- Visual Design
- Audio Design
First, an admission; The Swapper is a rather short four-hour long puzzle game with a singular concept. Before the wave of new indie titles which hit our Steam’s, Xbox Live Arcade’s and PSN’s, the most notable short four-hour long puzzle game with a singular concept was Portal, which went on to win many awards, as well as the hearts and adoration of gamers everywhere. Since then, several attempts have been made to take a single idea, and transform it into something much more, and few have even come close. Gladly, I’m here to tell you that not only is The Swapper in the same league as Valve’s masterpiece from 2007, it actually manages to get its ass on the throne and start nudging Portal over, demanding it make room.
The Swapper: PC (reviewed) Xbox 360, Playstation 3
Developer: Facepalm Studios
Publisher: Facepalm Studios
The concept of the game is, on the surface, a very simple one; soon after the player arrives on the Theseus space station/dodgy research facility, they get hold of a device which enables them to create multiple clones of themselves, which mimic your exact actions. If you move lest, they move left. If you jump, they jump. If you grab something, they’ll grab something too, so long as there is actually something to grab. Additionally, you also gain the ability to swap your consciousness between these clones, meaning you can easily (for a while) reach an unreachable ledge, button or pickup by simply creating a clone at your desired destination, before switching consciousness with that clone, thus putting yourself where you need to be. It is with this ability that the games various puzzles all revolve around.
The aim of these puzzles, for the most part, is to gain possession of the various pickups used to power up different elements of the space station, thus allowing progress. Puzzles start off rather easy, but steadily become mind-numbingly difficult as new elements such as floor tiles which reverse gravity on any clone that steps on it and weight-triggered floor switches come into play, meaning you have to use yourself and your maximum of four clones cleverly. The best thing about the later puzzles, which are pretty much demonic compared to the beginning puzzles, is the great sense of elation and relief when you finally crack a tricky one, and even the great sigh of disbelief at a solution which, in practice, was rather simple, but took a tangental and holistic approach to discover.
Puzzles take up a decent amount of the gameplay, whilst the rest is spent moving through the space station to the next batch of puzzles (which are usually found in groups of three). Whilst the puzzles are fantastic in their design, the star of the show might just be how the barebones narrative and the world itself are presented to the player.
Being a 2D game, Facepalm Studios have achieved something amazing with what to many developers can often prove to be a suffocating genre. The environment is great to look at; the dominating blacks and dark greys of the gigantic abandoned space station bringing flashbacks of Dead Space’s Ishimura (only without the corpses), whilst still managing to vary the different parts of the station with rocky areas and extraterrestrial gardens. What perhaps makes this aesthetic so pleasing to the eye and unique is the fact that most of it was created by hand via clay and other crafts; a fact which was lost on me going into the game (save for an unusual instance where I realised the ship you use to get to the space station is a tin can!) but still paid off enourmously. The puzzle rooms themselves are also quite a thing, with the various lights used to signify where you can spawn a clone and where you can’t mixing up the colour pallette, giving these rooms a character of their own.
The audio, as well, is an achievement in of itself. The ambient background “music” evokes many memories of the likes of 2001: A Space Odyssey and even the recent Danny Boyle movie Sunshine. Meanwhile, whilst the game only contains a handful of NPC’s, the voice acting does a very good job of enhancing the characters, giving them a grounded feel, whilst simultaneously elevating the bizarre and, dare I say it, disturbing narrative.
I’ll try to be brief on this point, as to spoil the plot of this game for you ought to be punishable by Cenobites (see: Hellraiser). Along with the unique device you carry with you and the moral questions it raises (and boy, does it raise a big one), the game also features various cryptic terminals which feature diary entries and logs from the ships previous inhabitants (who are nowhere to be seen). These written logs sent a slight shiver up my spine more than once, but this was nothing compared to what you might call the main enemies of the piece; The Watchers. These are sentient rocks (no, really!) whom you can hear the thoughts of as you walk past them. This combined with the logs makes for a cryptic plot that slowly becomes more apparent the further you go, and is quite likely to give you the heebie-jeebies more than once. All this pays off with an ending which, to put it vaguely, needs to be experienced.
In summary, The Swapper is as close to perfect as a game can be. Whilst I know the word “Perfect” and a perfect score are a tricky subject within the field of video game reviews, I find myself asking this; could The Swapper have been any better? To this, I can find no answer but no. If you’re a fan of 2D platformers, of the indie game movement, of Dead Space or Super Metroid’s ambience and atmosphere, of Portal’s puzzles and presentation, of sci-fi in general, of great endings, or just a simple connoiseur of games, you owe it to yourself to try this one out.