this time around is the game is now a four-player cooperative FPS, having you battle aliens in a semi-wave format across a variety of modes and maps. You essentially play as a mercenary for hire, completing contracts to earn enough money to buy new weapons / gear, and unlock access to additional planets and missions, with the difficulty and rewards scaling upwards accordingly.

Mission types include ‘Mining Contract’, which sees engineers digging for minerals / crafting supply crates to send back home, a self-explanatory ‘Base Defense’1 setting, and a kill-everything mode called ‘Bug Hunt’. Regardless of the blocky planet, the contracts typically have you guarding a ‘base’, which serves as your spawn point and shipping station. You can swap characters here, and place assembled crates to be beamed off-world.

The class-based solider system returns as well, with the standard ‘Marine’, the workhorse ‘Engineer’2, and the sniper-ready ‘Recon’ types. While the first and last units haven’t changed greatly, the always-vital engineer class has been given an armament upgrade, allowing you to craft defensive turrets and guns to guard your base / fellow marines. All of the classes come with numerous ways to customize your ‘ExoDrone’, changing armor / helmet types, weapons, ammo types, and even a handful of perks.

Xenominer Swarm - Screen

In theory, this range of options and the mission variety should equate to an evolving, entertaining game. It doesn’t quite get there, though, for the same reasons that DownGate Deathmatch failed to deliver on its grand promise; all the parts are here, but everything lacks punch and a sense of urgency. The so-so online play doesn’t help (there were a few framerate stutters I noticed, and I was dropped from some matches), and it still has the clunky, unsatisfying combat that can be found in the previous game. Ammo, too, is once again sparse, forcing you to rely on engineer teammates to re-up, or expend energy to slowly regenerate bullets. Neither option suits the quicker style of game the developer is going for.

The result is another uneven experience. In a lot of ways, Xenominer Swarm remains ahead of its time on XBLIG, granting you an awesome amount of content and adaptable gameplay, all for a single dollar. Despite the ideas and that freedom, it remains tied down by underwhelming combat, some initial confusion as to how it all works, and a snail’s pace in terms of progress and gameplay. It’s still worth a look, especially if you have three friends to play with, but I sincerely hope that Gristmill can work out the kinks in this side series. It really could be something great.


  1. A game type that goes on for twenty-plus minutes, the equivalent of one day / night cycle in-game. Take my advice: pack a lunch if you’re heading out on this mission. 
  2. The only class that can equip the P.I.C.K., the game’s version of the Minecraft pick axe that lets you dig up and place blocks in the environment, or create power sources and build up your base. 

14 thoughts on “REVIEW: Xenominer Swarm”

    1. Now someone has to do a video using that song, while playing Xenominer Swarm 😎
      I would love to do it, but I a) don’t have a capture card and b) don’t own Xenominer Swarm. :/

    2. @Dream Poet: Ah, that’s the reference. Doh, should’ve been obvious to me, I guess. Here I was, thinking you just wanted to give everyone a soundtrack to read the article by. 🙂

      @Soosh: I’ll say one thing about the Xenominer guys; they sure know how to do epic block landscapes. Worthy of someone’s capture card.

  1. I love the original Xenominer, which has come a long way since its initial release. Never really cared about Downgate. Now this one I’m not sure about. But it’s more catered to multiplayer, isn’t it?

    1. Definitely balanced for groups. You can play it single-player, but there’s no AI bots to help you out. Without backup, some of the tougher three-to-five star missions will probably overwhelm most players1. So I suppose it depends on how long the community for it sticks around. There was always two or three games going when I logged on, but how will number be in two / three weeks?

      1. Unless you’re like some super badass Engineer class that can whip up solar panels and batteries and turrets like it’s nothin’. 
    2. Balanced for groups you say? So the amount of enemies is not scaled down for singleplayer, I assume. And how big is the game world?

    3. Doesn’t appear to be. The one-star (really easy) and two-star (easy-ish) missions are manageable. The step up in difficulty for three stars is where I got stuck. I did a ‘base defense’ mission, and even with crafting three Gatling guns to protect the base while I took on enemies, it was destroyed and I was taken down. Enemies coming from all sides, clearly where two or three squadmates would come in handy.

      Level size is BIG, from what I saw. You don’t want to stray too far during defense missions, but for the ‘bug hunt’ and ‘mining contract’ stuff, I would go off on my own to explore caves or dig into the sides of walls for minerals. Imagine Xenominer, basically, with different visual themes depending on the ‘planet’ you visit.

  2. I think ill trythis one, looks better than downgate deathmatch. I hope it will stay at 1$ by the time i get a xbox live 5$ card.

    1. It is a step up from DownGate Deathmatch in my opinion. Always felt like this series lent itself more to co-op than a versus setup.

      As to how long it’ll stay at $1, that’s unknown. The description makes it seem like this a launch sale, so if anyone’s interested, better to make the jump to hyperspace now while the price is low.

    2. Got the game.
      Keeps crashing over and over again while clicking ‘campaign’.
      Same thing while trying to join multiplayer.

      Hurraaaaaaay haha.

    3. Hmm, I guess I was lucky never to run into anything like that when I was playing. If you haven’t already, I’d check out the forums for the game HERE. Somebody might be having the same issues. Otherwise, I’d say drop the Devs a line, let them know what’s happening. Looks like they’re putting together the first patch now.

  3. There is a LOT of depth to this game, but as you say, there are some strange choices that make it difficult to access and retard one’s enjoyment. The wave-based gameplay is a good match for the co-operative building experience. It is still a great game for $1, even though it will probably be overlooked by many 360 players. I can’t help but wonder if it came out on the XBone if there would be better, or at least more, reception for it.

    1. There probably would be a better reception, which is why I’d like to see MS open that program up a little more. That would in turn give it more of an audience, and possibly encourage the Dev to clean up the gameplay a bit. If they were to make the combat more thrilling, make some adjustments to the gameplay / online, this could be a really satisfying game. The content is already there. I’m not sure of their plans, but it’ll do better on PC for sure. XBLIG is too fickle and too random to assume an audience will stick around for long, and going solo in this game is not really the path you want to take.

The Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s