It’s not too often that I can be genuinely surprised by video games. I’ve been an avid player since I was born, and I’ve been writing about them for half a decade now. Even publicists lead their messaging with “it’s like Gears of War but…” and developers are keen to tack on a marginally exciting mechanic to an already established genre.
I’m pleased to say that I have never played a game like The Swapper.
A dark atmospheric sci-fi tale begins with an outbreak on a space station. Our nameless astronaut flees in an escape pod only to arrive at a dark and mysterious facility. It quickly becomes apparent that nothing is as it seems, and The Swapper starts asking the hard questions.
TL:DR? Check out our 1:38 video review.
Issues like cloning and metaphysics quickly become a central debate, as the story is told to you via well written memory logs littered throughout the world. It’s a complex issue to tackle, yet The Swapper manages to not only pull it off, but it becomes an emotional hook for the very mechanics that power the game.
I am responsible for the deaths of a thousand versions of myself. That was definitely weighing on my conscience.
Players have access to a tool aptly named The Swapper. It allows you to create up to four clones of yourself, and then beam your soul to inhabit their bodies. The four clones will mirror the actions of the body you are controlling at the time – take five steps to the right and all other clones will do the same. This will often lead to deaths, many, many deaths, as you try to solve a multitude of head scratching puzzles.
Every time one of your clones dies, you are then able to create a new one in its place. Some puzzles actually required me to deliberately kill my clones, which left me with an unmistakeable feeling of guilt. I am responsible for the deaths of a thousand versions of myself.
That was definitely weighing on my conscience.
The puzzles themselves range from moderately easy to downright insane. Most puzzles will have you placing clones on pressure plates to turn off coloured lights that affect you Swapper. Blue lights stop your ability to place clones, while red lights will stop you from transferring your soul to control them.
Thankfully you can slow time down to a crawl whenever you are placing a clone. When plummeting to your death from a great height, there is no better feeling than slowing down time, sending a clone to a safe platform, and laughing in the face of death.
Yet you will have to witness the death of yet another clone of yourself, one that you were just inside of, another reason to question whether The Swapper is a blessing or a curse.
Perhaps the biggest strength in The Swapper is the organic introduction of new ideas and mechanics. When using the cloning gun, you don’t realise that you can reach great heights or survive falls when in slow motion. A few moments later an interesting puzzle forces you to explore that possibility, and it completely changes the way you think about the game. No tutorials, no hand holding, just organic exploration.
I was sitting at the edge of the world with an impossible decision to make. I don’t think I’ve felt this morally or intellectually challenged by a game before.
The Swapper is extremely reminiscent of the Metroid series. The objective is to ultimately to collect 128 orbs, usually granted upon completion of puzzles. An ever expanding map system keeps track of unexplored rooms, orb locations, teleporters and memory terminals. It looks like Metroid, it feels like Metroid, but at the same time it manages to make the system its own.
The art in The Swapper is utterly jaw dropping. Each item in the game was handmade with clay and other household products, before being digitally scanned and put into the game engine. The attention to detail in even the smallest objects is mind blowing, and the organic nature of the world really lends itself to the story.
Similarly, the soundtrack is a masterpiece of tense soundscapes that drive home mystery, fear and exploration. It is yet another shining example of what role soundtracks can play in the setting of indie games.
When I finally made it to the end of The Swapper, I was gutted. I was sitting at the edge of the world with an impossible decision to make. I don’t think I’ve felt this morally or intellectually challenged by a game before. Ultimately I knew my decision wouldn’t have a huge impact on the actual game, but my mind continued to think about the issues discussed in the plot, and I found myself rather conflicted.