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The Swapper Review

Posted by Cha Holland On Friday 28 June 2013ADD COMMENTS

Available on PC l Published and developed by Facepalm Games l Unclassified l Supports 1 player

REVIEW IN BRIEF > The Swapper is a great first release by Finland-based indie developer Facepalm Games. It’s an atmospheric puzzle platformer based on creating and swapping between clones of the main character. The setting on an isolated space station feels appropriately lonely thanks to well executed art and sound, and the themes provide at least as much to chew on as the puzzles themselves.

REVIEW IN FULL > The Swapper sounds like something you’d call a b-grade action movie, or possibly a gimmicky infomercial product. Thankfully there’s a clever, eye-catching puzzle platformer hiding behind the unfortunate name.  The game takes place on a research base far from Earth, where something has obviously gone dreadfully wrong, though the exact nature of the situation is only revealed gradually. The playable character is also a mystery to uncover: a silent figure in a space suit making their way through the desolate space station.

It’s a short game in the positive sense, being self contained enough to achieve what it sets out to without having the chance to become tedious.

Puzzles are based around the ‘swapper device’, which can create up to four clones that all mirror the player’s movements. Many clone-based puzzle games are heavily timing-based, such as Echoshift, The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom and sections of Braid.  The Swapper instead involves purely spatial problem solving based on line-of-sight, which is required to create duplicates and switch consciousness between them. Swapping to a new body in order to reach otherwise inaccessible areas quickly becomes automatic. Complications come mainly from coloured lights that block particular abilities. Areas with blue light prevent new copies from being created, while red light obstructs the ability to swap between them. Both are restricted in pink light.

There are some additions to this formula, including gravity-switching sections and occasional moveable blocks, but in general The Swapper is very focused and doesn’t pad itself out with additional mechanics. It’s a short game in the positive sense, being self contained enough to achieve what it sets out to without having the chance to become tedious. It’s pitched at a satisfying level where the rooms are never exactly hellish, but there are some head-scratching sections especially towards the end.

Graphically, The Swapper uses assets made from clay and common objects, which gives it a textured, handmade feel without being as cutesy as that sounds. The environments are oppressive, often very dark places punctuated by regions of soft lighting, creating a slightly eerie ethereal vibe. The characters feel very small next to the large chambers and mazes of corridors. Sometimes, the feeble torch seems barely able to penetrate the gloom. It’s all set off by a restrained, moody piano soundtrack and subtly unsettling sound effects.

The Swapper takes place in the kind of outer space that is less an exciting frontier and more a vast, empty void separating you from home and loved ones.  Long years spent on lonely journeys and isolated space stations. Then there’s the prospect of encountering the unknown. Not a similar race to our own with a few different languages, customs and biological quirks thrown in, but something truly alien. The sort of thing that broadens the concept of life itself and forces us to re-examine ourselves. It’s the kind of territory more often explored in films, such as Moon or 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Swapper takes place in the kind of outer space that is less an exciting frontier and more a vast, empty void separating you from home and loved ones.

The Swapper tackles difficult questions about the nature of the mind (and possibly the soul).  Working with clones always feels uneasy, wondering what it means for the self when it can be switched around so easily. It’s not commented on explicitly, but it’s very common to move into a new body while the old one tumbles to the ground in a mess of twisted ragdoll limbs.  Your consciousness moved to safety, but was anything left behind? Is the shell you inhabit really so disposable? The Swapper feels quite genuine in the way it explores ideas, helped by trusting its audience and not pushing any single interpretation. It avoids most of the trite and show-off vibes that sometimes creep in with philosophical content.

The Swapper is well worth the time for people who appreciate thoughtful sci-fi and this style of puzzle solving.  The alluring visuals and sound design add to what was already a solid, well executed concept.

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