Despite its relatively lackluster title, The Swapper, developed by Facepalm Games, is more than just a game, it is an experience that questions the very existence of the human soul. In a world where a device, that allows humans to clone themselves and swap between bodies, is created, what is it that makes us who we truly are?
The Swapper is a very clever puzzle platformer that creates an ambiance of complete desolation. The player, an unnamed character, is dropped onto the Space Station Theseus with no clear goal or direction. In order to progress into the deeper parts of the station, you must complete puzzles and collect orbs. While it’s not necessary to collect every orb to progress through certain parts, in order to complete the game all puzzles need to be completed.
The further into the station that the player goes, the more clues they’ll find about what truly happened. The crew of the Theseus had collected a number of rocks, called “The Watchers,” that ended up possessing vast intelligence and the ability to speak through telepathy. It was due to the scientific discovery from these rocks that the scientists aboard were able to create the experimental cloning/swapping device. There are various interactions with computer terminals and The Watchers that discuss existence, the physical world and how communication between the crew and The Watchers ultimately lead to their demise. The story is strong enough to hold attention throughout its entirety, and the ending has the ability to test the moral fabric of anyone who reaches it.
In order to collect the orbs and unlock new areas of the Theseus, the player has to enter a series of rooms, in a “Metroidvania” style gameplay, and complete a series of puzzles, ranging from simple to considerably complex. In order to tackle these challenges the player can create up to four clones, that mimic the actions of the player exactly, and swap to any of the clones that are in line-of-sight. Initially, puzzles can be solved by simply creating clones and swapping to them, but things quickly become more complicated. The main obstacles are three colored lights: red, blue, and purple; red lights prevent swapping, blue lights restrict clone placement and clones can neither be created nor swapped to in purple lights.
What’s interesting is that the progression in The Swapper isn’t in the form of new devices or weapons, but it’s in the understanding of the player. The only two abilities, which are gained in the first 10 minutes, are the ability to create clones and to swap to them; after that it’s up to the player to figure the rest out. Regardless of this lack of variation in physical skills, it’s not unlikely to skip a couple of puzzles then return to them and be able to complete them with ease, based on knowledge gained from other, similar puzzles.
Visually The Swapper is absolutely gorgeous, featuring art mostly constructed using clay models. The setting is quite dark, and the deep colors, along with an eerie science fiction soundtrack, combine beauty with a feeling of complete loneliness. The Swapper also makes decent use of physics, which is visually amusing when a clone falls to its untimely death. Unfortunately, the dark nature of the game can make it difficult to navigate through the ship, but the map alleviates this issue.
Besides the player, there are three other characters aboard the Theseus: the “Scavenger”, Dennett, and Chalmers, but their interaction with the main character is minimal and very convoluted. The latter two are likely an allusion to the philosophers Daniel Dennett and David Chalmers, who had differing views on consciousness. This conflict is ever present in The Swapper with both Dennett and Chalmers having opposing views on survival and how to deal with The Watchers. The Swapper makes a very clever use of the philosophy of mind, and its contradicting viewpoints, which was possibly a basis for majority of the game.
Because of the philosophical nature of the story, the unique artistic style and overall presentation, The Swapper goes beyond that of a simple game and becomes something much more. Facepalm Games did what all indie developers should strive to do; that is to take a completely simple concept, get from Point A to Point B, with a unique artistic style and create something truly memorable. The only downfalls to the game are the relatively short play time, around five hours, and the lack of replay value, but these can be forgiven due to the game’s low price point of $14.99.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which was provided to us.
The Swapper takes players through an amazing journey of philosophical debate, clever puzzle solving and issues of morality that aren't often included in the titles that we see today.