Written by Kevin Kennedy, @thekevmiester
The Swapper is a 2-D platformer made by Facepalm Games, a two man team from Helsinki, that may take recognisable elements from many games; such as Portal, Bioshock and Metroid, though at the end of the day, all this actually results into one of the most unique, thought-provoking and excellent games I’ve ever played.
Whilst exploring a mysterious station in space, you come across a device which allows you to create and inhabit clones, which in turn you use to solve puzzles and explore the station further. Along the way you find out that the station has uncovered an ancient race known as “The Watchers” who may well be responsible for all the strange goings on.
Story is mostly kept mysterious. From the opening of the game which seems to have you riding an escape pod onto an abandoned station to the rather dank yet extremely satisfying ending, a true grasp of the plot always seems to be just out of arms length, which actually suits the game extremely well.
A large chunk of the backstory is told through memory logs that require you to stop and read them. While I’m usually not too big a fan of this mechanic, I was surprised to find myself reading them quite often. None of the information is vital (which is perhaps why it’s pushed to the side) and can even be skipped entirely should you please. Even if the story is something of a placeholder that can be largely pushed aside, it’s still very intriguing and well thought out. Some unanswered questions even make sense upon reflection and may even force more research out of you.
Part of the joy in The Swapper is discovering things for yourself, so I won’t say much more about the actual content. That being said it’s an intriguing tale that blends seamlessly with the gameplay (well OK, the reason for the puzzles being there may not be explained but who cares), with themes of survival, desperation and questions about the soul: Does it exist, and if so, what is it?
The Swapper is the titular device used in all of the puzzles. You can create up to four clones which will then mimic your every movement until they are absorbed into the host or killed. To solve the puzzles, you will have to place clones in the perfect position, inhabit others to help traverse the environment and, at times, even kill some off.
As the game goes on, the puzzles get more complex with the addition of coloured lights. These lights have certain effects on the Swapper device such as not allowing you to inhabit clones or even create them. Add a handful of other changes to the formula and you have a game that never rests on it’s laurels and is always keen to change things up and keep you thinking. Even when I wasn’t playing the game and was making myself food or browsing the internet, I found myself questioning every action I was taking for fear that it would ruin a puzzle or kill off a clone. The gameplay is that immersive (or I’m just that dumb).
Much like the story, gameplay is mostly left for the player to discover. There is the occasional button prompt at the beginning but very soon you will be left to your own devices and to learn at your own rate. This is a refreshing aspect of games that is all too often forgotten, helping to empower the player and leave a truly lasting impression.
Just when the game was brilliant enough, there are a few Zero-G segments thrown in for good measure, which have you floating through the cosmos, using your swapper device as propulsion. They don’t last long (thankfully, as they work best in short doses) but it’s a wonderfully implemented aspect that doesn’t really need to be there yet is still as clever and polished as the rest of the game.
The only negative point I can really mention is the lack of controller support. There are times when you have to be very precise with your movements and with no option to even walk slowly, you’ll find yourself running into gravity wells and off objects more often that you’d like. Thankfully, there are reports suggesting that Facepalm are working on a patch, though frankly I don’t know if this is the sort of game you could play over and over.
Even this gripe is hardly frustrating, more a shame as everything else is so fantastic. I’ve merely skimmed the surface here. As I’ve already mentioned, part of the joy is in the discovery, so I’ll stop myself before I give too much away. Though if you haven’t guessed by know, I fricking love this game!
While I don’t consider the look of a game to be the most important aspect, it must be said that this game is absolutely gorgeous. Facepalm supposably based the artwork off of real objects, helping to create an incredibly unique world that simply looks stunning. While you may not be playing it at parties, the music also helps to hammer home the sense of seclusion. From every angle, this is simply a stunning game.
While there are many elements of The Swapper that may be recognisable from other games, it still manages to be an incredibly unique and absorbing experience. At around 10 hours (give or take) it was sad to see it end but it never manages to outstay it’s welcome. I eagerly look foreward to more from Facepalm studios.I really want to talk more about it but it is best experienced for yourself.
And here was me thinking that The Last of Us was going to be my GoTY…
The Final Word: Simply fantastic. Get it!