It's always refreshing to be introduced to a game mechanic that you've never quite seen before. It's even better when that game takes said mechanic and elevates it to something pure and sublime, something that, to borrow a cliché, can always be replicated but never exactly duplicated.
In a few ways, The Swapper reminded me of Super Metroid. Not in terms of gameplay (this is a puzzle game, not a Metroidvania), but rather its cosmic setting, similar-looking map overlay, and oh yeah doors that look exactly like those in Super Metroid. It takes some serious gall to create an allusion to such a classic game, since doing so immediately brings to mind thoughts of top quality and legacy.
Luckily, The Swapper can get away with it just fine.
The Swapper (PC)
Developer: Facepalm Games
Publisher: Facepalm Games
Release Date: May 30, 2013
MSRP: $14.99 / £11.99 / €13.99
The Swapper's plot begins as a seemingly standard space story complete with a mysteriously vague stranger talking nonsense about who knows what. It quickly turns into a philosophical debate about metaphysics that, despite its complex ideas, is surprisingly easy to follow. It seems a bit strange and obtuse at first, but as the pieces fall into place the story becomes one of the most thought-provoking and interesting stories in a long time.
The classic mind-body problem is debated and yet, at the same time, remains so brilliantly relevant to the game's central mechanic that it still blows me away. Rarely does a serious discussion of philosophy tie so flawlessly into a game's mechanics that it just makes so much damn sense. The story and discussion don't feel out of place, forced, or at all poorly done.
It definitely helps that the writing is incredibly solid all throughout The Swapper. The story unfolds through conversations with the stranger as well as through memory terminals scattered around the map. These terminals will slowly reveal the history of what has happened, and even give some insight into the current predicament.
The voice acting is likewise great, providing very believable voices and delivering charming, yet eerie lines that are sure to make the player a bit uneasy. All of these elements culminate at the very end of the game to create one of the best videogame endings I've had the pleasure of experiencing. Even thinking about it now gives me chills.
The main mechanic in The Swapper revolves around the aptly named Swapper gun that the main character wields. This gun allows players to not only create up to four clones of themselves with the right-mouse button, but to then "swap" to any one of the clones in range, taking direct control of them by firing a beam at them with the left mouse button. The trick is that each clone exactly mirrors the player; if the player moves left four steps, so does each and every clone.
There are some tricky maneuvers to be pulled off with the Swapper, but luckily time slows down to a crawl while attempting to place a clone with the gun. There's something oddly satisfying about falling hundreds of feet, only to slow down time, create a clone just above the ground, and instantly switch to it right before the "previous you" falls to his death and crumbles. And yet, at the same time, it's a bit harrowing to see the body you just inhabited die right before your eyes.
Colored lights within the puzzles prevent the player from performing certain actions: blue lights prevent the player from creating clones while red lights prevent any attempted swapping. They even sometimes combine to make a purple light, restricting any use of the Swapper device whatsoever. The puzzles never wear out their welcome since the game will take most players under five hours to complete, and enough new puzzle elements are introduced to always keep things feeling fresh and challenging.
Puzzles usually consist of putting clones on top of pressure plates in order to open areas or turn off colored lights. The goal of each puzzle is to collect orbs, which in turn allows the player to access sealed off areas of the map. Some puzzles are definitely easier than others, but the difficulty never seems way too hard or laughably easy. Some puzzles will definitely have players sitting at their computer with a hand on their chin and squinted eyes pointed at the screen, thinking hard about the problem they face. Hopefully this is followed by a huge grin, knowing that the puzzle is behind them and they kicked its butt.
Now let's get to the real star of the game: the aesthetic. The Swapper was hand crafted in clay and other common materials, creating one of the most aesthetically unique games I have ever played. The colorful lighting plays well with the hand crafted clay and creates an eerie atmosphere that truly feels alien. This game is absolutely gorgeous in motion. A lot of love went into this style, and it has paid off in spades.
There are certain moments in this game that are sure to take your breath away. There is a strong emphasis on the sense of scale at just the right times to create memorable impressions and feelings of insignificance in the great void of space. Players may find themselves occasionally thinking more about the great emptiness of their surroundings instead of the next puzzle.
This game is beautiful, plain and simple.
I came away from The Swapper with nothing but amazement. From the first time you see the literally hand-crafted visuals until the final moment in the game, which is sure to give you pause for thought, you will be in complete awe. Brilliant puzzles with even more brilliant solutions compliment the philosophical plotline, leaving an unforgettable experience unlike any other.