The Swapper is a mind bending puzzler set in an atmospheric sci-fi world that is full of wonder and intrigue, and was first developed for PCs by Facepalm Games. Due to the overwhelming success of the title on the PC platform, Curve Studios licensed the rights for it to port it to the PS4, PS3, and the PS Vita; in an attempt to create the same high-quality gameplay experience for a stellar cross-buy offering. Sony console and handheld owners should be thrilled by this collaborative effort, because after spending time with The Swapper on the PS4 it’s clear that Curve Studios made every effort possible to maintain the excellent vision Facepalm Games first set for this game on the PC platform.
One of the first aspects of The Swapper that will instantly grab your attention is its dark and isolated atmosphere, which is highlighted by the amazing looking visuals that were all sculpted from clay. Every asset you see in the game world is based off of a clay sculpture, which gives the game a very unique look and feel. The clay infused backgrounds come to life thanks to the excellent use of lighting, which bolsters the already strong sci-fi feel present in The Swapper’s universe.
This game’s visuals allow you to get completely immersed in its world and narrative, which are just as strong if not better than the art itself. The Swapper is set in a 2D side-scrolling world on a mysterious space station that offers many more questions than answers about why and what you’re doing on this abandoned research facility in space. The narrative plays out through exploration of the space station, which yields deeper understandings of what went wrong with the peculiar experiments that took place. You’re exposed to parts of the story through terminals that offer text transmissions of the happenings that took place on the station before your arrival, as well as the ability to hear the thoughts of the Watchers, which are a race of beings that look like large stones. There is also a curious female character known as the Scavenger, who goads you along throughout the relatively long plot in an attempt to get you to do her bidding, but along the way you discover that everything may not be as kosher as it seems. You’re given a device called the swapper, which allows you to clone yourself up to four times and have your clones mimic your moves. This gadget is essential to collecting encryption orbs, which are required to progress the game’s narrative, and ultimately to complete your journey through The Swapper’s highly engaging, and thought provoking plot.
The gameplay is completely centered around the swapper gun and how it needs to be used to solve a litany of puzzles that block your progress. The concept of the gun is simple; by using the left trigger you can project a clone of yourself into the world and that clone will then mimic every move you do. You can have up to four clones in play at once, and you can even swap your soul with the clones to take control of a particular copy.
This may sound simple on paper, but the puzzles in The Swapper are far from easy thanks to the conundrums the mechanics of the clones present. Through the use of ledges, pressure plates, and colored lights, the developers ensured that no two puzzles are ever the same, and that solutions that worked for one puzzle won’t entirely work for the next. This is due to how the clones mimic your movements, and how the colored lights affect the properties of the swapper gun. For example, if you need to have a clone on a ledge above you step on a switch that is a few feet to the right, you must move your character to the right to achieve this. This may sound like a piece of cake, but when you have four clones out at once and need to space them accordingly to hit switches, the complexity of The Swapper begins to shine.
The difficulty in planning your clone placements and moves is furthered increased thanks to the use of red, blue, and purple lights, which each affect the swapper gun differently, making some puzzles serious tests of your spatial skills and mental fortitude. Red lights block you from being able to swap your soul with a clone, and your soul must be in a clone to pick up the encryption orbs that unlock closed doors impeding your progress, so they can throw a few monkey wrenches into your planning. On the other hand blue lights block you from creating new clones, while purple lights block you from creating and swapping to clones. When all colors of light are present The Swapper’s puzzles will challenge you on the same level as the Portal franchise, and at times you’ll wonder if a solution is even available. Sometimes this is even the case on puzzles that only use one light, thanks to the inclusion of pressure plates that turn certain lights off and on to allow you to advance.
A sign of a great puzzler is getting stuck on a puzzle for what seems like hours and eventually solving it, which yields an amazing “EUREKA!” moment in your brain’s grey matter as you rejoice in knowing that you’ve just used your own skills to conquer a brain busting problem. The Swapper is full of these types of moments, and every time you think you’ve been beaten by a silly switch, or an unruly clone, you’ll have an epiphany and realize the solution has been staring you in the face as you sat dumbfounded looking at it. There’s a true sense of accomplishment in solving each and every puzzle, and outside of a few extremely difficult ones towards the end, all of them are beatable without turning to the Internet for answers. There are two in particular that required research, but if I had enough time with the game and didn’t need to complete it for a review, I know I would’ve been able to complete them with enough trial and error.
The Swapper may have started its life on the PC platform, but it has cemented its status as an amazing and thoughtful puzzler on Sony’s brand of gaming machines. Curve Studios has done a bang up job porting this atmospheric sci-fi title for consoles and handhelds, and the fact that it is a cross-buy/cross-save title only makes it a better overall package. The brilliant clay art design is unlike anything you’ve seen in a 2D side-scroller, and the basic, yet effective soundtrack will keep your mind completely immersed in The Swapper’s dark and mysterious world. The use of the swapper gun makes each and every puzzle a challenge, and solving them will bring you a sense of accomplishment that traditional video games can’t, or even some puzzle games for that manner. If you’re up for a mind bending sci-fi journey, then The Swapper is a puzzler worth picking up as a cross-buy title for the PS4, PS3, and PS Vita.
Just don’t lose your soul in the process…
Check out our Let’s Play of The Swapper below for an even better look at how the game plays!
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Review Statement: The author of this review received a code from the publisher for the purposes of this review. The game was played on the PS4 for the review as well.