The story of The Swapper is simple enough. You play as a nameless, voiceless scavenger astronaut tasked with gathering orbs to power teleportation devices and looking for a way to escape the doomed space station, Theseus. It turns out that the other inhabitants have died save for one woman. Why is the Theseus doomed? What happened to the crew? Well, the answers come as you progress through the game and by the ending of The Swapper, you will be asking yourselves all sorts of philosophical questions – like the very best science fiction.
How you collect the aforementioned orbs is through use of the Swapper – a gun that allows you to create up to 4 clones of yourself and swap consciousness between them – as long as their in your line of sight and not obstructed by red light. At first the puzzles are as simple as creating a clone across gaps and swapping to them. Soon, the puzzles become more complex, requiring quick reflexes, positioning, gravity and whole bunch of brain racking trial and error. Seriously, some of these puzzles made me feel so obtuse that when the solutions came to me, it was like getting smacked on the forehead by the developers with a slow to form, guttural “DUH!” Admittedly, I’m an impatient man and I sought a few solutions from outside sources – basically YouTube videos from people who actually figured these things out. I bow to these members of Mensa because I would have probably put the game down for days at a time without their assistance.
The controls make The Swapper an absolutely joy to play. Holding the left trigger slows down time and allows the player to place a clone (outlined in red) pretty much anywhere in the room by moving the right stick to aim. Pressing the right trigger will swap control to any clone within the line of sight of the controlled version. As I mentioned earlier, red lights prevent you from swapping as it breaks the signal from the gun. Blue lights allow for swapping, but not cloning. Purple lights obstruct both actions.
Many of the puzzles require blocking or working around these lights and usually provide the greatest challenge, for me anyway. There are also a few puzzles that require placement on pressure switches, sometimes 4 at once, in order to raise stone doors and provide a clear path to the orbs and a place to place and swap to a clone to collect them. You can collect or reset the clone counter through various means, such as running through specific lights, running into them, or by plain old falling to their death. You will kill a lot of your clones in this game. It can’t be helped but if it is for science and self-preservation, so that might soften the blow. The only other button used in puzzles is the Square button, which is used to grab and move cubes. Thankfully, these moments make up a small portion of the game and are the only mechanic that feels dated.
Another area in which The Swapper truly excels is atmosphere. Something that I feel isn’t talked about nearly enough when discussing video games that aren’t of the horror genre, but it’s something that can be so breathtakingly effective, that you may not even notice it or it might permeate so much of the game that you can’t help but stop and take it all in. In terms of presentation, The Swapper is absolutely stunning. The artstyle was created using clay and “everyday objects” and coupled with the amazing lighting, creates a unique and impressive visual look that makes the game truly stand out amongst it’s indie peers. I’ll take this look over the trendy pixelart of so many “modern” indie titles, any day – grumble, grumble.
Sound design is another area in which Facepalm Games has truly outdone their peers. With only diegetic sound, only minor instances of music (played from a radio in a specific portion of the game), and minimal, but well delivered dialogue, The Swapper is all the more impressive. Coupled with the visuals, The Swapper creates an atmosphere that is exemplary of what can be done by such a small team.
If I can fault anything in The Swapper, it would be that in terms of the “real world” of the game, some of the puzzles make absolutely no sense. Why would a space station have pressure pads to open concrete doors and floors that lead to nothing more than a closed off sections of a room? And why are there pressure pads upside down on walkways? It’s clear in the narrative that the Theseus existed before the Swapper Gun, so when you think about how the areas can only be navigated through use of the gun, it makes the design butt heads with the story and world building. A minor quibble for sure, but when everything else is so meticulously designed and executed, it would have been a feather in Facepalm’s cap if they could have worked that aspect of design into the overall story like everything else.
When I heard about the cross-save functionality I was beyond stoked. I commute to work every day so being able to play on my Vita and then transfer those saves to the PS4 for play at home was something I was greatly interested in utilizing. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to work and wound up having to restart on my playthrough on PS4 and finish it there. Not sure who’s to blame for this, but I wanted to put that out there for anyone planning on using this feature to proceed with caution because you might have to replay your progress.
After my 5 or so hour playthrough I came away with the single thought that The Swapper is a truly special game in that it marries gameplay, story and presentation together so staggeringly well. While it may be brief, the impression it left on me long after its over or in between sessions has far exceeded its playtime and brings me to the conclusion that The Swapper is one of the best puzzle games I’ve ever played. I highly recommend this game.