It’s not often that you associate puzzle games with atmospheric environments and meaningful themes, but The Swapper manages to find a perfect balance between these elements. It blends well crafted visuals, mind boggling puzzles and a philosophical storyline to create an indie puzzler that you definitely won’t want to miss out on.
Set on an eerie space station that’s mysteriously been left empty, you can’t help but feel on edge as you explore the abandoned vessel uncovering the dark mystery that has led to its downfall. It’s not long before you encounter a peculiar device called the Swapper which gives you the ability to clone your body and move your soul directly between your clones.
The Swapper allows you to create up to four clones of yourself, which all mimic your actions. If you step left, they step left; if you jump, they jump. Naturally, each puzzle in the game revolves around the use of the Swapper and, more often than not, you’ll have to precisely place your clones on switches to access orbs which help you progress through the story.
If that didn’t sound challenging enough, thanks to the trickiness of controlling four bodies at once, gravity panels and different coloured lighting add to the difficulty. Red lights interrupt the soul-switching ability of the swapper, whereas blue lights don’t allow you to create clones. This can become a real nuisance when you think you have all your clones in the right place, only for a red light to stop you switching to your clone closest to the all important orbs.
Mix this with gravity switches and you have yourself a very challenging puzzler, where pin point timing and placement of clones becomes essential in order to progress. Of course, the puzzles start off fairly gently, but towards the later stages of the game there are a few puzzles that will leave you scratching your head for a long, long time. Whilst I see this as a beneficial problem-solving challenge, others may find it an exercise in frustration, especially when the accuracy of clone placement becomes particularly unforgiving.
The abilities of the Swapper, as well as leading to some very interesting puzzles, pose many ethical questions too. You see, to reclaim one of your clones you can either absorb it by coming into touching distance with it, or do so by sending your clone to its death. The latter can at first be an unnerving action, and you might find yourself being a little hesitant – is it actually you that is dying?
However, you’ll have no choice in the matter if you want to progress. In The Swapper your clones become completely disposable, and in many areas you will have to quickly create multiple clones and switch souls to reach higher sections, rather jarringly resulting in a cascade of bodies falling to their death and landing in a heap of broken corpses. The sound is truly disturbing.
Visually, The Swapper is wonderful. The clay crafted environments and use of everyday objects provides a unique look to the space station, which feels reminiscent of early sci-fi horrors. Lighting and sound play a key role in the game. For the most part, The Swapper keeps a lot of the screen practically pitch black, with only the flickering lights of the narrow corridors illuminating your path forwards. Combined with an eerie soundtrack, and evidence of an alien presence on-board and you will find yourself always feeling isolated during The Swapper.
The overarching philosophical story of The Swapper is where the game sets itself apart from other titles in the genre, and is something I haven’t seen since Portal 2. Without revealing too much, during the adventure you will discover dozens of rocks that all possess a consciousness and display various messages and deep questions as you walk past them. At first, none of these messages seem to make much sense but they all piece together towards the end. You will also stumble across a mysterious scavenger exploring the space station and it’s through their actions that the true power of the Swapper is demonstrated – and the threats that face you.
It’s a gripping story but one that is ultimately too short. The Swapper clocks in at only 4-5 hours, and that’s even considering the more difficult puzzles. As the credits roll you might ask yourself, “Is that it?” Apart from a handful of secret rooms to discover, which you will need eagle-eye vision for, there is limited replayability too.
Facepalm Games have created something special with The Swapper, with Cruve Studios helping to bring the game to PlayStation. The unique cloning abilities of the mysterious Swapper device pave the way for some challenging puzzle designs and a gripping story, that sci-fi fans will no doubt love. However, you can’t help but feel that it’s all over far too soon.