The Swapper Review
A game with fantastic puzzles and a wonderfully told story
Every now and then a puzzle game comes along which surprises and astounds you by changing the way you think. In 2007, everyone eagerly awaited the launch of The Orange Box so they could get their hands on Half Life 2: Episode 2. But it was Portal that left the most lasting impression with everyone who played it. In 2008, Braid brought a whole new style of puzzle solving to the mix, and contained one of the most bitterly powerful endings a videogame has ever showcased. Now, in 2013, we have The Swapper, a game with fantastic puzzles and a wonderfully told story that has turned out to be one of the best games of the year.
You are alone on a space station, on a planet in the depths of space. That’s about all the story you get at the start of the game, the rest is cleverly told in between, and even as you solve puzzles throughout the game. Right off the bat, you will notice the strikingly beautiful visuals. The entire game was modeled in clay, and then digitized for use in the game, and the result is quite remarkable. The 2D environments you explore look handmade, but this actually helps them feel real, despite the somewhat alien setting, and it really helps to immerse you in the world that developer Facepalm Games has created. Despite everything looking so lovely, I never encountered a single technical fault, and the game ran as smooth as silk for the entirety.
The titular Swapper is your primary puzzle solving tool. The gun is used to create clones of yourself, any of which you can swap to and take control of as long as you have line of sight to them. Different types of light source either prevent you from creating a clone under the beam, or swapping through it. This, along with the limited number of clones you have, are the main basis of the puzzles. Any action you take is mirrored by your clones. A typical puzzle might be to create a copy on top of an unreachable ledge, swap to it, then walk forward so that both versions of yourself are standing on some switches to open up a new passageway. If Portal had you “thinking with Portals”, The Swapper certainly has you “thinking with clones” .
Data terminals found throughout the space station allow you to piece together the story. They tell you why the space station is out here, and provide some information on The Watchers, large stone structures you encounter that seem to penetrate your very mind with statements and questions. It isn’t long before you discover the darker side to your tool, and The Watchers themselves. When you create a clone, how can you be sure which one is the real you. If a copy of yourself dies (and indeed, killing off your clones becomes part of later puzzles), how can you be sure that you are living on? It was very reminiscent of The Prestige, which happens to be one of my favorite films, so the story particularly hit home with me. It all culminates in a choice at the end of the game, and I encourage you to test both of them out (or at least look at the other one on YouTube), as each of them is equally powerful in its own way.
It’s creepy too. The sense of solitude is almost heightened by the fact that for the most part, the only ever living soul you see is yourself, if the clones can even be counted as living. Sound effects are sparse, and the minimalistic soundtrack is perfectly suited to the setting. Accidentally walking one of your clones off a ledge to meet their death results in an eerie and unceremonious crunch that echoes off the walls as they crumple to the floor.
Difficulty might turn out to be a problem for some. I unashamedly looked up the solutions to a few puzzles on the Internet after bashing my head against them for a while. The puzzles are clever, but hard, and it’s a testament to the game’s atmosphere and story that instead of giving up, I went looking for answers in order to progress to the next narrative element. I never felt hard done by, but was more disappointed in myself for missing just one crucial step. However the majority of puzzles are solvable in just a few minutes, and the game is laid out in such a way that you can simply leave a room and go to another area for a new challenge, and come back to that one later. In fact you don’t even have to solve all the rooms in an area to progress to the next one, your way is usually blocked by a door that opens with a certain number of orbs that you collect by completing each puzzle.
The Swapper isn’t all that long, but nor is it all that expensive. It will probably take around four hours to finish it, and that’s a pretty decent length for the price, and the overall quality certainly makes it worth it. The game features well thought out puzzles with a tool that will join the Portal Gun as one of the best in video games, and is backed up by a beautiful world and a story that makes you begin to ponder the consequences of your actions. It definitely goes down as one of the best puzzle, if not overall, games of 2013 in my book.