An abandoned excavation site.
A derelict space station.
A mysterious Device.
The Swapper is a mind-bending journey through a mysterious science-fiction environment of cloning and spaceships, challenging you to provide answers to the many logic puzzles it presents, while trying constantly to perplex you with the narrative’s questions and direction.
Gameplay here is puzzle-based in design, and platforming in implementation. You come into possession of a Device that allows you to create up to four clones of yourself. These clones act as you do, running and jumping as though your keyboard were also controlling them. You can also use the device to swap between each of your clones, changing the ‘master’ clone to whichever one it is you need in order to move through the door to the next room. The game starts you out on basic button pushing puzzles, but gets more advanced as time goes on, introducing zones that block your device’s functions, and gravity wells to confuse matters even more. To be able to get through to the end, you’ll need to be able to control five individual characters all at once, manage runaway crates, and avoid being crushed by bulkheads. Easy stuff.
Confession time; I did use a guide for one of the puzzles in the latter half of the game. I immediately regretted doing that for three reasons. Firstly, using a guide for a puzzle game defeats the whole damn point of playing, so I felt bad for having to do that. Secondly, the guide I found didn’t have the best layout, so I ended up accidentally giving myself a hint for the next puzzle. Finally though, the solution to the level was so mind-bogglingly simple that I felt ashamed of myself for not seeing it earlier. Lots of The Swapper’s puzzles are like this though, elegant and simple solutions that will leave you kicking yourself for spending ten minutes mulling it over. But you always get that sense of satisfaction for completing them (unless you are a dirty cheat like me, no satisfaction for you!). It’s that buzz which drives you onwards to the next room, to the next set of challenges; that’s the sign of a good puzzle game.
The atmosphere onboard the station is claustrophobic and tense, with long stretches of silence briefly interrupted by squealing metal and shrieks of radio chatter. Lighting also plays an important part in the presentation, with some areas being pitch-black save for your lone headlamp. It all does a great job of adding to the story. Speaking of which, the narrative acts as more of a breadcrumb-trail to move you from one room to another, but that isn’t to say it’s not engaging or well-written. It’s just thin, insubstantial but constantly present in between the puzzles. I can’t go into any detail about the story, in case I ruin it for you, but just thinking about the setup will give you some clue – you have a Device that creates copies of yourself which you can switch between at will. Fans of Duncan Jones’s Moon will find themes to enjoy in both the story and the atmosphere the game presents.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Swapper. The central mechanic was simple and easy to understand, but the game itself was short enough that it never outstayed its welcome. I never felt like the journey had been padded out with repetitive puzzles, or that I’d gone too long without figuring out a new use for the Device. The Swapper kept it short and sweet. Perhaps a ‘Challenge Pack’ DLC or user-created content might give it more longevity, but as it stands in terms of a game and a story, it’s a perfect size.