I’ll shamefully admit that The Swapper has been sitting in my Steam library for about half a year, now. I’d bought it with the intention of seeing what all the high praise was when it was originally released on PC in 2013, but I never found the time to delve into the critically beloved puzzler. Now that it’s made its way to PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Vita, I’ve finally sunk my teeth into the game, and I’m happy to report that I was nothing short of blown away.
What makes The Swapper so special is that every cog in the machine works so well together. The story, puzzles, and atmosphere play off each other in great harmony, and it becomes a seamless experience that sucked me in from the moment I stepped foot onto the Theseus, the eroding space station that your nameless hero must navigate through. Beginning as a simple story of survival, The Swapper quickly develops into a tale of souls, mortality, and consequences.
The entirety of the puzzles are solved with the swapper, the titular weapon that allows you to clone yourself and swap places with your clones. Perhaps what’s most impressive about The Swapper is that every puzzle is based around your swapper gun, which is received right at the beginning of the game. The new mechanics the game introduces are presented entirely though new environments and objects you can interact with in those environments, and the variety in which puzzles are presented without hitting on the same note is impressive, to say the least.
The first few puzzles are surely a breeze, but once you progress farther into the Theseus, the puzzles begin to advance more and more, and it challenges you to use the swapper gun in mind-bending ways. When you clone yourself, your clones will mimic every motion you make: moving side to side, grabbing objects, and jumping, too.
Your main goal in The Swapper is to collect orbs hidden within puzzles to complete your objectives. Standing in your way are lights that affect the functionality of your swapper device. A blue light won’t allow any clones to be created in its area, a red light will stop you from swapping with clones, and a purple light will stop you from doing either. These lights are generally stopped by having you or one of your clones step on a pressure plate to either adjust or turn off the lights. Each new challenge is presented gradually, and when The Swapper marries them all together for some of the latter puzzles, the results may have you in awe of how clever developer Facepalm must have been to squeeze the amount of diverse puzzles out of such simple ideas.
Though the puzzles are fantastic in their own right, it’s the connection to the theme of the game that’s most impressive. Some puzzles require you to sacrifice your clones in order to get the orbs you need to progress farther into the space station. Were they clones? Who was the original? Do they have souls? Are you murdering them? The Swapper discusses these themes heavily, and it made me think more in depth about my clones’ sacrifices while I was solving puzzles. Right up to the end of the game, you’ll be questioned about your decisions, if they matter, and the sacrifices you’ve had to make. It’s deeply psychological, and it adds weight to all of the actions you have to make to finish the story.
Rather than just using traditional digital assets to create its world, The Swapper is made with clay and other handcrafted materials to personify the decaying space station in which you’ll roam. It’s so strange to see something handmade in a dreary space narrative, but it works exceptionally well. The natural materials used helps breath life into the dark and lifeless corridors, and it creates a unique look that is simply breathtaking to behold. Combining the organic feel with special effects takes the visuals to a whole new level, and the atmosphere it creates is unmatched.
The Swapper may only take a handful of hours to beat, but it doesn’t need any filler to make the game better. What’s presented is a tight package that is perfectly paced and just the right length. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, and you won’t find any half-cooked side missions to pad the length.
The PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game are almost identical and are equally as gorgeous ways to play The Swapper. The Vita is the weakest of the three, because of the smaller screen size which cramps together the sometimes large rooms you’ll encounter; in turn making it difficult to see. While the OLED screen vibrantly displays the Theseus space station and the various colors that it contains, it’s a little bit more difficult to aim precisely when swapping with your clones. Keep in mind, this is a very minor hindrance to the experience, and the Vita is still an excellent device to enjoy The Swapper. Being able to cloud save and play on any of the three supported PlayStation devices is definitely a welcome feature – especially since The Swapper is a cross-buy title.
At first glance, The Swapper may be mistaken as a simple puzzle game, but the bleak, eerie world and significant questions of your moral choices to progress throughout the plot make it so much more than meets the eye. Interweaving the gameplay with the story is flawlessly done, and it’s something very rarely seen – if ever – in puzzle games.
This review is based on a review copy of the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita versions of the game The Swapper by Facepalm Games and distributed by Curve Digital Publishing.
- Stunning organic graphics
- Challenging and fulfilling puzzles
- Simple, yet deep narrative