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The Swapper

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By Mokman11-07-2013
Bis18marck70 (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
The Swapper

The Defence

Developer:
Facepalm Games
Publisher:
Facepalm Games
Genre:
Puzzle, Platformer
Release Date:
30-05-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Dual Core 2.2 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 8800
AMD Radeon HD4800
RAM:
2 GB
HDD:
1 GB
DirectX:
9.0c

The Case

 

The issue of self-identity has always been prevalent within science fiction with most of its questions essentially leading to the 'Ship of Theseus' conundrum - which is to say, were someone to replace your person with an identical copy, and then proceeded to copy your consciousness over to this other body, which person is you? The Swapper plays with this theme masterfully, incorporating it into the main gameplay mechanic where you roam a mostly abandoned space station commanding clones, sacrificing them to further your own ends, swapping from one body to the other - while gorgeous environments drip about you with intense character. Not to mention the puzzles...oh, the puzzles. At least a dozen of them have left me speechless with amazement, sitting back from my computer with my chin cradled between my arms as I wracked my brain, inadvertently jumping out of joy, shouting eureka, as the solution finally came to me. Yes, if you haven't yet realized, I think this game is pretty much the best puzzle game I've played in a long, long time.

Why? I’ll tell you why.

The Trial

 

Let me first state the inevitable caveat that I'm a huge science fiction buff. Anything written by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert etc, have all been devoured by my unending hunger - and thus it was with great excitement that I started up The Swapper, which to my knowledge at the point was a puzzle platformer with visuals and lighting that looked loosely like they came from the set of Prometheus, another excellent science fiction film. And my excitement only began to mount as I progressed through the opening scenes, watching a tiny rocket undock from a space station orbiting a strange planetoid, hurtle towards the surface and finally crash ignominiously, ejecting its single occupant.

Don't mind the giant stone heads, that's just part of the decor.

Don't mind the giant stone heads, that's just part of the decor.

The story is chillingly beautiful, revolving around a single individual whose past you slowly begin to explore as the game progresses, fulfilling the archetype of the silent and unseen protagonist, whose facemask is never taken off - something that really appealed to me considering the themes of identity prevalent within the game. It hit me at one point where I saw a rack of helmets the exact same as mine - though I had already gotten used to that helmet itself being my face. It was a poignant moment, filled with philosophical meaning, and the Swapper is practically overflowing with such instances. The game reminds you of these themes in indirect manners, ranging from the slightly obvious, such as naming the space station "Theseus", to the sublime.

The game constantly deals with these themes as the story develops. It ranges throughout the game, from the moment when the main character discovers a ‘cloning gun’ that can essentially create identical copies of himself, which move in tandem to his actions, to him swapping bodies between his original and the others. Constantly, one finds himself in a situation where he has to switch to another body, leaving the original body behind to die or even to fall down a bottomless pit - it was a shocking moment when I realized I had forgotten where I had lost my original body. Throughout the game, different characters appear, if you could call them that, brief glimpses of other consciousness' behind the insanity, aliens and the cold darkness of the space station - which in itself was so characterful that I began to think of it as a character.

Figuring out this puzzle blew my mind.

Figuring out this puzzle blew my mind.

However, the central and most important facet of the entire game is not the characters nor the environment - but rather the puzzles. As I had reviewed The Cave earlier this year, I was struck by how it was essentially an exploratory adventure utilizing the skin of a puzzle game in order to fit as many half-baked jokes inside as possible. The Swapper suffers no such flaws - it is not only a puzzle game in the truest sense of the word, it is a brilliant puzzle game. I had not experienced puzzles this devious in a long time, and even rarer had I experienced one which forced me to put down the mouse and instead rest my chin on my hands, staring at the screen and pondering. This game convinced me to do that at nearly every single puzzle past a certain point.

The joy of revelation is vital to the process of a good puzzle game and The Swapper has that emotion down to, virtually, an art-form. The revelations then come hand in hand with the plot, a sense of adventure and discovery tempered by the grim realizations and existentialism of what exactly you are doing, which is spending the clone bodies of yourself freely in order to proceed further and further into the story. Essentially, the symbiosis between the story and the gameplay reaches an unprecedented level in recent gaming, or at least gaming this year - it finds that sweet spot where neither overpowers the other. The crucial moment where I realized that I had long since forgotten where the first body, my original body, had been left to rot was such a poignant moment that I daresay I will remember it for many years to come.

Don't take the wrong turn at th - oh wait. Never mind.

Don't take the wrong turn at th - oh wait. Never mind.

This atmosphere and mood is then greatly assisted by the game's art direction - a masterpiece of form and function, with clearly defined objects indicating their purpose within the game while also remaining aesthetically pleasing. The audio is amazing, working perfectly in tandem with the visual cues to provide the desired atmosphere. The only real nitpicking that I can do is say that the soundtrack is nothing really special, but even then it is effective in giving the sense of space exploration mixed with the fear of the unknown.

The Verdict

 

Ultimately, The Swapper is by no means perfect - not in the conventional manner that an objective person would view it. Yes, somewhere about the middle, there is a small portion where the puzzles become slightly less well-paced, although that quickly picks back up again, and yes, the game itself suffers from being quite short. However, in my book, it is perfect because it manages to pull off exactly what it was supposed to do - a slight horror atmosphere infusing a puzzle platforming game with philosophical and existential tendencies. It is not everybody's cup of tea, that much is certain. But for those who look for a bit more sophistication, a bit more thought and contemplation, and a bit more brain-work, this is the game for you. Don't miss out on it.

Case Review

  • Beautiful: Really, there's not much else I can call the art direction.
  • Mind-wracking: Which is the hallmark of a well-designed and thought out puzzle game.
  • Sublime: Subtlety is the key here; it doesn't beat the players over the head with revelations.
  • Logs, Logs and Logs: The fact that most of the story is passed on through logs made by the previous occupants may not be something that everybody can enjoy.
  • Short: It’s not exactly a marathon-length game, but arguably, that adds to the impact that it’ll have on you.
5
Score: 5/5
The Swapper will leave you amazed with beautiful visuals and brilliant puzzles.

Appeal

Upon completing this game I had to go to Facepalm Games’ website to double check something. And, nope, my eyes did not deceive me; this really is their first game, and only four people were involved in making it. Wow. From the mysterious opening credits, straight to its shocking conclusion, I was, to my great surprise, completely hooked. When I got this game there were only two things I really knew about it: that the gorgeous art was made from clay and household objects, and that the puzzles were centred around a rather cool cloning mechanic. What I didn’t expect was that the art style would be used to create some of the most unbearably lonely atmosphere I’ve ever seen in a game (due also to some excellent ambient sound design as well as a chilling soundtrack); and that the use of the Swapper, the game’s titular device, would play a bigger role than I thought it would in what turned out to be a thought-provoking story. But more on that in a moment.

The use of cloning creates one hell of a puzzle game; the kind, rarer and rarer these days, that forces us to stop and think about what we’re doing. They start off easily enough of course, but challenging new concepts - like the inability to swap with a clone inside a certain light source; or gravity-swapping panels - are steadily introduced and then combined with one another to create some truly mind-bending puzzles. Some turn out to be deceptively simple but a lot of others, particularly those towards the end of the game, will have you killing clone after clone as you try to discover a solution.

That’s where the narrative comes in. A lot of your clones will die in this game. It won’t initially be something that particularly saddens you either. You may even delight in watching them fall to their deaths from high chasms, and maybe even send them to such an end on purpose. I know I sure did. After all, they’re not me, right? They’re just clones of my body. Another can always be created to replace the last, so who cares? That’s when the game started asking me some philosophical questions and began to introduce some twists on my perception of how all this cloning worked. Suddenly this wasn’t so amusing after all. But here’s the kicker: between the brilliant puzzles and these difficult questions, I can’t tell you which of the two had me thinking more, and I cannot for the life of me remember how, when or why my first clone died; and these realisations, I hope, speak highly of what you can expect from this game.

5
Score: 5/5

Appeal

Not my usual kind of game. Not my usual kind at all. Yet, when this came up on the review schedule I was immediately intrigued. There was just something about it. Something I couldn't quite put my finger on. Something that told me I just had to try it for myself. So here we are, after a dark trip through the Human psyche. And what a trip it was! For the first time in a very, very long time I found myself unable to stop. I just had to keep going until I finished, which I did in one sitting. Not because it was short. Though as a low price point indie title it does only clock in at around the four to five hour mark. But no, not because it was short. Right from the opening menu, I was completely hooked.

The music is superb, the atmosphere drips from your very monitor, the plot...far deeper than you may expect. In fact, not until the very end will you realise precisely how deep. The cloning and 'swapping' (literally jumping from one body to another) mechanic is something genuinely unique. Especially when you factor in the control of (up to) five bodies at a time. With each one doing everything that your existing body does. It gives you an odd disconnect from what you are doing. You might even call it a lack of immersion, but that's not quite right. You find yourself, almost immediately, ceasing to have any value for the welfare of any of the little spacesuited figures on screen. Because you can easily make another one. If you cannot see the inherent commentary in that, you're doing it wrong.

5
Score: 5/5
Comments (5)
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Posts: 2667

@Mok: Yeah, that's precisely how I approach the scoring system. It works

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Posts: 53

Woah, 5s across the board? @Bobfish, agreed - although how I give 5s is if it excels at its niche (which the Swapper most definitely does), then it deserves the score no matter how small the niche is.

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Posts: 2667

You will not regret it.

It even has two endings

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Posts: 1202

If this game doesn't get a fancy 50% sale during the sumer-you-know-what, then I'm getting it right after. The screenshots alone have me sold.

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Posts: 2667

Another all 5's? That actually took me by surprise. I mean, I know it's definitely deserving, but like Mokman said, it's a bit of a niche game. Which is a shame actually. As our scores show, it's a great niche game