The Swapper review
“Why does the other mind scream inside?”
The Swapper is a game that seeks to challenge the player’s perception of what alien truly means, is it a creature? Something like us? Or is it something even greater than that? Make no mistake; this is the serious side of sci-fi, fixated on not really answering these questions, but instead revealing what effect they have on us. Don’t let its label as a puzzle game fool you, this can be a deeply disturbing experience to play through due to its extraordinarily oppressive atmosphere. Moreover, The Swapper succeeds at what it’s billed to do as well, with excellent puzzle design that crucially finds the sweet spot between player satisfaction, accessibility and frustration. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, the puzzle genre or just like a dark narrative, you owe it to yourself to check The Swapper out.
It begins with you awakening on a seemingly derelict mining facility in deep space, before long however you discover another suited character who fills you in on what has befallen the station through a series of conversations as you progress. This is just the start however, and things rapidly get weird when you come into contact with ancient rock-forms dubbed as ‘The Watchers’. These beings communicate through telepathic activity, as you pass them by you sense their thoughts as you pass them by with text being projected onto your screen. Or are they penetrating your thoughts instead? It is a truly remarkable narrative, delving into deep philosophical subjects, the implicit nature only enhances its impact and the two different endings are haunting, sticking in your mind long after the credits roll.
As it became evident that these rock formations possessed much more intelligence than previously thought, the ex-crew attempted to take advantage of what they learned by creating the titular ‘Swapper device’. Allowing the user to create up to 4 clones of themselves and transfer their consciousness between them, all moving in perfect tandem. You move a step left, so do your clones and so forth. This device ties in with underlying themes, for instance the player after an hour will become numb to the existence of their clones, resigning them to death without a moment hesitation. It’s unsettling and it’s only when the experience is finished do you reflect on what the developer was trying to accomplish here, the stark physical fragility of you and your clones naturally cheapens the value of life and your own sense of morality too. Individual vessels of life extinguished, yet treated as disposable resources; indeed does the soul exist at all?
The Swapper is a simplistic puzzle game in the sense that you only have one solution to the stages and that’s given to you almost straight-away, the Swapper device. The early stages is all about getting you familiar with the mechanics, such as swapping between clones to reach high ledges or arranging them to press buttons and so on. Things gradually get more complicated however by the existence of coloured lights and gravity in later areas. The blue light for instance prevents clone creation, the red light blocks the swapper beam meaning you can’t jump between clones and last but not least, the pink light unfortunately has both problems. This is where you’ll be wracking your brain, trying to negotiate these laws while also juggling the actions of your clones to solve the puzzle.
It helps significantly however that the controls are so crisp to operate, swapping between clones is a breeze and movement feels sufficiently weighty, meaning you have no excuse if you accidently slip off the edge of a platform. Helpfully, a slow-mo mode is implemented when you’re aiming your device, as is a neon silhouette to where you want the clone to be positioned. These cues take much off the frustration found in other puzzle games away, it’s an impeccably designed game.
These challenges exist in a 2D map structure in a Metroid-like manner, for instance each puzzle location is in self-contained rooms and the map largely allows you to tackle puzzles in any order you want. Of course, there is some structure to it, to progress deeper into the station you need to collect a certain amount of orbs in a given area, which are achieved when you complete a puzzle. These in turn unlock doors, move obstacles, activate teleport devices and teleport streams; you need to collect all the orbs to finish the game but if a puzzle is too tricky to figure out, you can at least tackle another in the meantime.
These achievements are matched by beautiful environments, all detailed by a supremely creepy claymation art style; moreover the use of lighting is wonderful, perfectly capturing the melancholic tone of the game. Meanwhile, the ruination of the colony is expressed through neat imagery such as the overgrown foliage in the greenhouse area or a damaged couch in the deserted rec room, in sum it’s a gorgeous-looking game.
It isn’t all about the visuals though, the sound is incredible throughout too, the chilling score captures the emptiness of space and the eeriness of an alien presence. What’s more it adds so much to the overall package of the game, the unsettling isolation is echoed through the lonely ambience of its soundtrack.
It is short however, you’ll probably finish the game at just over 4 hours, give or take depending how you take to the puzzles and whilst there are two different endings, there’s really not much in the way of replayability here such as tougher modes or bonus challenges to complete.
Overall, The Swapper is an incredible puzzle game with superb level design, dark narrative and a sinister atmosphere, a truly unforgettable experience.
+ Dark, impactful narrative
+ Beautiful sound and visuals
+ Thick atmosphere
+ Ingenious puzzle design
– Short length