Stranded aboard a derelict ship, your only hope of survival is to utilize a Swapper, a tool that lets the user create exact clones of itself, as well as beam their conciousness between those clones. Originally released on the PC in 2013, Facepalm Games’ The Swapper is set to make its debut on all three PlayStation platforms on Aug. 5. But does this clone of the original game live up to the high praise the unique puzzler received when it originally launched last year?
Having never played The Swapper on PC, I came into my PlayStation 4 review run completely fresh. All I knew about the game was that it had received a lot of love in its original incarnation last year, and that the team at Facepalm Games had earned some additional attention due to the fact that their visuals were completely crafted out of claymation and various other bits and pieces of real world items. It’s a nifty idea, and one that helps give the game’s dark and lonesome environments an almost alien look and feel.
To help drive home the disorientation, the player is dropped onto the spaceship Theseus with no explanation of who they are, how they got there or what is going on. You soon discover that the Theseus and its crew were a part of an artifact gathering mission of sorts large rocks from the planet Chori V. But where’s the crew? What makes these rocks so special? Why does the ship appear to be floating dead in the blackness of space?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the last I intend to say about the plot of The Swapper, easily one of this excellent game’s most intriguing features. As you make your way through the ship, the story will slowly reveal itself in bits and pieces, snapping itself together Voltron-like in order to craft a tale that will have you questioning quite a few big ideas and concepts by the time you reach the conclusion. It’s not common for a platforming puzzle game to have a particularly good story, much less one that, as the cliché goes, really makes you think.
The main driving force in The Swapper is that titular, godlike tool that lets you create a handful of exact replicas of yourself. Simply aim the gun where you want to create a clone and fire. From there, you can also send your consciousness (or is it soul?) to any clone you have line of sight on. The trick to controlling all of these clones is that they all move exactly how you’re moving. Go left and they go left at the same right. Jump and they all jump along with you. Since there only needs to be one “you” exiting a room, though, you can think of these clones as completely disposable. Their deaths (of which there will be many) are even necessary to solve quite a few of the game’s puzzles.
The puzzles themselves take full advantage of your limited move set and force you to use them in mind-bending ways. Matters start out simply enough, requiring you to do little more than use a few clones to stand on switches or cross big gaps. Your reward for completing a puzzle are power cores that you will use to power various parts of the ship, thus allowing you to dive deeper into the stranded vessel and, thus, the story that explains its current state.
Additional obstacles are eventually thrown in your path, requiring you to more carefully place clones and maneuver them about. Lights are also thrown into the mix, the color of which will prevent you from either creating a clone in a certain area or swapping your consciousness to a clone in a certain zone. Again, I don’t want to go too far into the other factors that will eventually affect your puzzle solving out of fear of spoiling some of the fun but, by the time I was headed into the final third of the game, I was pulling off maneuvers and piecing together solutions that made my brain scream out in mixture of confusion and joy.
Like any good puzzle game, The Swapper steadily ramps up the difficulty, going from fast and simple solutions to combinations that will have you stuck in a room for 20 minutes while you slowly, but surely, put all of the pieces together. Some of these contraptions will leave you feeling like the smartest person on the planet while others will have you slapping your forehead, baffled that it could have taken you so long to work out a deceptively simple solution. My mantra eventually became, “okay, you’re over-thinking this,” which typically led to a sudden epiphany followed by an equally sudden cheer for my likely undeserved sense of brilliance.
A puzzle game is only as good as its puzzles, which The Swapper manages to nail admirably. What really sets the game apart, though, is how it offers a total gaming package. Along with the visuals, which look lovely on the PlayStation 4, The Swapper boasts that intriguing story we discussed earlier, a world that’s fun to explore and serves as a sort of puzzle in and of itself, and a delightfully haunting soundtrack full of mournful tunes, appropriately jarring bits of silence and ambient sounds that only further your immersion into this lonely, lonely world. The Swapper isn’t a horror game, but it is best played with the lights off and the sound turned way up.
While I can’t speak to how well the game played on the PC, the PlayStation versions have made the transition admirably, with the dual analog sticks of each incarnation allowing for smooth, precise control. It doesn’t hurt that The Swapper will also be a cross-buy title, meaning you can buy it on either the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3 or PlayStation Vita and clone it on the other platforms at no additional cost. There’s also a cross-play option, so you can (you guessed it) beam your consciousness between versions and pick up from where you left off.
The Swapper is a captivating, challenging game, and one puzzle fans shouldn’t hesitate to pick up. A few of the challenges can get mind-numbingly tricky, but the beauty about this game having released on the PC a year ago is that, if you find yourself utterly stuck, you can easily locate a video or forum post that will nudge you in the correct direction. Otherwise, strap in, put your thinking cap on and get ready to be challenged on multiple levels.
Disclosure: This review was based on a downloaded copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Platforms: PC, PS3, PS4 (reviewed)
Developer:Curve Studios, Facepalm Games
Publisher: Facepalm Games
ESRB: Rating Pending