I’ll concede from the off that this probably isn’t the review you were expecting this week. Perhaps you were looking forward to hearing my thoughts on Remember Me. Well, that’s next week. Animal Crossing? Later still. Ditto The Last of Us. But, dear reader, before lighting that large bag of excrement to be hurled at my house, do consider that I live in Europe, where for all the good our market size does for release dates, we might as well have just got the Sega Saturn.
Still, I’m not bitter. You must be leaping out of your skin to discover why, and that’s lucky because I’m about to tell you – it’s because I found The Swapper.
Yeah, I know, look past the name. It’s by the aptly named Facepalm Studios, but we won’t hold that against them because they have created a great product. It’s pretentious, but you have to grudgingly accept it. Like Apple, only less evil.
Imagine if with the flick of a switch, you could jump into an entirely new body. With another one, you could clone yourself and jump into that body too. This is, when those extraneous bodies die, they’re gone forever. In the part of the game I played, the matter isn’t really addressed, but there’s something rather unnerving about the idea that you can so easily throw away who you are for the sake of puzzle saving.
Of course, I haven’t yet told you how this done, and like everything great and puzzle-based in gaming of recent years, it’s done with a special kind of gun. Portal let you tear holes in the space-time continuum, QUBE let you mess with extrudable cubes, and Half-Life 2, er, let you throw bins around, but this time you’ll be creating four clones of your character, all acting synchronously and all wearing the same faintly ridiculous space suit. You can even swap between them!
In this manner, you’ll be attempting to solve puzzles on an abandoned spaceship, most of which involve something along the lines of having one of you stand on a switch while the others run for a door. Not, of course, that most of the puzzles are that simple and it would be doing the designers a disservice to suggest as much. There are various confounding variables too, like the presence of light of different colours that can disable either swapping or cloning depending on how the developers wish to screw with you. There are a great deal of genuinely fiendish challenges in here and puzzle addicts will have just as much fun as adventure game lovers.
Speaking of adventure games, the story is where The Swapper has a little wobble, if not quite a slip up. Simply put, for all its similarities to the puzzle-adventure greats of recent years, it just doesn’t hold up in the writing department. It’s the esoteric oddness of Portal but without any of the charm or characterisation. The intent with using missions logs and found data to lay out the story seems to be to create a pseudo-horror world, but without any tangible threat to the player except from their own stupidity, it quickly becomes a matter of skipping through without reading the logs.
Still, perhaps you can overlook that. After all, it would have been perfectly acceptable had it not had a story at all, and one can’t fault the writers for at least trying with the creepy scrawled messages on rock and the dark, oppressive atmosphere. It’s midway between The Dig and Dead Space in its aesthetic and graphically it is an unqualified success, mixing brilliant lighting and visual effects with a hand crafted style that really brings the world into its own despite the weird character animation.
Other plaudits the game earns are for having an intuitive map system while still containing plenty to explore, the unlockable consoles that progress the story requiring puzzles to be done while not mandating 100% completion, and for opting to avoid the allure of creating something haphazard in Unity in favour of a finely-crafted 2D game.
Terrible name aside, The Swapper really is tremendous fun, and to those who like adventure or puzzle games it comes highly recommended. To those with any interest at all in innovative gameplay, immersive storytelling or unique presentation, The Swapper is an experience not to be missed. 91%