Review: The Swapper

Originally released over a year ago, Facepalm Games’ The Swapper has made its way to Sony’s current platforms thanks to Curve Studios – with Curve Digital handling the publishing of the game. Originally developed by two college students, Otto Hantula and Olli Harjola, the game is an impressive mix of side-scrolling puzzle-platforming and a Metroidvania-like environment structure.

Developer: Facepalm Games, Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Digital
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
Also Available On: PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PC, Mac, Linux
Release Date: Available Now

BRB-Score-4

The game begins with your character being jettisoned in an escape pod from the Theseus space station to the nearby planet Chori V. With only a flashlight to aid you, exploring the planet and its subterranean vaults lead you to a device known as the Swapper. Almost immediately, its use becomes apparent – you can not only make clones of yourself (up to four at a time) but you can then ‘swap’ consciousness with a copy and continue your journey with them, once they are within your line of sight. As you explore more of the facility, you learn not only what happened to the Theseus, but what else resides on Chori V.

Sounds spooky, doesn’t it? That’s because it is! The Swapper is a stunningly atmospheric game. From the opening tracking shot, the sense of isolation and fear is palpable – reminiscent of the original Alien film.

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As for video game influences, the first game it reminded me of was Portal. That might seem odd based on my previous description of the atmosphere, but I am referring to its emphasis on a sense of place and a sinister, overarching force.

Creating clone copies of the protagonist forms the basic game mechanics of The Swapper. Once a clone is created, it will move as you do, unless there is some environmental element stopping it – like a wall. Puzzles are solved by projecting a clone onto various platforms to either hit pressure switches or simply transferring your consciousness into said clone once placed.

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Lights form obstacles to add to and expand on the game’s puzzle grammar. For instance, blue lights will prevent clones from being created in the illuminated area, while red lights will block the control-swapping ability. Purple lights block both actions. Moving through white lights will destroy any clones you have created.

As you create more and more clones of yourself in order to progress, you will begin to question what exactly these clones are. Unlike most games where non-player characters are treated as cannon fodder, these NPCs are basically versions of you – meaning when you leave them in a room or mess up your movements and cause one of them to plummet to their deaths, you will feel a twinge of guilt.

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The puzzles themselves start off fairly straightforward but become quite taxing later in the game. As there is a slight pause when a clone is created, you can quickly swap with them in the air and chain these together. This allows you to scale vertical walls and is used often as a tool in later tasks. Shifting gravity also adds a level of complexity which will test your brain and reflexes.

The controls have had to be modified slightly. A cursor floats in the air, indicating where a new clone will be placed. While a mouse would control this perfectly, mapping it to the right analog stick just makes it that little bit more difficult to use. Unfortunately, it really seems to be the best solution possible as I can only imagine what a nightmare it would be to use the DualShock 4’s touchpad instead.

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While the difficulty ramps up, the eerie atmosphere persists throughout the game. While the music evokes the lonely psychological effect that runs through the entire game, it is the visual style that really sells the atmosphere. I attended Curve Digital’s showcase a few weeks ago where they showed off The Swapper. At the event, one of the developers mentioned that the textures used were taken from photos of real-life objects, scanned into the game. It gives The Swapper an appropriately alien look.

Like most puzzle games, once you finish the game’s relatively short five-hour campaign, there is very little reason to replay it. You will know the solutions to the puzzles and there is no additional mode to explore. While I would never advocate the addition of padding to a game to extend its play time, I nonetheless feel that a NewGamePlus mode or challenges rooms would have been a benefit here.

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The puzzle mechanics are unique
Atmosphere and narrative are tied inexorably together
The visual style is arresting
Like many puzzle games, it offers little replay value

The pervasive atmosphere is absorbing, thanks in no small part to the superb texture work of the developers. As a whole, the ‘funstrating’ obstacles put in your way and existential narrative that ties in deeply to the game’s mechanics make The Swapper a unique experience that will entertain anybody interested in puzzle games or the sci-fi genre in general.

Review copy provided by Curve Digital
Official Game Site

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