Humans by nature are inquisitive beasts. We have a primordial drive to explore concepts that elude us, to meticulously study them and then conquer them with understanding. Be it the mysterious world of sub-atomic particles, the seemingly infinite domain of space or just where the hell Half-Life 3 is, man will pursue these quandaries and emerge all the better for it.
Enter, The Swapper. A game that on the surface seems, a least on a conceptual level, like just another puzzle platformer but, oh boy, does this sucker leave you with more questions than answers and standing gingerly on the precipice of an existential crisis!
Cast upon the background of a cold, unwelcoming and probably most importantly, abandoned, space station, you control a nameless space cadet sent in to figure out what’s exactly happened to the missing crew… which by all accounts, sounds like a fantastic idea. Good job Space Command!
The environments of The Swapper hang heavy with a foreboding atmosphere. Each area is dimly lit and smothered in an eerie silence, save for your optimistic little footsteps, which does nothing to bolster your sense of fragility. Thankfully the only enemy in this game is your own ability to solve puzzles, oh, and the architect who decided that multiple pressure plates in hard to reach places was a better solution for opening doors than, say, a handle!
That’s when the titular mechanic comes into play. You get a device that allows you to create up to 4 copies of yourself at any time, within your line of sight, that mirror your every move. You step left, they step left. You jump, they jump. You apathetically shrug your shoulders and question your nihilistic existence, well you get the picture.
The puzzles start off pretty simple, with you breezing through the first couple of rooms. But like any good puzzle game, more elements get introduced further down the line, leading to some real head scratchers that will dumfound you, on par with rational folk listening to moon landing deniers.
As the puzzles get more complex the other, more insidious, capability of this device comes into play, the ability to transfer your soul or consciousness into one of the clones. Although not so sinister at first thought, I’ll pose it to you this way. You need to make a jump, right? But the fall will, without a doubt, shatter every bone in your body. You take the plunge regardless and at the last second create a clone and swap into that body. Hooray! You survived! And then you hear it. A thud accompanied by the sound of snapping bones, as the body you just left lies in a crumpled heap behind you.
Eh. It’s okay, though. That’s not you, you’re you! Right? Or are you? How many you’s have there been now? Are you the 3rd? The 50th? The 200th? Or have you lost count? The clones you create, in essence, are you and in turn, you are as much them. This mechanic poses a poignant commentary enveloping morality, science, faith and even self. It is essentially an existential nightmare, all created without any use of props.
When the story does kick in, it’s like Lynch, Cronenberg and Carpenter all sat around dropping acid, collectively free writing and then piecing together the most legible parts into something somewhat coherent. Needless to say, I love it! The narrative is told in a Dark Souls-y way, where the player can bolt through like Buck Rogers or methodically scour every inch of the Metroidvania, maze like space station for every scrap of information on the ancient, sentient space rocks that have killed everyone… I wasn’t kidding with the Lynch-ness!
The Swapper is everything you want from a good puzzle game and ports especially well to the Vita, which is what I was rocking it on, for quick burst of play. Aesthetically captivating, smooth controls and a great balance between brain taxing frustration and a feeling of success upon solving puzzles that makes you want to apply for Hawking’s seat at MENSA, The Swapper is definitely one of a kind.