Everything about The Swapper is minimalistic, and that includes the way it delivers its story to the player. The game takes place in a universe where humanity has exhausted their natural resources, establishing outposts in the deep space to synthesise useful materials to send back to earth. Without divulging too much more information – humans develop “The Swapper”, a device that creates clones of the user, which is quickly shunned by the experts stationed on the outposts who claim it’s dangerous and unethical. You play as an unnamed character who has been dropped into this world, who eventually finds a “Swapper” and must explore an abandoned space station to discover just what happened on the station and find his own way out of the station.
It’s important to highlight how interesting The Swapper is in terms of it’s blurring of the genres. It’s a game that could easily be interpreted as a puzzle game, in similar vein to titles like Portal. But it could easily be interpreted as a horror title given how thick the atmosphere is. But thankfully, there’s no jump-scares, no pursuers, but only words that convey the horror. This works great for two reasons – first of all, those who are frightened of the genre can easily skip all of the text and play through the game as if it were an interesting puzzle game, taking in the very well-crafted atmosphere and wrapping themselves up in the mystery and isolationist viewpoint. But second of all, those who want a truly chilling story with a very unnerving finale can easily read into the audio logs and other text collectibles strewn throughout the game world to put the story together and come to the horrifying conclusion themselves.
It speaks testament to the games atmosphere that, while the story on its own isn’t particularly unique, the way it’s presented still makes it feel like something fresh and new. This isn’t just another one of those pretentious indie titles – but the game’s content is mature and much more cerebral than your typical video game narrative. But it is a fantastic ride that shouldn’t be missed that will keep most players intrigued, or for those not following the story, engrossed from beginning to end.
The Swapper is a very strange looking game that uses a very strange looking art style. But that’s apparently because it’s been modeled in clay, digitised and then animated. While it sounds like a recipe for disaster and that it might look like a poor man’s Wallace and Gromit impersonation. And in screenshots, it really does. But in motion, the game looks fantastic. Lighting manages to perfectly show off these unique and solid, if not slightly chunky, character models in the best light possible (literally). It’s a strange style that’s not been seen in a video game for a long time now and one that sounds a bit weird, but once you’re aware of the fact it’s clay then it becomes exceedingly apparent. And honestly, it looks great – to the point where it manages to capture that sense of isolation that games like Metroid have been so successful in doing in the past.
The sound design is similarly crafted in a way to ensure that the game draws the player into the world rather than play with their emotions as a result of what happens in the world. There’s little to no music – there are some sombre piano pieces here and there, but for the most part the sounds that players will be hearing in The Swapper will be the sounds made by the environment or pieces that emphasise the alone and overwhelming loneliness of an abandoned space station. The voice work on show here is minimal, but serviceable too, but really is so rare that it makes up little to none of the game.
The Swapper borrows elements from titles like Castlevania and Metroid but doesn’t in any way attempt to be them. Mixing these elements of backtracking and character progression with Portal-esque puzzle progression works particularly well. The player must travel through the space station, which is conveniently modulated, and collect special orbs. Each area will require a certain amount of orbs to progress through – so players who want to get by on the bare minimum can do so but those who want to explore will be able to find everything the game has to offer. There is some backtracking, but it’s nowhere near as excessive as other games in this genre.
As you might have expected, the crux of the game’s puzzles comes from the Swapper tool. The tool allows players to create up to four clones as well as to swap control between them at any given time. Clones themselves move with the player, unless interrupted by an obstacle like a wall or a crate. This is where the brunt of the challenge comes from in The Swapper – attempting to find the optimal setup to get all the clones to hit all switches simultaneously in a room or to get through a series of doors unscratched are just some of the challenges the player will encounter.
The Swapper attempts to change things up as the player progresses by introducing different lighting systems within the ship itself. These lights have varying effects on The Swapper and its clones – blue lights, for example, will prevent clones from being created in the area they illuminate. Red lights can block The Swapper from “Swapping” control between clones of those standing in red light, while purple lights block both. Towards the end of the game, The Swapper also plays with gravity to make puzzles much more difficult. And they are particularly difficult – but incredibly satisfying upon solving them. The pacing and the difficulty of the puzzles, thankfully, feels just about right although there is bound to be some players who will have to resort to a guide, and I wouldn’t fault them for doing so either. The Swapper can get tough during its later levels.
While it might seem like playing on a console would be less enjoyable than playing on a PC with a mouse, the console versions of The Swapper feature a surprisingly intuitive control system. While the cursor affects where created clones will appear, the game slows down time to allow for players to place their clones strategically without flustering about with poorly designed controls. Even better – this design choice allows the developers to incorporate some very interesting puzzles designs, where the player and their character can create clones and swap to them in order to climb large vertical space. Opening the exploration up to a vertical level gives The Swapper another edge to its exploration when compared to other games in the genre, although it’s rather macabre to see three clones just fall to their death after you’ve successfully climbed an area.
The Swapper itself will probably be over for most players within five to six hours, though to find absolutely everything the experience could probably last anywhere between six to ten. The trophies themselves are assigned to finding secret terminals throughout the game, which elaborate on the game world and what went down on the space station – which means most players will be able to easily complete the game without unlocking a single trophy. These collectibles are easily the most elusive, but as with the puzzles, will be especially rewarding if players set out to find the all – although most of them are hidden through what feels like unfair means at times.