The Swapper


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Complete Review & Description

Very few games are emotionally resonant. I can probably count on one hand the number of games that elicited genuine emotional responses from me. Fewer still are the games that also manage to have a compelling gameplay hook that persist from beginning to end.

The Swapper, developed by Facepalm Games, is a rare and beautiful game – managing to marry tangible rules that the player interacts with, and intangible elements that help construct a fictional world. This is a modern classic.

You play an unnamed character in a space-suit, navigating the deserted halls of a space-station. Using the titular ‘Swapper’, you’ll be solving puzzles to unlock more sections of the ship, all while uncovering what became of the original crew – often through text logs, but also through the occasional NPC interaction.

The swapping mechanic is deceptively simple, and doesn’t change at all during the play through – only how you approach it in the context of the environment. You can make up to four clones of yourself (which you can jump between), with each one mirroring the actions of the one you’re controlling. The ability to create clones and swap between them is governed by your line-of-sight to a location – if you can’t see it, you can’t swap to it.

A lot of the earlier puzzles are fairly straight-forward, and quite often about finding ways to move clones onto multiple switches, or finding ways to move about the world to create adequate lines-of-sight to your objective. The game then introduces further gates through the use of coloured lighting. Clones can’t be created inside blue light, and red light restricts swapping. If the light is mixed, creating purple light, then the above properties are combined.

This may sound slim, but it’s elegant, and an example of solid puzzle design. Instead of having bare mechanics and grafting extraneous design to it to pad out the puzzles, The Swapper derives its complexity through extrapolation. You’re not looking at a toolbox full of options; the game forces you to ask yourself “What can I do with what I know?”. Some of the later puzzles are especially fiendish, and count amongst some of the most rewarding I’ve completed in a game. However, an ability to reset and get rid of all your active clones would have been appreciated – say, with a button press, rather than using the environment – but I imagine this would have caused some puzzles to break.

The Swapper is a visual triumph, with assets actually generated from digitized version of real clay sculptures. The game is awash in deep blues and vibrant oranges, with dust motes penetrating every light shaft that slices through the station’s windows. Making your way through sterile, industrial corridors, only to then break out into lush, overgrown arboretums, or creepy engine rooms engulfed by a bioluminescent moss, is mentally jarring. It reinforces some of the games core themes – mostly about exploitation, and reclamation.

The themes run even deeper though, and trickle down from the text logs you find, to the NPC interactions, and even the core mechanics themselves. The clones that I generate and exploit to solve puzzles, are they sentient? What happens to the ones that I inadvertently kill? Am I still me if I swap to another clone? Lesser indie games often attempt to raise philosophical debate, and then explain it away by saying something trite like “oh, you were in a coma” or, “oh, you were already dead”. The Swapper circumvents this, by telling a story that has a very clearly defined start and finish. It’s the questions that this narrative raises that elevates it above its peers.

Sound and music design help hone in on the sense of place that the visuals and story generate. Hearing your footfalls echo through a dark hall, or the muted clanging of metal-on-metal in a vacuum make the space-station real. The contemplative tunes that play in puzzle sequences, and the sombre, oppressive tracks that accompany exploration sequences are all expertly executed mood setters.

The Swapper is a beautiful, haunting thing. It’s rare for a game to leave you feeling emotionally numb, but also satisfied by the journey. All of The Swapper’s parts operate in concert, creating a masterful puzzle platformer that deserves to be remembered.



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