The Swapper Review

I’ve got swapsies

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The Swapper is a platform/puzzle/adventure game from FacePalm Games. All of the visuals have been created by hand in clay before being entered into the game, giving it a slightly creepy and distinctively tactile impression. You also get to kill yourself hundreds and hundreds of times. In a good way.

The basic premise of the Swapper is that a device has been created that allows you to project and create clones of yourself that you can then swap control to or control remotely as they all mimic each other’s movement. In early puzzles you’ll be required to get them to stand on a switch to open a door for you, but you gradually find plenty of other ways to use them, from a quick way of teleporting around the levels to easy ways to break your fall from a great height.

The game definitely becomes macabre very quickly as you dispose of clones almost as quick as you create them. Without throwing it in your face, The Swapper starts to ask philosophical questions about identity through not only the sparse but interesting story of some sentient beings who are possibly misunderstood but also the primary game mechanic. As your recently-evacuated body crumples onto the ground next to your immaculate new clone, you might wonder whether the clone felt any pain. The game’s master stroke is never outright judging you, the clones don’t scream or beg for their lives, they just silently die, sometimes with a crunch, but ponder it for very long and hopefully you’ll begin to feel some remorse or confusion.

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The visual style is spectacular and works really well. The game is set in space and the clay-based visuals add to the otherworldliness. Echoing Dead Space and System Shock, there’s a real sense of isolation  and coldness, with only odd unexpected sounds and the occasional voice to lead you on your way. Light is also used very effectively, with a small flashlight letting you know which way your character is facing and providing a little illumination in the otherwise dark and abandoned rooms. A little colour is introduced by way of red and blue lights that disable some of your powers, and your map and the menus are all consistent with the art style and give you the information you need without being obtrusive.

The joy of The Swapper comes from hitting an impossible-seeming puzzle room, and then slowly working out the solution. You’re unlikely to ever solve a problem by mistake, there’s usually only one very specific way to advance, but you’re not going to be running to Gamefaqs either. Everything can be completed with enough thought and you’ll rarely be stuck on a single puzzle for more than ten or twenty minutes.

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The map is laid out like a metroidvania world, with seperate rooms linked by doors that sometimes have certain requirements to open. Usually this means you’ll need to complete so many puzzles before moving on, giving you the possibility of skipping some if they prove too hard, and then you can always go back to them later. There’s no item progression or anything like that so you’re not going to be unlocking new abilities to help you explore, but you’ll get better at the game and thinking in the way the developers demand, sometimes a fresh look at a puzzle can show you an answer that was evading you before.

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Thankfully there’s no twitch-based puzzles and everything moves along at a sedate pace. I say thankfully because for some reason, the developers have avoided gamepad support. I suppose it might make it difficult to precisely aim the clones but I’d be happy with that compromise as it would make movement much easier. You’ll be playing this iwth keyboard and mouse and the controls never get any harder than portal, you’ll move with WASD, use items with E and use left click and right click for the cloney business.

Overall the game is a great puzzler and the mechanic is particularly inventive and interesting, up there with Portal and Fez. The story is interesting if not surprising, and the world is immersive but never truely frightening. Thanks to wide open areas and the slight slapstick of the clone deaths, you’ll never feel as claustrophobic as you did in the first Dead Space, but there’s a strong sense of place and it’s easy to get swept away thinking ‘one more room’.

If you like puzzlers pick it up now, it’s by far the best of the year so far.

Verdict 8

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Author: Thomas Souter

I'm Tom Souter, a full time English and Philosophy teacher who has been playing games as long as I can remember. I started off with a tape-loading BBC (I still remember getting our first mouse!) and moved on to playing NES games at my friends' houses. My first console was a SNES, and I became a Nintendo fanboy through my formative years. This all changed with the arrival of the Xbox, and now I've overcome my fanboyism to the point of owning every current console, and a gaming PC. I've never really had a favourite genre, but am painfully shallow when it comes to fancy graphics and art styles. All-time favourite game? Rollercoaster Tycoon 2.

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