The Swapper: A Space Oddysey
A juxtaposition of emotions washed over me whilst playing The Swapper; the unbridled joy of solving a seemingly impossible puzzle delicately balanced with the gloomy, almost melancholic atmosphere of my decaying surroundings. It is an emotional state that doesn’t quite subside throughout the duration of the game. Hinging progression on the creation – and sometimes, the sacrifice – of duplicates of the protagonist creates a bitter-sweet moment that few games can rival.
Creating and switching consciousness between up to four clones is achieved using the titular Swapper gun. Invented and tested deep within the space station you now find yourself trapped in, it is the sole resource with which all puzzles are solved . Puzzles start off simple enough, placing clones on pressure plates to open gates, that sort of thing. Facepalm Games slowly ease the player into the game, weaving a tale of a derelict space station, leaving it up to the player to decipher what has happened; all the while the difficulty steadily increases.
The abilities of the Swapper gun stay the same, however the situations in which it is used will constantly be changing. Faceplam Games keep things fresh by adding in different obstacles to overcome. Zero gravity areas of the space station are contorted and navigated by firing your gun, giving momentum and direction to our lightweight protagonist. A common type of puzzle involves toggling different coloured lights on and off. Though simple on paper they require pinpoint precision, patience and your clones to be placed in the correct order. Whilst you will breeze through most of the game at a fair pelt, some of the later puzzles in The Swapper may leave you scratching your head, and ultimately face-palming when you find the solution was simpler than you had anticipated.
Fellow critics have raved about how profound and meaningful The Swapper‘s story is, however, I cannot say I was too keen on it. Control panels scattered around the space station contain diary style entries and emails, over time these disjointed pieces of back story build up to provide a better understanding of what has happened. Personally I found these confusing and irritating, then again, I prefer linear storylines. Players who enjoy reading between the lines, or obtuse storytelling will really get a kick out of The Swapper.
The storytelling may not have enthralled me, the same cannot be said for the visual and sound design, however. Just like episodic indie title The Dream Machine, all of the assets are lovingly handcrafted out of clay. Stylish lighting and particle effects are layered on top of one another, providing a stark contrast to the drab tones used throughout the space station. Occasionally you will find yourself in overrun parts of the station, where plant and flowers have flourished. These areas are vibrant and lush with life and provide respite from the downbeat tone present for most of the game.
Progressing through the space station requires the collection of ‘orbs’. Using these activates portals to allow fast travel across the station, as well as opening up new areas to explore. Opening the map screen unveils a sprawling schematic of the space station. Clearly inspired by Metroid, the map gives a view of all the rooms you have been to and gives cues to show where you need to go, as well as which rooms have yet to be explored. Completionists should keep their eyes peeled for secret areas and discoveries.
Despite the sheer size of the space station, you will blast through it at a a fair pace. Barring any major setbacks, you should be able to complete The Swapper in an afternoon. Not including secret areas or the few times I got stuck, I was able to complete the game in around four hours.
Short but deliciously sweet, The Swapper is a must for anyone who enjoys a good puzzle game. With some fiendishly difficult puzzles and intriguing – if confusing – dialogue, it will appeal to people looking to put their grey-matter through its paces. The Swapper gun is an utter joy to experiment with, and – for me personally – is right up there with the Portal gun as my favourite non-lethal videogame gun. That Facepalm Games manage to stretch the swapping mechanic out over 4 hours of gameplay, and always manage to keep it fresh, is a triumph. For a game of such a high quality £11.99 ($14.99) is a small price to pay, but as with most puzzle games the re-playbility is very low. Don’t let yourself be put off by that, The Swapper is one of the freshest, most atmospheric games in years and deserves your attention as well as your money.