Taking control of a lone astronaut, you explore Theseus, a derelict space station. The Swapper immediately brings to mind Super Metroid with it's open map design and emphasis on isolation. The human inhabitants of Theseus have mostly perished and it's up to you to put the pieces together. The space station is filed with sentient rocks that leave you with cryptic messages as you pass by them and, together with crew logs, provide much of the narrative; tantalizing you with little details that must be put together like a puzzle. It's a tale the wanders off in the direction of the metaphysical and philosophical, meditating on what constitutes a sense of self, what exactly the soul means to the individual and and how individuals fit into the rest of society. The esoteric narrative and heavy sense of isolation and dread will have you mulling over the events of The Swapper long after it concludes.
The puzzle gimmick employed by The Swapper comes in the form of a gun that allows your character to clone themself. Up to four clones can be made and these clones mimic your every move. In addition the gun can beam your consciousness into these clones and allow you to take direct control of them. Additional puzzle elements like blue lights that prohibit the creation of clones where their light is cast, red lights that prevent you from taking control of clones and gravity switches that will have you walking on the ceiling all further complicate the proceedings. Your clones must be used to trip switches and reach far away ledges, they are empty vessels that are to used and disposed of and the sight of their lifeless husks collapsing after long falls becomes a frequent occurrence throughout the course of The Swapper. The goal is to our the character that you directly control in contact with orbs that allow you to open doors and progress. These simple gameplay mechanics tie in closely to The Swapper's narrative themes meaning the narrative events never drift too far off into the back of your mind. Few games are able to do this so well.
Puzzle start off very easy as you learn to navigate your environment and are introduced to clever new ways to solve problems within the game world. Much like Portal, The Swapper religiously sticks to it's core mechanics. You don't get any new abilities or skills as the game progresses, instead new obstacles bring new challenges that occasionally elicit head scratching and pensive stares. The first three quarters of the game's three to five hours are really a breeze but the final few puzzles can really put your puzzle solving skills to the test. While the challenge is certainly welcome, this spike in challenge has a habit of disrupting the pacing. Your brisk jaunts between memory stations for more information slow to a crawl near the final area potentially becoming agonizing as the game's mind benders thwart your best attempts to crack them.
The Swapper wouldn't be nearly as engaging if it weren't for it's distinct visual style. Everything in the game was originally molded out of clay by the team at Facepalm studios and in addition to complimenting the narrative themes it looks wonderfully alien and unique among it's contemporaries. Fantastic lighting effects also dress up the stylized art and drive the lonely desperate mood home. Seeing the dark, desolate corridors of Theseus illuminated by a beam from your flashlight as the ambient soundtrack hums in the background can be profoundly melancholy. The measured tempo of the soundtrack never leaves you with a sense of urgency and instead slowly and beautifully builds a hopeless and lonely tone befitting a game that is largely devoid of other characters.
Posted: November 25th, 2013